On average, the gourmet product travels around 3,000 miles to reach the finest restaurants in Dubai. In most of the GCC countries, agriculture represents approx 70% of water consumption. More than 90% of the land in the Middle East isn’t suitable for agriculture. 80% of Saudi water resources go to agriculture, while the sector’s contribution to GDP is 2%. Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of desalinated water. It produced 1.3 billion cubic meters of desalinated water in 2015. The above facts underline the importance of food, water security and farms in UAE and GCC region.
In today’s era, fighting climate change means embracing modern farming practices. Sustainable development in the agricultural sector is achievable by these modern techniques.
Desert terrain, with high temperatures and limited rainfall have made agriculture difficult in the UAE. However, that is set to change with new technology. Companies in Dubai are discovering ways to grow locally-sourced produce.
Recognition of Technology’s Role – in Farms in UAE
The arid climate of UAE and the availability of limited cultivable land and scarce water resources speak volumes about the future of food security. The UAE government has taken decisive action to address the challenges of this strategic issue.
The farms in UAE stand to benefit from home farming solutions given the country’s agricultural challenges. About 90 per cent of UAE’s food supply is imported from other countries. This makes the concept of self-sufficient farming ideal, if not a necessity.
A few years back, the UAE government launched its National Food Security Strategy. It’s main aim was to boost the country’s future domestic supply. Additionally, it is a great diplomatic initiative in developing foreign partnerships to diversify food sources.
Food security refers to the system that enables sustainable food production. This system can provide easily accessible affordable and nutritious food. In a secure food community, all people have economic and physical access to safe and healthy food.
Water security requires that the system must ensure the availability of clean water. Sustainable access will help in human well-being as well as socio-economic development. In a secure water community, quality water is available for people, industry, and the environment.
Most of the agricultural startups or the farms in UAE have all started with leafy greens grown in hydroponic shipping container farms(sustainable farming). This method served as a crash course that helped to learn about the challenges of deploying global agriculture technology locally. These have helped the locals navigate through the local and international ecosystem. This ecosystem comprises suppliers, policy decision-makers, investors and clients.
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Importance of Localization in Agriculture Technology
These startups or the farms in UAE have realized that research & development (R&D) is the key to long-term success in this industry. The main issue with agricultural technology products is that the local environment plays a significant role in it.
In other words, products that are being deployed worldwide cannot simply be copy/pasted here in the UAE farms. The products developed in Asia, Europe or North America were created to succeed in their local environments.
The differences in local environmental conditions, such as dust, humidity, heat, and overall weather patterns is always formidable. It can take a toll on agriculture technology, which effectively means that localization is key to success.
The local startups have to realize that it is not the question of standing up for any particular technology over another. Localization means that local startups should grow food that the UAE wants and needs. They should commit to developing local knowledge to ensure the long-term health and success of the local industry.
One must also understand that developing local knowledge covers much more than industry skills. It has to include agricultural familiarity and education across all age levels.
As a part of this effort, educational programs are being developed for schools in Dubai. The locally designed content follows a simple approach in educating the students about agriculture, food security and innovation.
Farms in UAE: Showcase – Abu Dhabi Masdar City
Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City has rapidly become one of the world’s most sustainable communities. It comprises a fast-growing clean-tech cluster and a business free zone. Additionally, there is a residential neighborhood with restaurants, shops and public green spaces.
Masdar City is a role model for cities around the world. It is being built on three pillars of economic, environmental, and social sustainability. It continues to push the boundaries of innovation.
In a short time, it has become home to the headquarters of the IREA, several Fortune 500 companies, hundreds of local businesses and entrepreneurs. Additionally, it is the home to a leading graduate-level research institute.
Bustani, a Smart Home Farming Showcase, was held at Masdar City’s Eco-Villa prototype in 2019. It demonstrated emerging farming solutions that would help the farms in UAE become more self-sufficient in meeting their daily needs. More than 15 Agricultural technology-based products were showcased in collaboration with Masdar City and the Ministry of Food Security of UAE.
Agriculture is a capital-intensive industry where the proof of concept and returns require a significant investment of time. It is very different from digital startups that can grow in multiples overnight.
In agriculture, taking an idea from seed to complete fruition requires local data, and experimentation is crucial for commercial success.
Farms in UAE: Showcase – Crop One Dubai
Despite water scarcity being an issue in the UAE, Dubai is adapting high-technology and low water agriculture systems to solve the problem. The agricultural tech company, Crop One Holdings from Massachusetts, USA, has tied up with Emirates Flight Catering. Together, they will be creating the world’s largest vertical farm in Dubai as a part of their joint collaboration. This was part of the $40 million deal signed in 2018.
Vertical farming allows harvesting of crops in indoor farms using technology to enable pesticide-free, optimal growing conditions. These farms can be anywhere because humidity, light, temperature, plant nutrients and water are all provided in a controlled environment.
Vertical farms grow plants in a soilless growth medium using nutrient solutions. The biggest advantage of vertical farming is that the sealed environment means no pesticides or herbicides are required. The bacteria levels on the fruits and vegetables are very much lower, making them safer and longer-lasting.
Crop One will construct the farm in Dubai, UAE, to supply Emirates Flight Catering clients. This will include Emirates airline and other 105 airlines and 25 airport lounges based at Dubai International Airport.
The 130,000 square-foot controlled environment facility will produce 2,700 kg of high-quality pesticide-free leafy greens on completion. These leafy greens will be harvested daily, using 99 percent less water than outdoor fields. Its location will enable faster delivery of fresh products within hours of harvest, thereby maintaining the food’s nutritional value. This will also reduce carbon emissions associated with transportation.
Farms in UAE: Showcase – Badia Farms
Badia Farms has kicked off a farming revolution in the UAE by becoming the GCC’s first indoor vertical farm. They have gained a reputation for supplying the finest microgreens and herbs to Dubai’s top restaurants, caterers and chefs. The continuous demand for gourmet leafy greens all year round has motivated them to close the gap between chef’s kitchen and farm.
Vertical farms in Badia Farms control environmental factors such as humidity, temperature and gases. They use artificial light sources, and apply fertigation systems. Their vertical farming methods use 90% per cent less water than open field growing.
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Farms in UAE during COVID-19 Pandemic Times
In COVID-19, UAE has utilized a two-pronged strategy to meet the country’s food demand amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a trading hub, UAE is the centre of the global food supply chain.
UAE has stepped up efforts to support local farmers and explore innovative cultivation methods suitable for the desert climate. The government of UAE has recognized that the enhancement of food security is possible only through the adoption of advanced technologies. These technologies include AI, biotechnology and genetic engineering, which will act as one of the key long term growth pillars.
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Employing modern technology and tools will bring about a two-pronged result: increased food production and lesser carbon footprint.
This strategic importance of agriculture technology has been recognized and acknowledged under H.H Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE’s Armed Forces.
This has led to the conceptualization of the DH 1 Billion incentive scheme by Abu Dhabi Investment Office to assist AgTech companies in covering R&D costs. This initiative recognizes and highlights the point that agricultural innovation is expensive and challenging even when conditions are ideal. This is very timely and crucial support, especially when there is no dominant company or city home to the AgTech revolution. This presents an opportunity of a lifetime to establish UAE as a global leader – as the industry is still in its infancy.