The role of education in advancing sustainable farming practices in the UAE

Agriculture in the UAE has moved forward leaps and bounds with over 35,000 farms existing in the UAE today, compared with just 4,000 in the early 1970s.

As the UAE prepares to host COP28 for the first time later this year and 2023 announced as the Year of Sustainability, the spotlight on sustainable farming and the importance of education in this area has never been so bright.

But what does the future of sustainable agriculture look like here in the UAE? And how can we ensure that our education and farming practices today are helping to secure better futures for our children?

In November 2018, the UAE’s Food Security Strategy for 2051 was launched, with the UAE’s vision to transform the country into a global pioneer in the agricultural sector at its core. The shift to modern and sustainable agricultural practices to reduce the sector’s impacts on the environment is evident in the growing adoption of organic farming and a rising consumer interest in organic food products. Currently, there are more than 50 organic farms in the UAE.

We spoke to Spinneys’ Brand and Sustainability Manager, Sophie Corcut, to find out more about the importance of sustainable practices, organic farming, healthy living and initiatives that they have introduced to help educate the nation on these crucial topics.

“What the country needs to think about is: how do we balance the very rapid growth that we are seeing in terms of the economy, construction and development and the population? Lots of growth means lots of consumption of resources and energy” Sophie states.

Spinneys and social impact agency, Interact, launched the Farm to Table school programme with this in mind. The initiative has big ambitions: to educate one million people on healthy and sustainable food choices. Developed with nutrition and farming experts from across the globe, the interactive and hands-on modules are centered around three core pillars: healthier eating, less waste and sustainable production practice and have been designed to excite and spark interest amongst today’s students.

Sophie shared more on Spinneys’ aims to equip the next generation with the tools they need to make educated and informed decisions on what they eat as well as understanding where it comes from. “The more we get children to be inquisitive, curious, ask why and think about the choices that they make, the more conscious and aware they will be, the more critical they will be as adults, the more they understand why it’s important to eat healthily, for them, for their wellbeing.”

Organic farming is known to benefit both consumer health and the health of the planet, while preserving the quality of the UAE’s natural resources such as its ground and water.

Conventional farming creates much higher pressure on natural resources and includes a range of no less than 600 pesticides which can result in health problems, especially among children who are more vulnerable.

In 2021, UNESCO conducted a review among 100 countries with results pointing to a lack of reference to climate change in the national curriculum of more than half of the participating countries. The UAE has been taking many steps to involve schools and the next generation in its journey towards sustainability, as part of Dubai Strategic Plan 2030 and Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan.

Schools across the UAE are now making a significant effort to prioritize sustainability education by integrating it into their curriculum. The introduction of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as a subject area is a crucial element in tackling the pressing issues of environmental protection, preservation of biodiversity, and conservation of natural resources. Recent studies suggest that effectively reaching and educating just 16 percent of high school students in wealthy and developing nations could lead to a decrease of approximately 19 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050.

Sustainable farming, however, is a broad topic that covers much more than just plants. As part of the growing Spinneys Farm to Table initiative, French native and bee keeping enthusiast, Olivier Cantagrel, shares his knowledge and expertise from the sustainable beekeeping industry with children from schools across the region.

His teaching revolves around the vital role that bees play in sustaining biodiversity and therefore, sustaining life on earth. Bees have been significant to human societies throughout history, as highlighted in many sacred passages in major religions globally. Additionally, bees play a direct role in food security as they are a major pollinator of human food (30% of what we eat), according to Olivier.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reveals, staggeringly, that one-third of the world’s food production depends on bees and other pollinators.

“Educating children on bees can help them in the future. Children will learn about the importance of pollination so they can act to limit pesticides usage and industrial agriculture that are endangering bees and other vital insects”, commented Oliver.

As COP28 draws nearer and the host nation prepares – it is great to see the effort and steps being taken by not only the UAE Government but organisations like Spinneys, to ensure a brighter and more sustainable future for all