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The Impact of Social Trading on the Future of Stock Markets

Опубликовано: March 4, 2021 в 17:29


Категории: Insights


The year 2021 started of with global headlines mainly focused on the healthcare sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst healthcare delivery was still being prioritized, the world suddenly witnessed a never-seen before event on the stock market that made a shocking impact on Wall Street and took the internet by storm.

GameStop Corp, trading on the New York Stock Exchange as GME is an American retail gaming and consumer electronics merchandiser, whilst Reddit is a popular online hang out social media platform. An internet group of traders rallied together on Reddit to short-squeeze the value of GameStop’s stock literally overnight and the precedent has created a new perspective over the way markets work.

In this episode of the Business Transformation Explained webinar series, CEO of EROE and Co-Founder at EroeGo Daniel Solomon together with his expert line up of Speakers; Richie Santosdiaz and Mehdi El Amine Fichtali share their thoughts by helping to put an economic value on the conversation.

Richie Santosdiaz

Richie is an economic development expert providing diversification advisory services to governments and multinational organisations. He is currently the Head of Middle East and Africa (MEA) for the FinTech Times and the FinTech Power 50. He describes the FinTech Times as the ‘oldest’ newspaper in the world dedicated exclusively to FinTech. With its headquarters in the UK, it was founded in 2016 and is steadily growing its audience in the MEA region.

Mehdi El Amine Fichtali

Mehdi is the Founder of FinaMaze, an ADGM-based AI robo asset management firm based in Abu Dhabi. Established in 2018, the FinaMaze platform helps investors especially retail investors in the market with tailor made portfolios they can align themselves to. Prior to that, he started working in financial markets since the early 2000’s mainly on the trading floors and international banks in Paris, London and then Dubai where he has lived since 2005.

Decoding the Saga – what really happened with the Reddit Platform and GameStop Corp?

There have been many stories of how the stock market started from the story of Mrs. Watanabe, a Japanese housewife who started currency trading; from the Yen to the US and Australian dollar. 

Understanding what happened will also take us down memory lane to the 1980’s when the equality gap in pay between for example C-suite and entry level workers were reasonable. Fast forward to the 2000’s, the situation has changed with the gap widening. This led to a situation where the rich were getting richer, with the poor getting poorer; leading to a general but silent rebellion and anger. There has also been a decline of brick-and-mortar retail, and a rise in digital experience; a trend that has grown globally especially in America and Western Europe and this has affected hedge funds. 

GameStop is very popular among people mostly in their thirties to forties because most of them bought videos games from the store whilst they were young. This according to Mehdi has makes them have an emotional attachment to the brand.” Some of these people have even moved on to Wall Street. In the finance world there are still movers who advice hedge funds on which companies have a future and which ones don’t. With companies like Amazon becoming a competitor to GameStop as a result of digitization, buying shares from the latter wasn’t an option.

However, in January 2021 GameStop announced that it had added three new directors to the board leading to a slight rise in the price of its stocks. Paper trails and conversation tracking showed that internet traders on the Reddit platform also came together to buy shares to ‘save’ the Company they have always been emotionally attached to. When you first buy shares, the price is formed between the ratio of demand and supply. And so, the more the supply, the more were there people who were watching and pushing the price of GameStop’s stock price higher and higher. This led to the hedge funds being short-squeezed in a way that they were forced to buy back the shares at a higher price. The high price was pushed by Reddit payers.

Why does it always appear that hedge funds are always investing in companies that are likely to go extinct? 

What Mehdi thinks can be as a result of it being common knowledge that some hedge funds have sold their securities and need to buy it back. What happened with GameStop is that the Reddit faction knew about these hedge funds; that they were enterprises with moving capital, and so they would rather ‘bet’ with a company they were emotionally attached to. They were interested in saving the company regardless of the price of shares and without knowing its economic fundamentals.

Short-squeeze in the GameStop story 

When people invest in shares, they do so with the aim of making profits. And so, when these hedge funds give out shares at a low price and it has to be sold back to them at a much higher price, they do not have any options than to pay. Traders also take advantage of this when they anticipate a fall in prices. This is how stock selling works sometimes and it played out in the GameStop and Reddit saga. 

A situation as this can lead to the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer which was clearly evident in the 2008 financial crisis globally. People have lost a chunk of their portfolios due to being short-squeezed. “What’s interesting is that we all know the retail market in America is going bad, so how can a company like GameStop all of a sudden have their shares go up and soar through the roof”, Richie asks?

Connecting demand with supply – the stock market and social media 

In figuring out this, Richie thinks that it is the coming together of bored and angry people. For instance, for the bored sports also stopped for a while and so did betting. This led to most of these people migrating into stock trading because they had nothing else to do. For the angry, times are not easy right now from an economic point of view, GDP in the G20 area for example fell by (minus) 9.1 % in the second quarter of 2020, people have lost their jobs and most had the same issue in the 2008 recession; either under employed or unemployed.

In Mehdi’s view, manipulating prices is illegal and unlawful. However, there was the right combination of factors because of emotions and also means of paying. Remember, this happened like nine months into COVID where most of the rich Americans were working from home, getting bored, got subsidies from the government, were not spending on restaurant and travel bills for example, so a lot of their fund money was channeled into the stock market. The situation was conducive with platforms like Robinhood to aid trading. It was a small stock market so any purchase could translate into the rise in price. There were more passive investors who also followed the index and bought whatever was there. It was a clear case of the surge of volatility exasperated by social trading.

Robinhood CEO talked to Elon Musk and they had to put 3 billion on the table for the volatile stock market. How was Robinhood trying to help people make money and at the same time trying to put a stop to it? 

The answer is simple. When you buy a stock, you do not become owner of the stock instantly but you have to wait for the clearing house to transfer the shares to you which happens fourty-eight hours later. The broker in this case Robinhood had enough money sitting at the clearing house with all the capital. The defense of Robinhood is that they didn’t stop the purchasing of GameStop’s shares because they had the privilege of the big hedge fund industry. Then at a point they only allowed them to sell and this pushed the prices and so they were forced to take losses. They needed risk capital and so they themselves were in a short-squeeze position.

The ethical interference in the GameStop saga in relation to Robinhood 

There should be regulatory framework to guard against volatile markets through companies that are trading way beyond their economic value. This is where FinTech comes in. FinTech industry globally is valued at over 100 billion dollars. We can’t blame Robinhood much because FinTech is an innovative technology. The interesting thing is that during the 2008 financial crisis FinTech grew and that is when we saw for example the rise of RegTech. FinTech is now being used as a way to be compliant and so has solidified its standing as the solution moving forward especially now that everything is going virtual and digital.

How do we ensure that the small investors and social traders also know that they have a role to play in the market? 

There has to be a proper mix of having have a free market and a benchmark where you have a strong inventory. There must also be education of investors. Companies and hedge funds put lines to their trading because they know that as humans our emotions play out the balance between fear and greed. Fear of losing money or greed of making more and because of this people should not trade based on emotions. Allow yourself to make money because of timing and if the timing is right, you will make money. 

In this digital age, if Artificial Intelligence is programmed well and coded by people who are objective, it can also give us some answers on how to take out the emotions. Emotions are not bad; they just need to be controlled.

Social trading going forward 

Compliance and FinTech will continue to play its role. There should be bigger responsibilities for hedge funds with regulators having more focus on them. The idea is not to give all the power back to the regulator or to compliance, and they shouldn’t be encouraged to stop Fintech innovations. Responsibility has to be given to big banks and hedge funds who can put in limits to help minimize the impact of emotions. 

The trading fancy is still there and social media isn’t going to go away but rather get bigger, if we are to take Reddit for example. In all this, the trading ecosystem has remained positive despite somewhat negative press and this is a good thing. 

Investments require people to read a lot, be disciplined, wise, and emotionally intelligent of greed and fear. Therefore, it is unrealistic to invest in a minimum time and expect to reap suddenly with luck on your side. It is important to understand the reason why you are buying securities by taking an informed view. There are also professionals who help manage risks that you can reach out to. 

People want to benefit from the market and make some money one way or another especially in these times of lockdowns. Can there be a 2.0 version of what happened with GameStop and Reddit? Yes. However, at the end of the day everyone should invest what they can risk, and not bet on what they can’t lose. Invest not because prices are going high but because of the economic fundamentals attached to it.

An Outlook of Key Trends in Global Entrepreneurship for 2021

Опубликовано: February 9, 2021 в 11:10


Категории: Insights


The year 2020 highlighted the need for what must be prioritized globally. COVID-19 forced most businesses to innovate as we all watched disruptions across several industries define what the future would look like.

Unfortunately, the global pandemic still lingers on in 2021 with entrepreneurs and corporations working to find a solution to this challenge that has befallen humanity. Aside from the risks in healthcare, other sectors have their own peculiar issues which presents massive opportunities for entrepreneurs worldwide.

Daniel Solomon, CEO of EROE and Co-Founder at EroeGo describes entrepreneurship as the discovery, evaluation and the exploration of opportunities. For him, times have changed and entrepreneurs are just the modern-day ‘rock stars’ who are changing our world and bringing new technologies to how we do things; from the way information circulates online to the way organisations and small startups are fostering innovation across multiple industries. In the first episode of the Business Transformation Explained Webinar Series for 2021, Daniel hosts Forbes 30 Under 30 Educator and Keynote Speaker Nyla Khan, Urban Monks Founder Nelio Leone, and Managing Director of Microsoft for Startups MEA Roberto Croci as they discuss how entrepreneurs will help rebuild the post COVID world and where the ecosystem is heading in 2021.

Background of Speakers in Entrepreneurship

Nelio is a growth marketing expert who started his career heading the marketing departments of organisations such as L’Oréal and Channel in Paris. After moving to the MENA region, he transferred his skillsets when he joined Tech start up Careem and then Washman before starting his own hacking growth agency Urban Monks.

Nyla on the other hand doesn’t like to be called an entrepreneur as she never wanted to be one, but is happy with being referred to as an educator and more of a researcher. She is the Co-Founder at MIRAI Partners, and also the Founder of Willow Tree Kids and Kids World Nurseries who has been in the social impact space officially for about ten years. Whilst based in the UAE, most of her work is across the globe focusing on bringing next generation education solutions to governments.

Starting his career in consulting, Roberto left what he considered to be a stressful job at the time and founded his own startup in e-commerce and retail. He then joined Google in its early days where he was later transferred to oversee an AdTech startup the organisation acquired. He then moved to Dubai to lead the startups team in Middle East and Africa for Microsoft which he describes as an “exciting role”.

How the challenges of 2020 have affected entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a two-way street that involves identifying a challenge as an opportunity and finding a holistic solution to it. This is why Nyla firmly believes that an entrepreneur is someone who is able to study markets and solves the problems in there without necessarily starting a company. This is why she is also of the view that Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of entrepreneurship being essential for the growth of economic development by creating constant disruptions to keep us progressing is practical; and this was brought bare in the challenges that came up in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her own words, “the world has become obsessed with the idea of efficiency so much that when you think about it, what we have been suffering from especially for the last ten years has been because we prioritize efficiency and free markets so much that today, we’ve left out a lot of people and haven’t answered the question of allocation. Going forward, entrepreneurship should not only be seen from a social impact perspective but about allocation and how we reach many people”.

How did 2020 change entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship?

The landscape of entrepreneurship massively changed in 2020. It is a well-known fact that for people who want to venture into the ecosystem, there are discouraging factors in expenses such as capital, having a business plan, locating in a physical space and many more. These made entrepreneurship unattractive to many people. Those barriers in Nelio’s view were lowered to a point where everyone can start being an “entrepreneur” from their own office or from their sofa. For him, “there has never been a time like this in human history like this moment when you can actually get a business started so easily. We are facing a hyper competitive market right now in most niches and industries; and I guess for entrepreneurs, getting started is not the problem but how to scale the business profitably. In the past, it was easier to attract Venture Capital to start a successful business unlike now that when you don’t have that path of profitability from day one, then it will be difficult to attract the right capital. Fortunately, we are in a region (MENA) where businesses do not see the impact just yet because we are just at the beginning of the entrepreneurial scene. This is why investors are still very open to take risks even if there is no clear path to profitability from day one. However, in more mature markets, it is not the case.”

Which industries have seen a rise and likely to exceed the expectation of 2020?

According to Roberto, the current trends support the concepts of allocation, scalability and profitability. “The recent situation has accelerated a number of things that probably would have taken longer, in terms of the adoption of technology, just beyond the usual conversation about remote work and the use of video conferencing. It has really accelerated decisions in the highest levels in many organisations on how to be more adaptable and flexible in the way decision making is taken and how technology can be leveraged to make it more agile. Industries like education, healthcare and even logistics have seen acceleration in of adoption of technology solutions that can help automate multi processes, and on the other hand consider the safety and scaling of human. The future should focus on customer experience, understand how consumers, customers and users are behaving. In the new world we know consumers are more efficiency focused, more demanding, more curious and interacting with things in a different way. Millennials also have this sense of purpose and they expect brands to show this in communicating their brand

The role of Customer Experience in all these

People know entrepreneurship drives innovation and always creates products with customers in mind. If customers should be first why do we see the growing status of multinationals for example adopting concepts such as “ship now and validate later?” What is the importance of customer experience in modern day entrepreneurship with this mentality which is double tap?

The differences can be seen in how tech startups for example operate in contrast to larger organisations. With the corporates, the process for example is about creating a marketing plan, validating, launching it and then selling to generate income. Customer experience is not necessarily highlighted in the initial stages. In the tech ecosystem this is completely the opposite: they capture the data earlier on and embed the customer into the product. Not that corporates are wrong for having these processes but this is why it is important to have innovation pockets that help them review these processes because it is going to help them at the end of the day.

Also understanding your audience can be very difficult but rewarding when done right.

Culture of a business or organisation is also important in all these. Culture may encourage experimenting. This will involve putting a product that you assume will work out there and keep validating until it keeps getting better. It is about owning the product and making the right decisions which govern the product you sell. The culture should therefore fit into the organizational purpose.

In addition, most companies get stuck in their own alignment. It is important to create alignment in order to succeed in business such as in operations, deals you have to execute to bring it in revenue and so on. The landscape keeps changing and there are many variables that businesses don’t control. When people are asked to change, there is a new way of scaling things and not all people are eager to go along with the ‘newness’.. A Harvard University research on ambidextrous organizations revealed that they were able to succeed because they are able to explore and exploit new things.

At the end of the day, the measure of success is very important as it can be argued that this concept of customer centricity doesn’t always hold independently without creating and exchanging value

What are some of the industries that will see a high level of interest from entrepreneurs in the years ahead?

When entrepreneurship works well, it is a double win and everyone gets their needs provided. In terms of predictions, Nelio thinks more entrepreneurs will venture into the ClimateTech space. It is Healthcare for Roberto and for Nyla, it is “Education, healthcare and food security because whether Venture Capitalists want to invest in them or not, we cannot get anything if we don’t invest in these basic needs and that is what the pandemic has taught us to address.”

There are many things the society needs especially in these times from healthcare, food security, and environmental sustainability. Stability in distribution especially for drugs is also vital. An estimated 122,000 children in Africa under the age of five for example are dying from the effects of counterfeit drugs, and effective distribution can solve this.

With current challenges in terms of the COVID vaccine distribution, corporations can partner with startups to bring in big ideas that they have to solve the problem by engaging and aligning properly with each other. In Italy for example, pharmacists can administer the vaccine and this is a good middle ground to help with distribution efforts in ensuring that everyone gets the vaccine. Partnership with organisations and the people around us will be able to solve issues only this year but also ahead of us.

These are lessons every entrepreneur and even aspiring ones can learn.

REVISED – Food for Thought: Unpacking Innovation Trends in Food Security

Опубликовано: January 5, 2021 в 07:00


Категории: Insights


The food sector is one that has witnessed the most disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. From food sources, technology adoption to policy and ethics, businesses have had to change their operation to meet new demands; and consumers have become more sophisticated in their choices of products in terms of price, health and safety. All these have led to expectations which experts have come to agree that technology will play a huge role in bridging this gap so as to ensure sustainability of food security around the world. 

Innovation trends have been the topic of discussion in all sectors as the world grapples with the question of “what next?”. The answer may as well lie in innovative mindsets for consumers, businesses and governments. In a series of webinars by EROE, we have been discussing technology and the future of food security globally. We understand that food security innovation is the most complex subject discussed on the public stage that grew to become a priority in the context of the global pandemic.

In the 3rd part series of our webinars on food security, EROE CEO, Daniel Solomon hosts three industry experts to discuss the food security challenges beyond the borders of the region and also have an in-depth look at sustainable global innovation trends for 2021. On the Panel are Mustafa Y. Koita – Founder and CEO of Koita Foods, Mark Tester – Co-Founder and CSO at Red Sea Farms, as well as Abdulaziz AlMulla – CEO of Madar Farms.

What is Food Security in your own words? 

Though this question has been answered in previous webinars, Daniel poses the question again as he has a different set of panelists. Mark is a Professor of Plant Sciences and has been doing research into plant sciences for many years. He is now enjoying developing saltwater-based agricultural systems in Saudi Arabia and the UAE with Red Sea Farms to improve sustainability of food production. In his own words, “in discussing food security, you need to have accessibility, stability and safety. Food also needs to be produced with a lower environmental footprint. At the moment the food sector takes almost half of all the land through its use. It is also the 2nd largest emitter of greenhouses according to our primary research. In this region, 85% of all the water used is from food. And frankly, not much food is being produced here to be using that amount of water. About a 3rd of all the water used for irrigation for food comes from underground sources, and so we are producing a large amount of our agriculture by mining water. This is unsustainable and so we need to reduce our environmental footprints in the food sector. For instance, doing things like using plant-based milk for dairy is fantastic because emissions from the dairy industry is huge. The water footprint from most of our food production is really shocking. A single date planted in the region uses 50 litres of water in its entire production, and so there is an urgent need to change some of these things. Fantastic opportunities have been given by technology such as engineering, digital and biotech innovations. I am optimistic that we would be able to roll out a number of these innovations for ourselves.”

Ensuring that technology solves access to food as a basic right for everyone 

Food and nutrition safety are considered a basic human right according to the Maslow Hierarchy of needs. In UAE, we may be very lucky to have access to food but the story may not be the same in other countries. Abdulaziz AlMulla is CEO and Founder of Madar Farms, a UAE 

start up focused on tackling food and water security through sustainable local production. His company in particular is focused on indoor farming and uses hydroponics and vertical farming as well as controlled environment to make sure that their plants have what they need all the time to be happy, healthier, all natural with no pesticides or insecticides and most importantly no preservatives. They are looking to decrease use of water resources and to get local production and security up here in the UAE. 

Presenting his thoughts on using technology to solve access to food as a basic right for everyone, he adds that “we are not producing enough and what we are producing is overusing our natural resources. Even though in the UAE, we able to go to the supermarket to buy what we want anytime does not necessarily translate into food security as it is a global issue. The two big words that come to mind is accessibility and opportunity. I have watched the testing process of growth on my farm and we were able to simplify it because it’s been run by computers. I can say the developments of IoT and its integration with agriculture suddenly made it accessible enough for people without agricultural backgrounds to produce. Technology is opening up ways and narrowing the knowledge gap. If we drive accessibility and awareness, then we can drive change and that is when technology brings opportunity. Talking about FoodTech and Agtech is now more about technology, marketing, alternative sources, an entire value chain. Technology on its own is not the change, it is the integration of consumers that enables the change.”

How is the price point of the product determining sustainability of food security in this region in general?

Mustafa is Founder and CEO of Koita Foods, a homegrown Dubai Company which he started seven years ago. They sell three lines of items namely organic dairy milk, lactose free dairy milk, and plant-based/vegan milk ranges like soya, oat, and almond. They are already in eleven countries being a market leader in most of its categories and are very proud to have seen a lot of about the food security business. 

In answering the question, he says that “consumers are very sophisticated, this generation is extremely demanding. They want sustainable, organic, non-GMO and also a price point. The challenge through our primary research is that the consumer wants to eat their cake and have it. UAE does not have arable land so having a price point to mimic the ones with arable lands is challenging. Driving to a consumer-friendly price point is important.” 

All panelists agree that there should be a benefit and cost analysis to strike a balance as consumer demand drives the market share.

Alternative food source growth to be considered for food sustainable 

A very good example of this is on Koita Foods which introduced full plant-based ranges 24 months ago with, oats, almond (which is rich in fibre) and Soya (which is rich in protein). That product range has grown quite rapidly and has cut across geographical barriers. It therefore started investing more in R&D on the plant-based side.

How do we use technology to identify safety of food instead of just focusing on price point? 

Producers need to make food safe and general education needs to be targeted at all stakeholders including consumers. Social Media is a powerful tool in connecting brands directly to interact with their consumers and so it cannot be underestimated. 

Traceability is also important. For instance, adding QR codes to packaging to show information such as nutritional facts will be a big boost in this drive.

Making food innovation attractive 

Agriculture’s image has not really changed globally and it sometimes looks boring and therefore not a career path many consider. So, if the youth for example can be shown that it is possible, achievable, and that it can be done, they would be inspired and attracted. 

Knowing that the UAE government is entrepreneurial at heart and loves to take risks, it is a good country to get investment into the sector. Mark raised a point about one of the things that he finds really wrong in a lot of jurisdictions, not only in the UAE. In his opinion there are way too many subsidies in the system; and rather we should be paying the real price for “what we should be paying the real price”. This is because some of the basic elements of these subsidies are distorting markets and are also very strongly inhibitory of the actual true adoption of real innovations. 

The food sector has one of the biggest challenges the world faces so there is a big piece of the pie for everyone. It is up to industry players to use effective communication and collaboration to inspire consumers, businesses and governments on board so that everyone can have a piece of the pie.

What can we expect to see in making food security innovations more sustainable? 

Moving into 2021, there is a lot to look forward to in terms of innovation in food security. According to Mustafa, “in terms of alternative food sources, taste has been optimized and really improved. Marketing and distribution have also improved.” He expects to see a huge increase in consumers buying directly from the brand, that is a huge shift in ecommerce patterns and also more vegan products. In Abdulaziz’s view, “There has been lot of options on the market and the interventions we need are technology and Marketing Communications to close that gap. Land in the region is less arable and so has the greatest needs. Madar Farms for example is using LED light technology to aid with the growth of tomatoes, and so there is room to grow and disrupt which can be done from a wide space. We therefore need to encourage people to become part of this sector.” Mark concludes that “in addition to technology, consumer education to make more informed decisions is important in terms of their health, safety and being environmentally sustainable.” 

It is obvious that the gains of technology can be harnessed in the food and agriculture sector to bring about innovative solutions that will be beneficial to consumers, entrepreneurs, businesses, governments and the climate as a whole. We need to continue making efforts as stakeholders to continue the drive in bringing out sustainable solutions that will create self-sufficiency in local food production as a means of ensuring global food security.

The Future of Food Innovation, Food Security and Adoption of Smart Technologies

Опубликовано: December 22, 2020 в 14:54


Категории: Insights


Food is a basic human need essential for our survival; and so, the topic of food security is not one that anybody can shy away from considering the risks that would be involved should the world lack access to enough food. Already, there are many global areas facing challenges of food shortage due to economic, environmental, and socio-political factors. With the effects of climate change and even the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic, there is a need to have conversations about food security to ensure our own survival now and in the future. 

The gains of technology can be harnessed in all sectors including food and agriculture to bring about innovative solutions that will be beneficial to consumers, entrepreneurs, businesses, governments and the climate as a whole. Considering the natural environmental factors in the GCC and UAE alone, it is useful to know that the region is leading the way in fostering an ecosystem for food technology (FoodTech), agricultural technology (Agritech), and smart farming. All these are efforts being made by key stakeholders to create self-sufficiency in local food production.

In an exclusive edition of the Business Transformation Explained series CEO of EROE, Daniel Solomon hosts a stellar panel of key stakeholders to talk about the use of technology when it comes to FoodTech and Agritech in a webinar Moderated by George Stoyanov, Partner at Grant Thornton UAE. Youssouf Kamal – Innovation and Partnership Manager at Plug ‘n’ Play UAE, Robert Kupstas – Co Founder of Pure Harvest, and Jacek Plewa – CEO of Healthy Farm Food Innovation are the Speakers who lead the discussion on the use of technology in increase food production, smart farming, food waste management and the ethical challenges we all face in respect to these.

FoodTech vs Agritech 

FoodTech refers to how the whole value chain of food supply, from production to distribution, uses innovative processes in their business models to improve output. Key stakeholders here include startups, entrepreneurs and government interventions. 

Agritech on the other hand mainly looks directly at the use of sustainable technology to increase and improve yield. Youssouf believes the two are similar with the key difference being that Agritech is at the beginning of the value chain with FoodTech coming after the industrial level. Speaking at the panel discussion he made the point that; “FoodTech is a branch of food science with the production process from food preservation, packaging, sustainability to the use of data.” As of 2018, an Arabnet report gave 459 million dollars as the total value of digital investments in the UAE alone. From this figure, technology is critical in how economies are going to thrive in the coming decades. The use of technology in the food and agriculture sector includes urban farming, thinking Artificial Intelligence (AI) as well as modern sustainability practices.

Using Technology to solve issues of Climate Change

In Daniel’s opinion, Food technology is a micro economic challenge ultimately driven by geography. This is true considering the kind of terrain that exists in the UAE for example, very few areas can be considered as arable land for farming purposes. For Jacek, the COVID-19 crisis has been a great revealer and has offered us a great opportunity to rethink food processing and how we treat food as these have a direct bearing on the environment. Studies have shown that the food industry is responsible for 26 percent of global GHG emissions. This can rise to 40 to 50 percent by 2030 if not properly handled. On the other hand, he says that “With this set up I think we are getting ready for a 5th industrial revolution driven by the challenges of the environment and this is related to technology, so it is a time to think. It is a great scope of work for leaders and businesses to rethink technology. Technology is available, it is more on the government and regulatory side to create an environment that addresses these challenges.” A UN study suggests that the world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, and this also means that this number will have to rely on food so we have to start creating sustainable systems. For example, Healthy Farm Food Innovation has for the past five years been working on alternative meat with a technology that has been available and developed for ten years, and accelerated more with investments. Jacek goes on to add that clean food is also important and defines it as saying no to chemicals, refined sugars or flours, artificial additives, and pesticides. In summary the less processed food is, the better. 

Quality control needs to be improved with focus on sustainable packaging as well. Pure Harvest for instance is planning to build 70 hectares of green house to provide healthier and more affordable local food.

How do we advance the Food and Agriculture capabilities we have?

The UAE being ranked 21st on the Global Food Security Index reflects the country’s role in advancing food sustainability. In Youssouf’s view, the UAE is very reliant on international supply chains and that puts the country at risk. We therefore need to create win-win configurations for all stakeholders to leverage technology for example, with startups and collaborations to improve the ecosystem. We also need to leverage private sector involvement. They may not be too open at the beginning but we need to educate, incentivize and prove to them by showing them the KPI’s and profitability proof that it is a business model that works.

Rethinking Supply Chain and Distribution to decrease food loss/waste 

The panelists debated on the role of supply chain and distribution in curbing food waste. They however agree that the GCC has a high per capita food waste which not only contributes to losses but greenhouse emissions, and so the key here is making efforts to shorten the supply chain by exploring local opportunities. For example, the time frame from harvesting to distribution should be less. Handling of perishables through cold chain practices should also have fewer people in the supply chain. These topics should be added to school curriculums for the mindset of change to begin at a very early stage. Consumers should also be sensitized; schools and communities need to be involved in elevating values we represent as a society in terms of ethics. From an industrial point of view the use of software, biotech and AI to provide data on food storage will prove useful. 

In tackling food waste in the next two years for instance, solutions provided by the panelists include relooking at government regulations and investment into technology, as well as the value chain. In addition, we need to focus more on educating the UAE youth population so that they can bring these standards to the schools and households.

Exhibit: UAE’s Youth Population Statistics. Source- Global Media Insights

Online grocery shopping can be effective in reducing food waste as they shorten the supply chain, and also a healthy option for consumers who can get fresh produce coming directly from the farms. 

People argue that farmworkers who depend on their labour to put food on the table of their families may feel under threat from ‘agri bots’ with all this talk of technology. However, new technology can be managed in a way that is beneficial to all stakeholders. Though the UAE government shows a lot of leadership in terms of regulation, ethical elements must be shouldered by both the government and the populace to support the creation of a viable ecosystem. Whilst government support is needed through initiatives, entrepreneurs who believe in the availability of clear opportunities in FoodTech and Agritech are needed in the space. Organizations now have CSR in their DNA instead of being a ‘once in a year’ occurrence and so this can also help in making an impact. There are a lot of opportunities in Aquaculture farming as well, even though it is capital intensive and requires a lot of technology maturation.

Should we really trust machines and robots to produce our food?

In Robert’s view, it is possible if they are bringing us closer to nature. In the first place, he says that “My company uses hydroponics technology and so our produce does not grow in the soil but is still natural. Open field farming may not be possible on a large scale in UAE due to 

environmental factors so in this case, we need to talk about hydroponics and other irrigation methods. Also, processes have to be automated, for instance robots harvesting yield in order to achieve the UN’s projection on feeding 9.7 billion people by 2050. 

Future technologies to look out for 

In terms of technology, Aeroponics farming is promising because it is less capital intensive, very environmentally friendly and sustainable as it uses less water. Also, technologies that discourage the use of pesticides to grow any type of crop should be looked into in a bid to improve consumer health and boost their immune systems.

How do we link all these with pricing?

Speaking on pricing, Jacek believes that we have more vulnerable and price sensitive consumers now and so companies must optimize costs in production to decrease these costs. Youssouf on the other hand thinks that it will be hard to be competitive with traditionally established farmers, but sufficient technology and skills will need to be implemented in large farms to gain economies of scale. For example, robotics is expensive but cheaper if the farm size is large. Farm to table concepts also need to be looked at and ecommerce is key here. In Robert’s view, he uses his Company Pure Harvest as an example where they offer more value in terms of quality compared to the competitors who import from Europe. Since they produce locally, their produce has more sunlight which also accounts for longer shelf life as they do not use artificial lighting compared to what their competitors do in winter. Also, they cut on freight costs as they transport locally and so they mostly have to deal with cooling and capital costs mainly. In summary, the value proposition is great quality at an amazing price. 

From the contributions of the Panelists, Host and Moderator, it is clear that we need to have more of these conversations as a people to come up with practical and innovative ways of curbing the likelihood of food security risks now and in the future. Technologies are available, and continue to be developed and so all stakeholders have to keep the conversation going in addition to putting in practical techniques needed to achieve global food security goals.






How Technology is increasing the Food Security in GCC

Опубликовано: October 13, 2020 в 09:52


Категории: Insights


The global pandemic of 2020 has brought to the global attention the need for advanced food security, supply management, and self-sufficiency.

A new United Nations (UN) report launched in 2019 states that the world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050. It is also expected to peak at nearly 11 billion around 2100.

A growing population always comes with its merits and challenges as well. 

Most people love to talk about food; but as the global population increases with the society currently faced with a pandemic and the impact of climate change on how we live, food production, security, and distribution must become sustainable. Practical ways to reform agriculture such as soil conservation, consumer education about behavioral changes, and the use of technology to produce, distribute, and reduce wastage ought to have a place on the discussion table. 

As part of EROE’s Business Transformation Explained Webinar series, CEO Daniel F. Solomon led a panel made of Jude Hamod from SRTIP and George Stoyanov from Grant Thornton to predict the future of food security, and answer questions on how innovation and technology can be used as tools in tackling food waste. 

With an extensive background in technology, Jude is the Head of Business Development at the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park whilst George is a Partner at Grant Thornton, a tax and auditing firm in the UAE.

What is food security and how is it economically impacting the UAE and the GCC region?

The United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security defines it as the means by which “people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.” The core of food security is whether people have physical access to food and whether they can feed themselves. 

Secondly, do people have economic access or economic strength for food? This can be looked at from the point of not only the individual person but collectively; first as countries and then from a global perspective. This means that each individual has the opportunity to have food and access its distribution and economic elements to support their families, nations, and so on. This should be done in the most environmentally sustainable and friendly manner in a supply chain cycle that is viable and secured making sure that food is not wasted. 

Each member of the cycle will play a pivotal role in this, and so it is everyone’s business to make this a mindset. Food production, capacity in terms of harvesting as well as technology plays a crucial role. These thoughts were shared by George Thornton during the discussion.

Locally, the UAE stepped up the vision towards the future of food security by launching the National Food Security Strategy which aims to make the  UAE one of the world’s best countries in the Global Security Index by 2051 and among the top 10 countries by 2021.

Main challenges to food security for a global population heading towards 9 billion by 2050

From a technology perspective, Jude Hamod believes that the population is still growing and GDP per capita is also increasing which drives global demand for foods that are resource-intensive such as processed foods. It’s not exactly the availability or affordability factor always for her, however, the main problem is the impact on the environment. Resource-intensive foods have had a negative impact on the environment such as on water, global warming, and the loss of biodiversity. There are ways to tackle these with the right technology. Farming techniques that use resources more efficiently, incorporating food waste processing well, and also going towards a diet that is less based on animal intensive resources is a way to go even though, with the latter, food may become more expensive.

The role of innovation by farmers and how we can support farmer-led innovation to tackle some of these challenges.

The agricultural sector has different challenges globally. In the UAE water consumption is one of them. Techniques such as vertical farming or hydroponics which aim to yield productivity through soilless, precision agriculture which uses satellite, productivity monitoring, huge use of drones, and IoT and technology must be implemented on a large scale. Currently, Jude Hamod mentioned one of the three companies in the UAE which are fully equipped to apply these techniques and several others and must be supported from all angles such as Agritech (Agricultural Technology) and Finance to sustain them. Making technology accessible means investing heavily in technology and innovation.

The United Nations’ World Food Programme has warned that an additional 130 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020, on top of the 135 million people who were already acutely food insecure before the crisis. This is alarming, and a reflection of the looming impact of food insecurity.

What is the best way to turn people into producing locally and how can it help improve the entire supply chain?

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted livelihoods especially in the F&B and Hospitality sectors which are traditionally big in the UAE. We have to support the production of locally produced food even from the perspective of the consumer. Fruits and vegetables are the most perishable items in terms of the food supply chain system and so they rank high in the wastage part. This is why local supply should be encouraged. Hypermarkets and local online stores can also help here. Governments and regulators have a role to play as well. Financiers such as banks can help by investing, and this will create a domino effect to the benefit of all, according to George. There are many opportunities in Agritech and using analytics will be helpful to prevent food loss. Innovation is key.

How do we address the controversy of constantly producing more food to meet the growing demands of the population?

A large percentage of fruits and vegetables always go to waste. They are most susceptible to food wastage because of their natural elements which makes them more perishable. Transporting them means that there may not be a need to add more additives in preserving them. We, therefore, need to find ways to curb the food wastage percentage. It uses the law of increasing numbers. Companies can take advantage of this to optimize waste, improve storage facilities, transportation, and many more in a bid to curb waste. Harvest technologies and packaging is crucial.

Jude believes that controlling storage and transportation is important. The education of people in the supply chain can also help prevent waste. Most solutions are AI-based and so traceability technology is needed to improve the operations and reduce inefficiencies. The use of AI for analytics also helps in forecasting and planning instead of overproducing. Innovative packaging is also important in helping the consumer in being more conscious. This improves dynamic pricing for example on perishable goods.

How do we go beyond price, whilst educating the consumer about how to avoid food waste?

Panelists agree that we must ensure people are buying more organic food, changing consuming behaviours to more sustainable and nutritious foods. We must also encourage the use of applications that help people to be nutrition-conscious leading to 

sustainability is becoming a necessity and not a trend.

Changing the approach to nutrition, Consumers should become conscious buyers and different stakeholders have to be involved in eliminating food waste that leads to insecurity to support the UN goals. 

How do we address food security, nutrition, and waste in the years to come?

First, technology is key and so, companies and startups need funding to be able to use it effectively. Testing is also important to make sure techniques are viable.

Key stakeholders have to be consulted extensively to help implement these technologies.

The UAE has very high ambitions in going ahead in the rankings of the Global Food Security Index. In light of this, we all have a role to play. The role of regulators is vital, and authorities can play an active part however consumers have an equal responsibility of supporting the national vision by educating themselves and by changing harming inherited commercial behaviours. 

Moreover, financing support is key and investors should turn their attention towards startups and companies producing innovative solutions to support the change towards food sustainability.

Least but not last, an important component remains the nutrition and sustainability education, which should be implemented from an early age so that the next generation can develop a greener mindset from the very start.

Consumers, startups and governments together can achieve the National Food Security Strategy of the UAE. We all need to do our part to move everything forward.