Dubai Weather: Its Impact on Agriculture

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Agriculture is a challenge in the arid lands of the UAE. However, a new indoor approach to agriculture will be the key to supplying the region with food.  That too, without overdrawing from its limited water storage.  When you close your eyes and visualize the UAE, particularly Dubai, what do you see?  Dubai climate will not allow you to visualize normal farming.

Subsequently, you will most likely see desert sands, tall modern skyscrapers, and a blue sea under a shimmering sun. The image of farming or farmer does not simply fit in the scheme of things.

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Dubai Weather – Agriculture and Food Security in UAE

There are good reasons for this. The UAE is a federation of seven emirates. Lack of arable land, high temperatures, steep production costs, and salty soil hamper its normal agriculture practices. Additionally, it is hit by the occasional voracious locust swarm. Consequently,  the UAE imports 80 percent of its food requirements, as reported by the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative data research organization.

This reliance on the global food trade offers a huge opportunity. This has led to the Middle East’s first commercial vertical farm in Dubai – Badia Farm. Badia Farm grows greens like radish, kale, mustard, basil, and arugula in a controlled, indoor environment using hydroponic technology and LED lights.

Dubai Weather – Mix of Agriculture and Technology 

For the past seven years, the UAE has been working on its food security script by venturing into innovation-driven agri-tech through the intelligent deployment of information technologies associated with green technologies. This way, they have been reducing their footprint on food production and processes.

UAE region that has struggled to grow crops due to largely hostile desert landscapes, Badia farm offers a viable solution to agriculture in UAE by producing harvests 365 days of the year. The product is cheaper and fresher than imported goods but fresher too, as the farms will be delivering all year round.

The farm, which began production in late 2017, is on an 800-square-meter plot in Dubai’s main industrial areas. Badia Farm produces two hundred boxes of green vegetables a day.

The world’s largest vertical farm operates on 6500 sqm of a former steel factory in New Jersey, United States of America. Although Badia farm is much less than the world’s largest vertical farm, it surely is a big step for alternative farming in this region.

Dubai and the UAE as a whole can adapt to changes. They do not have any inhibition in embracing new technologies. They are also very well aware that traditional farming methods will not help them achieve the 2051 target. That is why you will find vertical farming, smart farming, hydroponics, and aeroponics blooming in this arid region.

Dubai Weather – Vertical Farming is the solution.

Vertical farming has taken off in many other places. Europe’s first commercial farm opened near Amsterdam in 2017, and Shanghai started a 250-acre agricultural district in 2019 with skyscrapers dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables.

Vertical farming brings some significant benefits because produce is grown in a controlled environment. There is no requirement for any chemicals or pesticides. Moreover, they use about 90 percent less water than open-field farming.

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Badia farms are growing food locally for the firm’s 30 UAE clients, mainly restaurants and hotels. Consequently, this means a smaller carbon footprint and save on transportation costs.

It does not make any sense to order products that arrive in packed boxes in a ship from as far as tens of thousands of miles away, especially when they can be grown in the UAE.

Although the UAE imports most of its food, UAE is food secure per United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

However, its food security comes with a risk as it relies on vulnerabilities in supplier countries and the international food trade market. 

Dubai Weather – Climate Changes

Climate change is another concern, which is likely to lead to increased food prices in the years ahead. No doubt, the UAE has strategic reserves in place to protect it from short-term disruptions. However, ensuring global food security will be challenging in the future due to the impacts of climate change.

One part of the solution is to boost domestic production through sustainable means. Diversifying imports and investments to ensure that the country is food secure in the long run is another part of the solution.

Other options include setting up storage facilities abroad and acquiring farmland in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The largest regional bank, Emirates NBD, has reported that in the past 50 years, UAE investors were part of at least 28 deals, covering about 1 million hectares of farmland globally.

Dubai Weather-Securing land abroad for farming

Dubai’s drive to secure land abroad to assure its food supply is not risk-free and could be undone by climate change or by political conditions in those countries.

Few of the countries may get highly affected by climate change. This can be due to more extreme weather events coupled with reduced productivity over some time.

Droughts or food shortages could see host governments impose export bans. Consequently, boosting productivity at home is the lowest-risk way to ensure food security in the coming decades. The UAE needs improvement in its agricultural productivity in the coming decades to meet demand. Moreover, it has to do so in the face of rising global temperatures expected to worsen extreme weather events.

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All of this directly impacts agricultural production, affecting both food producers and those who depend on them. The UAE and the Gulf region are no exception, as studies by Emirates Wildlife Society and World Wildlife Fund (EWS-WWF) reported in 2017. 

Dubai is a major regional hub for the re-export of food commodities, and the results of climate change, including hotter weather, will affect those facilities. Any resultant food price spikes would most hurt the poorest. Consequently, that could drive a long-term need for food subsidies.

Dubai Weather – Impact of Expensive Water

There are other factors too, such as expensive water. The UAE’s agricultural sector accounts for only 1 percent of its economy, Yet, it uses about one-third of its water. Hence, we see that it is vastly disproportionate to its GDP contribution.

Electricity is cheaper than water in the UAE, and regular farmers benefit from subsidies for water. Badia Farm has the view that ending such breaks would make vertical farming a cheaper alternative.

The money spent on powering vertical farms is very much lower than the cost of water used in open fields. Badia farms use plenty of electricity: from pumping water to powering the artificial lighting and computers that monitor temperatures. But looking ahead, Badia fams are working with the government on a shift to renewable energy.

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Madar Farms’ 7000-sqm area produced 365 tons of tomatoes, and UAE residents consumed about 14,000 tons of cherry vine tomatoes in the UAE in 2019. There is, therefore, the market opportunity for 38 Madar farms in the UAE for tomatoes alone

Dubai Weather – National Food Security Strategy 2051

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to border closures, lockdowns, supply chain disruptions, and other restrictions. These factors have only further increased Dubai’s commitment to advance food security.

The UAE had announced the National Food Security Strategy 2051 with 38 short and long-term initiatives. This strategy aims to emerge as the world’s best in the Global Food Security Index by 2051 and achieve zero hunger by ensuring access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round.

The UAE jumped ten places in the Global Food Security Index, moving from 31 in 2018 to 21 in 2019. It is an extraordinary effort. The UAE is now working on a self-set target of grabbing the Number 1 position in the Global Food Security Index by 2051.

The strategy aims to implement resilient and futuristic agricultural practices such as hydroponic farming, aquaculture, and vertical farming.  This would increase productivity and production, helping the preservation of ecosystems in the process.

Before the pandemic hit the world, Allied Market Research, a US-based market research firm has estimated the growth of vertical farms.  They forecasted that the global vertical farm sector was set to grow at an annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.61%, and the sector is projected to reach USD 6.25 billion by the year 2023.

Dubai is looking to capitalize on its global gateway status and re-export hub in the fast-moving fresh food sales sector, which is currently valued at about 280.5 million tones in volume. According to a report by Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology, there was a 53 percent increase in organic farms across the UAE in 2019.

Conclusion

However, the impact one vertical farm can have is limited and will be felt only on the margins. This will not change the UAE’s reliance on India, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa for cereals, sugar, and food oils. It represents a better way of growing produce in a region facing significant climate change challenges, which is essential. This technology for vertical farming will significantly contribute to food diversity.

It will also contribute to agriculture sustainability and food security as it increases crop production and lowers their cost. UAE’s ability to introduce automated farm machinery, Internet of Things (IoT), sensors measuring soil humidity, and crop tracking drones among others will sand it in good stead in the days to come and achieve the goals of its National Food Security Strategy 2051.

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