Food Security and Renewables: The Driving Force behind India-Middle East Partnership

In a strategic move that began in July last year, India, the UAE, Israel, and the US have collaborated to establish the ‘India Middle East Food Corridor (MEFC).’ This initiative emerged following a virtual meeting among prominent leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and US President Joe Biden.

This pioneering effort towards enhanced food security gained rapid momentum. The United Arab Emirates committed a substantial investment of $2 billion to bolster India’s food parks, leveraging advanced Agri-tech and clean energy technology. The aspirations were lofty: New Delhi and Abu Dhabi aimed to triple their food trade by 2025, capitalizing on the connection between Indian farms and UAE ports.

The proposed MEFC would span from Gujarat’s Arabian Sea coast in India to Israel’s Mediterranean coast, establishing a formidable counterpart to China’s Maritime Sea Route, a cornerstone of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The UAE enthusiastically participated in this endeavor, invigorated by Pakistan’s pivot towards Turkey at the Gulf’s expense.

Moreover, this accord encompasses the establishment of a 300MW hybrid renewable energy project in Gujarat. This project aligns with India’s ambitious goal of reaching 500GW of non-fossil energy by 2030. The feasibility study, valued at $330 million, was financed by the US Trade and Development Agency and entrusted to India’s Shivman Wind Energy (based in Jamnagar), with US EverGreen Power serving as its contract partner.

The inception of the MEFC is a culmination of the gradual evolution of India-UAE ties that took root in 1972. Initially, the bilateral relationship between India and the UAE centered on economic cooperation, energy, and expatriate interactions. Over the years, India-UAE trade surged from a modest $180 million per annum in the 1970s to an impressive $68.4 billion in 2021, making the UAE India’s third-largest trading partner after China and the US.

During this period, India emerged as an exporter of minerals, food items, jewelry, textiles (yarn, cotton, synthetic materials, apparels, garments), chemicals, and machinery products. In return, India imported petroleum products, wood products, precious metals, and chemicals from the UAE. The burgeoning economic ties were accompanied by an influx of Indian expatriates into the UAE, contributing to around 38% of the UAE’s resident population. This demographic trend also significantly impacted India’s foreign exchange reserves through remittances.

The UAE has ambitious plans for connectivity, aiming to link the city of Fujairah on the Gulf of Oman with Mumbai. Beyond being a special economic zone, Fujairah holds geo-strategic significance due to its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. Additionally, it ranks as the world’s third-largest bunkering hub after Singapore and Rotterdam.

India’s pivotal role in food security, including its status as a significant provider of millets, was underscored at the Indian Pavilion during Expo2020 in Dubai, which concluded in March 2022. With 2023 designated as the ‘International Year of Millets’ by the UN, India’s pavilion, themed ‘Food, Agriculture, and Livelihood,’ facilitated interactions between UAE delegations and representatives from Grand Hypermarket, Al Dahra, Aqua Bridge, Choithram Group, RNZ Enterprises, and others—companies actively involved in food imports from India.

UAE-based enterprises such as Emaar Group, DP World, Sharaf Group, and Lulu Group have initiated investments in Indian agricultural start-ups. DP World Cochin’s efforts to establish new connectivity between Dubai’s Mina Jebel Ali port and Indian ports like Chennai, Vishakhapatnam, Kandla, and Tuticorin act as a gateway to industrial and agricultural products from India’s South and West coasts. The agricultural trading platform ‘Agriota’ aims to directly link Indian farmers with UAE food companies, with a promise to generate 200,000 jobs and benefit 2 million Indian farmers.

India officially recognized the State of Israel on September 17, 1950, marking the beginning of bilateral relations. After decades of non-alignment, India formally initiated bilateral ties in 1992 by opening an embassy in Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Israel in 2017, distinct from his visit to Palestine, further bolstered defense, agriculture, and technology cooperation between the two nations.

Collaboration between Israel’s Centre for International Agricultural Development Cooperation and India’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has facilitated the implementation of a Comprehensive Work Plan in Agriculture since 2006. This collaboration has led to the establishment of 25 Centers of Excellence in 12 Indian states, benefiting 150,000 farmers. Notably, Indian start-up Vyoda, in conjunction with Israeli Agri-startup Agrosolar Irrigating Systems, developed innovative solar pumping techniques in 2018. Furthermore, Israel’s Evogene and India’s Rasi Seeds Ltd have been collaborating since 2012 to enhance crop yield through bio-stimulants, fertigation, and drought-resistant seeds.

The I2U2 summit’s leadership by the US signifies a move towards creating a new trans-regional alliance instead of solely endorsing the food security corridor. As the US gradually reduces its military presence in West Asia, this agreement aims to establish a new regional order characterized by geo-economics, replacing traditional geopolitics. The US played a pivotal role in formalizing relations between Israel and the UAE with the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.

In light of these regional shifts, India‘s ‘Middle East Food Corridor’ vision solidifies its position as a food producer. This holds particular significance following disruptions in food supply due to the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The corridor’s establishment holds the potential to address challenges posed by climate change, trade interruptions, and volatile market prices that often impact India’s food production landscape

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