Not long after the U.S. subprime crisis hit the global financial markets, Dubai had its own subprime crisis when the United Arab Emirates’s investment and development engine, Dubai World, announced that it was seeking a six-month delay in paying creditors on nearly US$60 billion in debt. When the news broke, Dubai’s stock exchange plunged more than 7% while share prices of Dubai World tumbled almost 15%. Needless to say, big brother Abu Dhabi came to the rescue.
Less than two years later in May 2011, the subprime crisis in Dubai doesn’t seem to heal. Dubai’s property sector is still struggling. Emaar Properties, the builder of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, was in such a bad shape that its 30% stake in Dubai Bank valued at Dh172 million ($47 million) would be wiped out if not for the help or bailout from Dubai’s government. For now Dubai’s property sector is toast. But even then with the escalating world food price, United Arab Emirates (UAE) may face a new problem – food crisis.
The U.A.E. depends heavily on imports to fill the gap between limited domestic food production and demand from a growing population base. Despite attempts to increase local production of food products in recent years the U.A.E. still imports an estimated 90% of its total food requirements, a figure amounting to a hefty Dh34 billion a year. The majority of its annual food import come from United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada.
Local agricultural production is limited and includes chicken, eggs, dairy products, local date and some vegetables. Even then its produced eggs taste very different from the one you’re eating now. Interestingly UAE also produce its own food such as chicken nugget. But how the hell does UAE get all the resources. If you think the recent Japan Super Earthquake Tsunami created one hell of a havoc to the supply chain of its industry especially the automobile, the same can be said of UAE food supply chain, if ever there’s an earthquake here.
As strange as it sounds, UAE does produce chicken nugget although the chain is a complex one, not to mention the food chain is very vulnerable as can be seen at the Marmum Dairy Farm in Dubai. Besides label assuring Muslim customers that its contents are “Halal”, the box of chicken nuggets also lists the expiration date, nutritional information as well as a local stamp of quality – ” produced and packaged by Al Islami, United Arab Emirates.”
But there’s something else which is more mind-boggling. A simple box of chicken nuggets gets its 14 ingredients supply from 11 countries. The chicken is from Brazil, the bread crumbs from the United Kingdom and the wheat imported from Canada, Australia, Pakistan and Paraguay. Spain supplies the emulsifiers, Germany the salt and stabilisers, while the dextrin, which enhances crispness, is Chinese. The vegetable fat is processed in the UAE, but made from canola seeds imported from Canada. The spices, the flavour enhancer and textured vegetable protein are from India.
That’s how vulnerable yet adventurous UAE in producing a box of chicken nuggest. In a desert land that once survived on dates and camels’ milk, a breakup in any of its global web of suppliers, producers and farmers component would mean a breakdown in supplying the delicious family meal of chicken nuggets to the shelves of supermarkets and shops. In fact, UAE’s vulnerability was visible during 2008’s food crisis when prices of basic commodities such as flour and rice jumped by almost 60% so much so that the government intervened and introduced fixed prices.
Imports grew by more than 12 per cent in 2010 and the numbers are mind-boggling: more than Dh1 billion in olive oil, nuts and frozen meat from Spain were imported to the UAE last year; Dh54 million in Chilean apples; more than Dh1 billion in French foie gras, oysters, caviar and mineral water. In Dubai alone, food imports rose by 23.1 per cent last year to 5.2 million tonnes, according to Dubai Municipality. Until now, the government is still struggling on whether to import or to expand local agriculture by way of purchasing foreign agricultural land.
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