I am a technician in a local company and would like to apply for a UAE driving licence. I have asked my employer for a letter of no objection but they are refusing to give one to me. What is the next step? RH, Dubai

It is a requirement of the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) for all expats to obtain the agreement of their employer or sponsor to apply for a driving licence in the UAE and this is the same for someone who wants to take lessons or just to convert an existing licence.

Issuing the letter is entirely at the discretion of the employer or sponsor and it is not mandatory they comply with any request. I can only suggest that RH asks his employer again and tries to convince them this will make him a more useful employee if he is able to take on other duties.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai with over 20 years’ experience. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE.

The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only.

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Michael Davis is the chief operating officer of NMC Health private hospital chain. It bought ProVita International Medical Center, a specialist long-term and rehabilitative care provider – of which he was chief executive – in 2015. The American, 53, previously worked in large US hospitals and came to Abu Dhabi five years ago.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was raised in Louisiana: my father worked in an oil refinery and my mother was a school secretary. Growing up, I knew my parents were cautious with money, but I never felt that funds were tight. My father worked overtime to make sure my brother, sister and I had a good education, but we didn’t take big vacations or eat out a lot. My father is a firm believer that it is noble to work hard and the idea has stayed with me.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

I mowed lawns in my neighbourhood when I was young and I was paid US$2 -$5 per lawn. Summers were hot and humid, so I worked hard for that money. In my first job out of college, as a nurse, I made around $12 per hour. Now I know how little people are paid in other parts of the world, I realise just how great a wage it was for a 23-year-old.

Are you a spender or saver?

A bit of both. My philosophy is don’t touch your savings – but everything else is fair game.

What is your most cherished purchase?

I recently helped my mother buy a new Ford SUV. My parents have been so supportive that I wanted to do something for them. It’s comforting to know that between my brother, sister and myself, my parents won’t have to worry about money in their old age.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

When I was young I never worried about tomorrow; it was always about having fun today. I lived in Houston, Texas, in the late ‘80s and was always on vacation or having a party. It was fun and carefree, but I learnt many lessons. I wasn’t truly financially secure until my thirties.

Where do you save?

I have others who manage my money for me. In the US, I use JP Morgan Chase’s private client service and, here in the UAE, I have an American financial adviser who uses two platforms for me: eTrade and Interactive Brokers. We invest in a diversified portfolio of domestic and international mutual funds.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

Always credit cards – I am obsessive about collecting airline miles.

What has been your best investment?

Investing in my own travel and hosting visitors from home and giving them the VIP treatment. Travel truly does cure prejudice. I also bought NMC stock after NMC acquired ProVita, which has proven a good investment.

What do you most regret spending money on?

After the close of the ProVita sale, I bought an expensive watch that I didn’t really need. Let’s just say the watch cost more than a nice car.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Continue to have fun, but put yourself on a budget. Don’t deny yourself the joy of youth, but try to set more aside.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

If I really want something for myself I can usually find a way to get it. So if I won Dh1m, I would probably give it to my fin­ancial adviser and see if he can turn it into Dh2m.

What would you raid your savings account for?

If anyone close to me had a health crisis and could not afford treatment, I would definitely raid my savings. And maybe I’ll raid it in a few years for an apartment in London or a place on the Spanish coast.

pf@thenational.ae

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“Where do you get the Dh4 from?” asks my 10-year-old. “Do you take it from someone’s account?”. That’s my boy. Making sure he knows what he’s getting into, and obviously a rottweiler interviewer in the making. He’s discussing the finer detail of his contract with a manager while his very first bank account is being created. His ethics-dar (as in ethics radar) is pinging – the concern: if they fund the promised 4 per cent interest by dipping into others’ savings, they could do the same to him.

We’re not in the UAE – it’s quite the bureaucratic challenge for me to fix him up with an account in the Emirates as I am the female parent – so no bank accounts for my children in-country, unfortunately.

But we’ve landed on a lucrative (by today’s standards) offer in the UK. The equivalent of Dh4 for every Dh100 saved for a year from the date of opening the account.

That’s how I explained it to him. Which, technically, means he’ll only get that full Dh4 return for the money that is put in that very first day – capped at Dh500 per month – as the offer runs for a year only.

The bank manager was taken aback. The thought bubble above my head said all manner of things about how banks make their money – luckily for him, the manager recovered enough to give a couple of examples of how banks charge for things – like loans.

Satisfied with the answer, there was a flurry of signature and ceremony. After which we went for a celebratory chow-down and chat. We’d already had pre-emptive discussions in the lead-up. They included delving into what he would be fin­ancially responsible for: things like birthday gifts for his friends and non essential items like crystals or fossils – or the occasional treat.

It’s been fantastic having these discussions because it reveals his very clear ideas around par­ental monetary responsibility and accountability and gets him to think through social contracts like buying gifts.

I think it’s vital that we have these talks with our children, but then go on to live it. By handing over a chunk of money that they can actually do something with.

Bits of token cash, either as regular pocket money or handed out when requested, does no good. It instils the behaviour (and thereafter the belief) that money, and what it buys, can materialise – somehow. (Read: future loans, debt, borrowing. Because I’m worth it.)

Since opening up an account we’ve been to a fair. We discussed his budget for the event. He took it out in cash and had total control over how he spent it.

He’s still getting a feel for what money actually buys – the value of things – eg Dh10 buys very little these days. He thinks that’s enough for him to take out each month as spending money – bar special occasions, like the fair. He decided Dh33 would do him – and still had change when we left. How great is that?

So, point one I’m making is that we must hand over enough money for our young ones to be able to do something with, and have clear lines of how it can be used. For example, you could decide that any spending over Dh100 needs to be after a discussion. The second issue is: it needs to be about handling cash, not cards. I’m going on about this because we live in an increasingly cashless world. It’s detrimental for our young ones (and some of our older ones too). We need that grounding that comes with handling hard cash – money made up of coins and paper. Studies show that we send more when we don’t use cash.

We need that emotional tug of decision making that comes with knowing what you have and how you can use it. And yes, it comes with handling cash. I can’t say it often enough. We must experience the pain, and pleasure, of paying for things – in cash.

One last thing: set up a money routine too. It’ll become habit for life.

In our case, my son is saving 80 per cent of his pocket money. His decision. He decided he lacks for nothing – but still wants to have some money in his pocket for the odd thing.

He declared he’s saving up for his first flat that he’ll buy in the town where he wants to go to university. Again, his decision. He told me even if he doesn’t end up going there, he can rent it out and make money off of it. Or if he can, he’ll buy it before he needs to use it, so that he can earn from it. I love what I hear. Of course all this will change at some point. But it’s good to hear. He then went on to say a profound few sentences. I unfolded a napkin and quickly wrote them down – and asked him to date and sign it.

He read it. Froze. And refused to sign it. “What if I break my promise?” he exclaimed – quite worried. Ah, wise beyond his years this one.

He calmed down. We talked it through. And he signed.

I’m keeping that napkin for the decades to come – just in case he needs a gentle reminder.

A 10-year-old’s self-initiated declaration:

I will keep my promise.

I will not spend money I don’t have.

I will save 80 per cent of all my money.

I think quite a few adults could do with printing this little gem and sticking it on their bathroom mirror – adjusting the percentage to suit their lives. Adhering to this means no bank will ever dip into our accounts to pay others the 4 per cent.

Nima Abu Wardeh describes herself using three words: Person. Parent. Pupil. Each day she works out which one gets priority, sharing her journey on finding-nima.com

pf@thenational.ae

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The dangers of being mis-sold an unsuitable long-term savings plan in the UAE are so great that even experienced financial services professionals can get caught out.

Tim, who prefers only to give his first name, moved to Dubai in 2010 to take up a senior position as chief operating officer at a major UAE financial institution, after more than 20 years working in banking in the Far East.

In 2011, an international financial advice company that specialises in selling investments to expats talked him into setting up a monthly savings plan running for 11 years, and that’s where his problems began.

Tim had dealt with his company before in the Far East, when it had transferred his UK pension into a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme.

He agreed to invest $5,500 a month for the term of the plan, which he was later persuaded to increase to $10,000. “The man I dealt with was a fantastic salesman, very smooth, but he didn’t sit down and talk me through the terms and conditions. If he had, I would never have signed up.”

What he thought was a savings plan also included an element of life insurance, for which he had to pay extra fees. “Yet the advisory company was not even registered as an insurance broker in the UAE. The plan was operated by a supposedly respectable international insurance company, which should never have accepted business.”

Tim was under the impression that his money was being invested in mutual funds, when in fact it was invested in a shadow fund run by the insurance company, which allowed it to cream off another layer of fees.

Increasingly suspicious, he contacted another financial advisory company in Dubai for advice on his position. “At this point, I had paid in $350,000. Despite the strong stock market performance over recent years, its value had fallen to just $320,000. Worst of all, if I wanted to cash in the plan I was told the surrender value was just $220,000,” says Tim. “They were going to keep $100,000 as a penalty.”

Tim then discovered something else the adviser never told him: the first 13 months of his payments went entirely in commission.

He is still running the plan, although he has now slashed his monthly payment to £200. “However, I am still paying fees based on the $10,000 monthly contribution, and these are eating away at the value of my money.”

Inevitably, none of this was explained by the salesman. “They made it really easy to set up the plan, but really hard to stop it.”

The policy runs until 2022, and Tim faces a difficult choice. “I am tempted to cash it in, but if I did that I would sacrifice the terminal bonus paid at the end.”

He says his attempts at seeking redress have also been a challenge. He first contacted the regulatory body the UAE Insurance Authority, which said it couldn’t help, and told him to take his complaint direct to the insurance company.

The insurer’s UAE branch said it was nothing to do with them, because the plan was underwritten by its offshore international arm based in a British Crown dependency. “That’s despite the fact that as part of the sales process, a representative from its UAE division visited my house.”

In despair by now, Tim contacted the offshore regulatory authorities, who told him they could only help with complaints about plans that had been sold after 2014.

Like thousands of other unwitting victims, Tim has lost a lot of money, and feels there is not enough regulatory protection for UAE residents. “I just want to warn other people. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.”

pf@thenational.ae

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US president Donald Trump’s suggestion to add solar panels to a wall he wants built along the border with Mexico may require some unexpected cooperation from America’s southern neighbour to make it a reality – Mexico will have to agree to help keep it clean.

Mr Trump said on Wednesday in Iowa that the structure, to combat illegal immigrants as well as drug traffickers, was already being planned. “We’re thinking of something unique talking about the southern border [with] lots of sun and heat,” he said. “We’re thinking about a solar wall so that it creates energy and pays for itself.”

The president said that this would ease the financial burden of payment, which he wants Mexico to bear, something Mr Trump promised during his election campaign. He said: “We’re working it out so let’s see. Actually to think of it, the higher it goes, the more valuable it is.”

The Mexicans have repeatedly said that they have no intention of financing the scheme. Mr Trump says that Mexico will pay for it eventually. However, he may now also have to work out how to persuade them to clean it too.

According to Frank Wouters, a UAE-based renewable energy strategist and consultant, if the wall is built with solar panels on top, the mirrors will need to be positioned to receive the most amount of sunlight during the day – which for northern hemisphere countries, including the US, means facing them to the south. Regular cleaning is needed to ensure that the efficiency of the panels do not decline.

“Please consider that with a south-facing wall, the cleaning will have to be done from the Mexican side,” said Mr Wouters, who has also helped lead solar power projects in the UAE.

Another consideration – which is a point that developers in the UAE know all too well – is that power produced by solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has become cheap.

Mr Trump’s vision is, in contrast, expensive – with panels mounted on top of heavy infrastructure. Selling the power generated by the solar wall may not produce enough revenue to make it viable.

The cost of electricity generated from solar PV is now almost a quarter of what it was in 2009 and is set to drop another 66 per cent by 2040, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “By then a dollar will buy 2.3 times as much solar energy than it does today,” it said in a new report. In addition, solar is already as cheap as coal in the US.

“Solar panels are very cheap now so I’m not convinced the revenue that is generated would come close to what is needed to pay for a wall,” Mr Wouters said.

“It looks like the proposed wall includes a great deal of materials and adding cheap solar on top of an expensive support structure means that solar is only going to be a marginal contribution.”

But Mr Trump insists: “History is written by the dreamers and not the doubters.”

lgraves@thenational.ae

The decision by King Salman to name his son, Mohammed Bin Salman, as crown prince of Saudi Arabia, reduces the risk of the country’s Vision 2030 programme losing momentum, according to the ratings agency Fitch.

“Mohammed bin Salman was instrumental in setting up the Vision 2030 reform agenda and its implementation plans, including the National Transformation Programme 2020, the Fiscal Balance Programme and the plan to partly privatise Saudi Aramco,” Fitch said.

The agency said that under Mohammed bin Salman’s leadership of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, the kingdom’s economic policy has surprised observers because of its boldness. It included early cuts in subsidies, which has given markets confidence in the government’s ability to rein in big fiscal deficits. When the kingdom then embarked on its debut bond issue last October, its offer was hugely oversubscribed despite the fact that the US$17.5 billion fundraising was a record amount for an emerging market economy.

Fitch said that Mohammed bin Salman’s elevation to crown prince would “entrench the reform agenda and makes it more likely that the main elements of Vision 2030, including the Saudi Aramco IPO, will go ahead”.

However, it warned that the prince’s interventionist tendencies on foreign policy, including military action in Yemen, the sanctions imposed on Qatar and a more confrontational stance taken against Iran, meant that further escalation in regional tensions could not be ruled out.

Chris Seymour, the regional development director for construction consultancy Mott McDonald, agreed that Mohammed Bin Salman’s promotion to crown prince, meant the National Transformation Programme would maintain its trajectory, which should mean a shifting of responsibilities for funding and building major infrastructure assets to the private sector.

“The momentum has definitely started and hasn’t let up. It’s good to see that this is something that is going to be maintained,” said Mr Seymour.

He said that although this may not yet have translated into more work for contracting companies working in Saudi Arabia, that would follow. He said activity in 2017 would be generated around the pre-planning work, which includes advisory work with ministries. Next year is likely to involve creating the private sector structures to deliver major infrastructure projects, with contract awards only likely once these are in place.

“But the point is that the investment is planned, it is there and the momentum has started. So for us, and I think most consultants, we would see this as a positive step.”

He said work had already begun in some sectors – most notably transport, where airport privatisation deals have already been announced and in a power and water sector that has already experienced private sector involvement.

However, he added that in both instances these assets can take a long time to deliver, so some of the first projects to be built could be in the social infrastructure market.

“We are seeing quite a bit of activity around health care. They are smaller assets, and they are easier and faster to deliver,” said Mr Seymour.

In a recent interview with The National, David Clifton, the regional development director of Faithful + Gould, said private sector schemes are already being brought forward for power and water projects, as capacity increases are necessary before the kingdom implements plans for up to 1 million new homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of healthcare facilities.

“All of these things require power and water, but [plants] take a lot of time to design and build. A desalination plant could take four or five years to deliver.

“These are the precursors to the other big plans that the government is trying to achieve, and they are moving towards alternative financing.”

A report on Saudi Arabia’s economy published by the Riyadh-based National Commercial Bank on Monday stated that the kingdom was likely to run a fiscal deficit in 2017 for the fourth year in succession, but added that it would be dramatically reduced, falling to 7.5 per cent of GDP this year from a “double digit” rate in 2016. Expenditure is likely to exceed revenue by about 190bn Saudi riyals (Dh186.04bn), NCB said.

mfahy@thenational.ae

The UAE’s retailers are expecting a big boost in sales over Eid Al Fitr, with some already reporting record figures as the holiday nears, while Eid sales and promotions are also contributing to an ebullient retail sector.

“In the last two days our sales have been up 400 per cent compared to the same period last year,” said Hamdi Kulahcioglu, the general manager of Tryano, the department store in Yas Mall.

He said the sales bonanza began at the end of last week as the gifting period took hold in the capital.

“The time of year, before this Eid holiday, is often the most vibrant. There are many factors contributing to the uptick. The timing of Eid this year means many families are planning to leave for the summer break and buying before they travel, others are buying for the Eid holiday.”

The 24-hour sale planned by Yas Mall for June 25 and 26 is also likely to be a traffic generator creating a rise in footfall and fuelling retailers’ optimism, he said.

The country’s retailers have faced a challenging year as the oil price has stubbornly hovered around US$50 per barrel. This has caused job layoffs across the energy, banking and finance sectors creating job insecurity in the wider employment arena, fuelling exacerbating consumer uncertainty.

The strong dollar, making the UAE an expensive destination for many of its key tourist markets, has also affected tourist’s spending patterns. While the past 12 months have proved chastening for retailers used to double-digit sales increases, Ramadan has proven to be a fruitful period for online and offline merchants.

“We have seen a large rise in traffic during the Ramadan period,” said Ulugbek Yuldashev, the founder and chief executive of Awok.com, a Dubai-based online electronics retailer.

He said the holy month had shown an increase in sales of more than 30 per cent compared with usual sales up on usual monthly figures, with sales highest during the Iftaar and Suhoor periods.

“Eid is a time when we see a surge in sales since people want to buy gifting items for one another. We see an increase of sales between 20 to 30 per cent compared to the normal days,” Mr Yuldashev said. “During Eid we are offering products with up to 99 per cent discount across various categories that include home appliances, mobile, electronics and fashion products.”

The Eid holiday is likely to provide an economic boost for retail, including food and beverage (F&B). The dining and drinking segment has been under the same pressures as the wider retail market, with the weight of outlets – increasing by 3 per cent to 4 per cent a year, according to Euromonitor International – adding to the sector’s woes.

“We expect a 25 per cent jump in our takings over the Eid holiday,” said Elena Weber, a co-founder and the managing director of Icons café, which is opening its eighth outlet in the UAE this year. “We have adapted our menu to ensure custom stays strong but the summer and Ramadan can be hard on cafe’s with outdoor space.

She said: “We have found Eid to be a consistently strong holiday and see no reason for this year to change.”

ascott@thenational.ae

Oil prices dropped to the lowest level this year as the market searches to find the bottom, while bearish sentiment will carry over throughout next year, according to analysts.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, this week dipped to its lowest level this year at US$43 per barrel amid fears of a rising over-supply from Opec and non-Opec members.

“The market is searching for a floor, which some thought would be $45 per barrel, but others would say that the next resistance point is $42.50,” said Eugene Lindell, an oil market analyst at JBC Energy consultants.

Just when speculators’ confidence over oil will return depends on what exactly they believe the bottom to be. JBC Energy, based in Austria, said the floating storage is actually increasing, which is causing concern. “When we discuss the market rebounding, we are no longer talking about recovering to $60 – we’re talking about hitting $50 or slightly above,” Mr Lindell said.

This period typically sees higher amount of stock, but currently there are about 10 to 15 very large crude carriers added to global storage of crude. Part of this is coming from Opec members, Nigeria and Libya, who are exempt from production cuts. Nigeria has added more than 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) to its output compared to last August. “That’s a big deal and the market has to somehow swallow that,” he said.

In addition, Libya is pushing producing around 900,000 bpd with aspirations to hit the 1 million bpd mark – which basically undermines the Opec production deal. This coupled with the ramp up in rigs to tap more shale oil in the United States is continuing bearish sentiments for the next year.

“Everyone in the market believes that next year is going to be tough, it’s just a question of how tough it is,” said Mr Lindell.

He said the fact that the forward curve had shifted into contango throughout next year is indicative that market prices have realised there is a longer-term problem.

Frankfurt-based Commerzbank said in a client report the depressed view of the market is a sign of relative weakness, which has set a downward spiral in motion. “Sentiment on the oil market has become so gloomy that even news that would normally support prices is unable to spark any noticeable recovery,” the bank said.

lgraves@thenational.ae

Cartoon Network, the company behind popular characters The Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10 and Mansour, has been expanding its presence on paid and free-to-air platforms in the region as it targets growing retail and live-event revenue streams. Part of the US media company Turner International, parent of news network CNN, it operates Cartoon Network Studios Arabia, based out of TwoFour54 in Abu Dhabi. Tarek Mounir, Turner’s vice president and general manager for the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, tells The National how the Cartoon Network has been using augmented reality and platforms beyond TV to boost engagement with audiences and corporate brands.

What are the licensing expansion plans for the country including in terms of corporate partnerships, and how do these tie ups boost Cartoon Network’s business model?

Currently, one of our biggest licensing deals in the region is our proud partnership with IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai, which opened its doors in August 2016. The world’s largest indoor theme park includes a dedicated Cartoon Network zone, offering different rides and multiple immersive entertainment experiences. We have since announced that we will be a part of IMG World’s second park, IMG Worlds of Legends. This partnership marked a significant milestone in our strategy to deliver more immersive fan experiences for kids and families who want to engage with our characters in multiple ways beyond the TV.

How have you tied up with retailers?

We have also seen a lot of interest in our brands from many regional and global companies, in particular in fashion and toys. Following the success of The Powerpuff Girls’ collaboration with Moschino for their spring/summer 2016 line, Saucette, s*uce’s multibrand concept boutique for kids, became the first in the region to partner with Cartoon Network to create a fantastic Powerpuff Girls collection. In addition, Mothercare has launched an exclusive apparel collection in the region based on our successful local production and famous cartoon character, Mansour, and Lego has recently launched a global fan-driven Lego Ideas set based on Cartoon Network’s global hit, Adventure Time.

How will the retail sector continue to grow for you?

Our current plans include entering the “Mall-tainment” business in collaboration with partners across the region, in response to the increased demand we are receiving from malls seeking new and innovative ways to drive footfall and increase engagement levels. Creativity and rich content remains at the core of our efforts. Earlier this year, we attended the Kids in Motion exhibition for the first time, and featured some of our most popular characters such as Ben 10 and The Amazing World of Gumball. The feedback was very positive and we were extremely pleased with the responses we received from over 44,000 visitors at the event. As a result, we will be utilising our fantastic Ben 10 Hero Experience – featuring augmented reality – at retailers across the region to support the launch of Playmates master toy line later this year, creating a yet more engaging experience for children and their families.

What is the impact of live events?

During the Arabian Travel Market, we took part in the Summer Festivals and Events Conference to introduce a turnkey approach that offers governments, malls and hotels scalable Cartoon Network-themed entertainment solutions that Cartoon Network, in conjunction with its partners Live Nation and Invent, can create and cater based on the requirements of each activity or event. We are currently actively educating businesses and potential partners about the availability of our services, which will definitely drive creativity in the market.

That seems to show that your growth depends on more platforms that just TV.

Linear TV viewership remains extremely important and we are proud to have a leading presence with our channels in the region. However, to grow our business and drive engagement with our audiences, we have to be present across other touchpoints too. By this we mean that Cartoon Network does not only depend on TV, it has also expanded to making its cartoon characters available in the market, whenever a relevant opportunity is available.

What is the size of the ­opportunity in live events expected to be?

This opportunity will build upon our already successful Themed Entertainment and Live Events business by expanding our physical presence in malls, hotels and other locations that want to offer this kind of live experience for kids and families. We hope to be revealing some other exciting opportunities in this space soon too.

How about target markets? Are you focused just on the UAE and the region or elsewhere too?

In the MENAT region we are focusing on Turner Kids key channel markets – GCC countries and Turkey, but it’s an initiative that spans our wider Europe, Middle East and Africa region too.

What technologies is Cartoon Network investing in?

Everyone knows that children today are more tech-savvy than ever and they expect to be able to discover their favourite entertainment brands wherever they are. According to a study by the International Data Corporation in 2016, the augmented and virtual reality market in the Middle East and Africa are expected to grow significantly over the next five years, at an annual growth rate of more than 100 per cent between 2016 and 2020. These findings support our growth plans as we continue to invest in augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality – making them an integral part of the future of our brands.

malrawi@thenational.ae

Food is much more than the fuel we depend on for survival: food brings happiness, because it plays an integral role in our social and cultural life.

The holy month of Ramadan reminds us of how the absence of food and water affects our daily lives. Not only must we make more effort to fulfil our daily activities, we also temporarily forgo the pleasure of time spent with friends, colleagues, and of course family, enjoying a coffee or a meal during daylight hours. Ramadan, through our days of effort and nights of sharing, highlights that food is much more than the fuel we depend on for survival. Food nourishes happiness, because it plays an integral role in our social and cultural life. Food can remind us of our childhood, it reminds us of home; like Proust’s famous madeleine, a seemingly random taste can prompt a long-forgotten memory to resurface.

However, underlying our ability to buy, eat, share and enjoy food is something we rarely think about – and that is food security.

Food security is not just a feeling we enjoy. It’s a policy based on a very strict definition. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) classifies food security along four dimensions, availability, utilisation, access, and stability, where availability refers to the supply of adequate calories; utilisation denotes dietary deficiencies, for example of certain vitamins or sanitation facilities; access is both physical and economic; and stability reflects the level of imports as well as the domestic political environment.

It is not simply by chance that the UAE, which less than 50 years ago was a desert, has achieved a high level of food security. It is thanks to the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the country’s founding father, who understood both the need to ensure the sustainable use of the nation’s resources and to establish basic industries to ensure self-sufficiency. Flour Mills and Animal Feed Company – now known as Grand Mills – was created in 1978 to fulfil an important part of the UAE’s objective of providing food security to its people, and since then, industrial development has become a critical pillar in the UAE’s growth strategy, spawning strong government conglomerates, a thriving private sector that welcomes companies from all over the world, and an advanced regulatory landscape that maintains high quality while ensuring ease of entry.

As a result, the availability of food in the UAE is extremely high despite the prevailing natural barriers to growing most food items. Agthia, a partner of the government in ensuring food security, is a significant contributor to the country’s cereal and protein supply, two of the main indicators of food availability.

As the owner of Grand Mills, it produces near 300,000 tons a year of flour, more than a quarter of the country’s total demand, while 570,000 tons, or 517 million kg of meat, dairy and eggs are produced from animals that directly use Agthia’s animal feed products, representing a significant proportion of the nation’s 660 million kg meat consumption. Meanwhile, fortifying foodstuffs with vitamins and minerals, as Agthia does to its flour and dairy products, adding vitamin D and calcium, counters utilisation indicators such as the prevalence of undernourishment, anaemia and vitamin A deficiency.

In terms of physical access to food, UAE residents are fortunate enough to receive foods from every corner of the globe, from Pakistani mangos to Devonshire clotted cream. This is because the country has so resolutely developed its infrastructure that it ranks among the best in the world: according to the Global Competitiveness Report, an annual assessment of the factors driving productivity and prosperity in 138 countries published by the World Economic Forum, the UAE sits in third place for the quality of its port infrastructure, second for its air transport infrastructure, and first for the quality of its roads.

Stability – whose indicators include the cereal import dependency ratio, the percent of arable land equipped for irrigation, the value of food imports over total merchandise exports – is the one dimension of food security that the UAE needs to show continuous vigilance because as a desert nation, it relies on external sources for food supply.

The UAE’s strategies to manage this risk are similar to our oil importing peers in Europe and Asia and their energy security policies. First of all, just as they maintain strategic petroleum reserves for emergencies, the UAE keeps reserves of water and grain: Agthia is required by the Abu Dhabi government to maintain excess stores of Al Ain water. Secondly, we diversify our supplies: Agthia is establishing bottling plants in other GCC countries to multiply water sources, and instead of depending on a single geography for cereal imports, grains are sourced from Canada, the US, Argentina, Europe, and Australia. And thirdly, we try and secure the raw materials themselves: Agthia rents a natural spring in Turkey.

In terms of long-term sustainability, however, there are several initiatives that are just beginning or have not even started yet. Some of these focus on conservation and recycling: managing food waste by redistributing it through the newly established UAE Food Bank, reducing waste in operations and manufacturing of food, and reusing treated wastewater. Others depend on R&D, like exploring forage that can grow in dry climates such as ours.

And of course, we try and produce what we can locally, such as Agthia’s new locally raised range of fresh chicken.

Over the coming months, we will be looking into innovative ways the UAE and others are considering food and food security, an issue that Sheikh Khalifa, the President, places at the top of the nation’s policy priorities.

Tariq Al Wahedi is the chief executive at Agthia