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Minister Vincent Sempijja flanked by state minister for economic monitoring Hood Katuramu, UAE’s minister for food security, Mariam Al Mehairi and other officials at the signing of the pact. Photo/ Courtesy

Uganda and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have signed a deal to establish one of the world’s only agricultural free zones in a bid to enhance food security in the Emirates.

The agriculture, fisheries and animal industry minister, Vincent Sempijja said, the 2,500 hectare free zone will allow private companies from the UAE to invest in agricultural production and development in Uganda.

The UAE’s minister for food security, Mariam Al Mehairi said, it will also act as a launch pad for further investment into East and central Africa. “There is a lot of potential to be unlocked in that area,” she said.

The agreement was signed on Monday at Agriscape, a two-day exhibition in Abu Dhabi convening dozens of producers, suppliers and investors from across the globe.

It is expected to promote agribusiness between the two countries and will see Ugandan exports of crops and beef rise.

Uganda could also feed its population, bolster agricultural production and begin to export with agribusiness investment, bringing jobs and wealth.

Uganda imports from UAE was $659.72 million during 2017, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade. UAE ranks 3rd after China and India in countries making a killing from Uganda in exports.

Food security, the accessibility of safe and nutritious food for all is an area of critical importance for the UAE, where land is largely arid and water is scarce.

As a result, the country imports around 90% of its food and is pursuing mutually-beneficial opportunities in Africa and beyond.

Talks began with the Ugandan Government last year following the Gulfood exhibition in Dubai in February.

Since then, around 14 UAE companies have expressed interest in investing in Uganda, a ministry of agriculture spokesperson said.

“Uganda is very promising,” Khadim Al Darei, deputy chairman of Aldahara, the headline sponsor of Agriscape, was quoted by a UAE based website, the National .

“Currently, only 5% of African land has been utilised for agriculture and the consumers are also coming from Africa. Imagine if we find a way to tap into that. We would reduce speculation in prices and also feed the continent,” he added.

“How can it be that 800 million are suffering from hunger, while we have 600 million people suffering from obesity?”

Food security has topped agendas all over the world as temperatures rise, but it is perhaps most pressing in Africa, where hunger is widespread and conflict and political instability deter investors.

With the continent’s population expected to grow by 1.3 billion by 2050, farming yields will need to increase.