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Food Waste Around the World, Episode 45: United Arab Emirates

Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle project to provide information and raise awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students from different countries to understand how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the globe, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Today we speak with Rima Qayed from the United Arab Emirates!

"The UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) has made first attempts to overcome such challenges and managed to develop an original framework of green economy indicators which serves for the Green Agenda objectives, namely the UAE Green Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)"

But first, Let’s add some context:

UAE Sustainable Targets: The United Arab Emirates focuses on achieving sustainable development goals that would enable access to clean energy, adequate and affordable food, quality education, health care, sustainable economic growth, healthy ecosystems, and increased resource efficiency, as all these issues resonate strongly in the country. The UAE also pledged to "leave no one behind" and shift the world to a sustainable and resilient path.

In line with the UAE Vision 2021, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) works, in cooperation with the concerned federal and local authorities, to achieve SDGs 12, 13, 14, and 15 by implementing several initiatives that aim to safeguard the ecological systems and sustain the natural resources. [1]

Country’s Performance: While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by 193 countries in 2015 as the common global ambition towards 2030, the measurement for the green economy transformation needs to go a step further in capturing the economy-environment nexus and the extent to which economic activity is being greened, and green initiatives contribute to economic growth. In the traditional economic model, a direct source of economic growth is the growth of inputs such as labor-produced capital such as machines and intermediate inputs in production like steel in the automobile industry. The role of inputs in economic growth has been primarily valued by the efficiency of producing outputs which can be increased by improved human capital and organization as well as technological change. Such a traditional measurement of production does not properly reflect natural capital as production inputs like other forms of capital, despite they constitute essential inputs into production and consumption. The lack of markets and prices for many natural assets and environmental services has led to their overuse and deterioration, generating negative externalities. Furthermore, the amenity services that support a broader notion of well-being are often not traded and hence not well captured by standard economic indicators such as GDP. [2]


Hello, Rima! Thank you for participating in the interview. Before we start, could you please briefly introduce yourself?

Hi! My name is Rima, I’m 25 years old, and I'm from Dubai, UAE. I’ve lived in Dubai my whole life but I will be moving to the Netherlands to pursue a graduate degree in English Literature and Culture.

Can you help give some background about the attitude to food waste and sustainability in UAE?

From what I know, the concept of food waste has recently gotten some recognition in my country. People are generally becoming more aware of how much food we waste on a daily basis. However, I don’t believe that, on a household or communal level, anything has actually changed. I think that because we live fairly comfortable lives, it is sometimes difficult to care about food waste.

In your opinion, what challenges does UAE face concerning the country’s sustainable development targets?

I think the biggest challenge we face is our natural environment and geographical region. The UAE is a desert climate; it is dry and extremely hot. Because of this, we aren’t able to grow a great variety of food and have to rely on importing many types of fruit, vegetables, and grains in order to maintain a well-balanced diet. Another challenge is the serious lack of concern from both citizens and residents living in the UAE when it comes to issues of sustainability.

What can we learn from the UAE people? Could you please tell us about their values, habits, or recipes that we could adapt and learn from to reduce food waste?

The people of the United Arab Emirates are very generous, and this trait has been around both before and after the oil discovery. We love being good hosts and feeding (or overfeeding) our guests. Food is such an important aspect of our culture and society, which is why we should be a leading force for sustainability measures. Generosity is great, but it should not come at the cost of food waste.

A dish, or a condiment really, that I’ve always found interesting is Mihyawa (also called Mishawa, depends on where you come from). This is a thick gray-green sauce made from sun-dried anchovies that are then grinded with a mixture of spices (coriander seeds, anise, mustard seeds, cumin), water, white vinegar, salt, and lemon juice. Mihyawa is popular in other Gulf countries as well as in south Iran. It’s tangy, salty, and hearty and it is usually eaten with flat bread. In the UAE, fish was once a major food source and I think Mihyawa is a great example of preserving food and finding creative ways to use up leftovers.

Do you know of any significant organizations that are tackling food waste? Who’s doing good work to tackle this problem? Who should we support and get involved with?

There isn’t a lot that I know of. But there are organizations such as Dubai Carbon that helps businesses reach their sustainable goals. Also a new initiative has been launched recently, called Ne’ma, whose very purpose is to encourage people to assume responsibility and reduce their food waste.

Based on what we talked about reducing food waste, what’s the most frustrating thing to you about Food waste?

The lack of education and awareness on this issue is the most frustrating thing to me as well as effective action from world governments. It also bothers me to see people throwing away consumable food without thinking twice about it or considering the serious implications of food ending up in landfills simply because it is so easy to buy more food.

Due to your perspective about reducing food waste worldwide, what do you recommend people do differently?

Be mindful about what you eat. Having a healthy relationship with food and being actively conscious of what we consume is an excellent first step. Raise awareness, encourage your friends and family members to do the same. I’m notorious in my circle for being the person who’s always saying things like, “why are we ordering/buying this much? Are we actually going to eat all of it?” I think that as long as we’re putting it out there, people will be more thoughtful when eating.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Making sure that food doesn’t go to waste is an important value to have. I grew up in a household where an unfinished meal is properly stored and eaten the next day, which is something we still practice. We were made to think about our personal portion size and how much is enough. I think this is also a way of respecting food and not taking it for granted. Food waste would be a much smaller problem if more people shared this way of thinking.

“Thanks so much for your time and participation!”

That was a conversation with Rima Qayed from our Content Writing team at Sapient.

Interviewed: Rima Qayed

Interviewer and Writer: Majid Zamanshoar


UAE NGOs & Charitable Organizations

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