RIYADH: InFlavour, the Saudi government’s official trade event for the global food and beverage ecosystem, will take place at the Riyadh Exhibition and Convention Center from October 29-31.
The global food system has faced challenges from climate change, population growth, resource depletion and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the theme “Ensuring Abundant Tomorrows”, the event will cover the expansion of culinary offerings, incorporating alternative proteins, cleaner components and the essence of sustainability.
Triska Hamid, editorial director of Wamda, an entrepreneurship platform focused on the Middle East and North Africa region, said investments in food technology soared to more than $1 billion in 2021 .
According to Hamid: “The food sector remains one of the most attractive sectors for investors in the region, and although it has inevitably slowed down given the current economic climate around the world… last year, technology startups food raised $514 million in the MENA region. .”
She added that so far in 2023, the sector has managed to attract over $200 million.
Private capital, including institutional and impact investors, can support innovative solutions addressing the root causes of food insecurity.
By leveraging their resources and expertise, investors can transform the food system and improve food security for all.
Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Malik, Deputy Minister of Research and Innovation at the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, discussed the ministry’s research and innovation initiatives that have contributed sustainable food production and community development.
During a panel discussion on “Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Food Production: Connecting Technology and Local Communities,” he said: “The agricultural sector itself has undergone considerable transformation over the past eight years, with its contribution to GDP exceeding SR100 million ($26.6). million).”
Al-Malik added that the next step forward will be fueled by innovation.
“On the other hand, local communities generally aspire to have a profitable but sustainable business,” he explained, emphasizing that technological innovation was essential to achieve both goals.
Current food security challenges have highlighted the need for a sustainable and equitable food system.
Al-Malik said an example could be the adoption of precision farming practices to maximize the production of farmers and local communities and minimize the impact on the environment.
“Another example would be intelligent irrigation systems, which optimize the use of water, which is a very scarce resource, especially in our country,” he noted.
He added that the caveat is that these solutions must be holistic: they must be championed and adopted by users ensuring that local communities benefit from context-specific innovation.
He stressed the need for effective solutions, saying: “Such innovations should not be carried out in isolation from end users, as we must adapt the solutions themselves to the specific needs and challenges of local communities and partners. »
PepsiCo Middle East CEO Aamer Sheikh said Saudi Arabia poses a unique challenge, with 90% of land unsuitable for agriculture due to the country’s predominantly desert terrain.
He said PepsiCo is an agricultural company although it is known only as a food and beverage company. “We supply 25 crops in 60 countries with approximately 7 million acres of land under our management,” he said.
Sheikh added that when PepsiCo brings its global best practices to a country like Saudi Arabia, it is about localizing the value chain or agriculture.
“PepsiCo’s Global Positive Strategy is our sustainability strategy at the heart of our business. The first pillar is positive agriculture, which is about how we source crops and ingredients while accelerating regenerative practices and strengthening the agricultural community,” he added.
Another pillar, he added, is the positive value chain, which focuses on manufacturing products, leveraging the inclusive and circular economy.
“The final pillar is positive choices, where you bring the power of your brands to enable consumers to make the right choices that are good for them and the planet,” Sheikh said.
To strengthen its sustainable practices in the Middle East and ensure community engagement, PepsiCo sources 100% of its potatoes from Saudi Arabia.
“We work with our agricultural partners, where we spend more than SR100 million ($26.6 million) annually.”
He said they had created more than 3,000 jobs in the agricultural sector.
“We also work with them to conserve the amount of water we use and so, over the last 10 years, we have reduced our water consumption by 45 percent.”
According to the General Food Safety Authority, 18.9 percent of food in Saudi Arabia is wasted and 14.2 percent is lost each year.
These percentages are equivalent to 4 million tonnes, including dates, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, flour and bread.