• | 9:00 am

UAE has ambitious food security goals. Can agritech and biosecurity help achieve it?

The UAE is taking steps to encourage local food production capabilities, including deploying regenerative and advanced farming tech.

UAE has ambitious food security goals. Can agritech and biosecurity help achieve it?
[Source photo: Venkat Reddy/Fast Company Middle East]

The latest State of Food Security and Nutrition report by the UN showed the world is moving backwards in efforts to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, with almost 3.1 billion unable to afford a healthy diet around the globe which rose from 112 million pre-pandemic. The report covers the countries affected by food insecurity and the primary cause of this global catastrophe. But, the most crucial question to be asked is what are nations doing to combat food insecurity? 

The UAE is one of the most affected countries by the global wave of food shortage. In 2018, the UAE Government launched its National Food Security Strategy to ensure access to sufficient amounts of food for all citizens.

There are a number of factors threatening food security in the region. According to the World Bank, only 0.5% of the UAE’s land is arable and has decreased by 3% annually due to desertification and soil degradation. The nation also experiences water scarcity as groundwater is quickly depleting. How can the UAE achieve food security in light of diminishing resources and changing consumption patterns? 

JOINING HANDS WITH OTHER NATIONS 

In a time of global crisis, nations are joining hands to devise solutions. A new partnership between the governments of India, Israel, the UAE, and the US, is the I2U2 summit (I2U2 refers to the first letters of the four countries). US President Joe Biden and Israel Prime Minister Yair Lapid had a four-way call in Jerusalem with their Indian and Emirati equivalents, Narendra Modi and Mohammed bin Zayed, to discuss the initiative. The group initiative focused on ensuring food security in each nation and looked at developing clean energy. 

“The US and Israeli private sectors will be invited to lend their expertise and offer innovative solutions that contribute to the project’s overall sustainability. These investments will help maximize crop yields and, in turn, help tackle food insecurity in South Asia and the Middle East,” the group said in a statement.

During the call, the group leaders said the UAE would invest $2 billion to develop a series of integrated food parks across India. These food parks will be world-class, with state-of-the-art technology geared to reduce food waste and conserve water. 

Additionally, the India-Middle East Food Corridor was discussed in great detail. This originated way before the I2U2, but the summit just cemented its efforts in establishing it. The Arab Gulf states’ strategic need to ensure their food security and India’s strategic imperative to increase the value of its food production means this strategic partnership is nothing but beneficial to all involved.

UAE is a bootstrapper for investment and development of its friend nations. But what is the country doing in-house to tackle its own internal plight?

VERTICAL FARMING ACROSS THE UAE

According to Alpen Capital’s most recent GCC Food Industry report, consumption of food in the UAE is anticipated to grow at 2.3% to reach 52.4 million tonnes by 2025, while demand for meat is forecast to grow 4% over that same time period.

The solution approach is deep rooted in agricultural practices. 

A highly effective approach to agriculture, vertical farming is gaining traction in the UAE to keep up with the growing population’s demand. Vertical farming, growing plants under fully controlled conditions in buildings in many stacked layers, enables the production of crops round the year. 

In collaboration with Crop One Holdings, Emirates Airlines unveiled Dubai’s world’s largest vertical farm. The new facility, the $40 million-Bustanica, is a 330,000 square-foot space, growing crops like kale, spinach, and mixed greens. 

Bustanica has the potential to produce over 2 million pounds of high-quality, organic greens annually.

“We are proud to bring Crop One’s best-in-class technology to this innovative food production facility. ECO 1 will address growing supply chain challenges and food security issues while introducing millions of new consumers to the benefits of vertically farmed produce,” said Craig Ratajczyk, CEO of Crop One. “It’s our mission to cultivate a sustainable future to meet the global demand for fresh, local food, and this new farm is the manifestation of that commitment.”

Bustanica leverages AI to help grow food without the use of soil. Human contact with plants is limited to decrease the chances of contamination. Instead, digital methods are used to collect valuable data and control operations. 

The facility relies on a closed-loop irrigation system to provide water to the plants. Each plant is provided with mineral-rich water, which upon evaporation, is collected and reused to water all the vegetation. This system also uses hydroponic cultivation, which consumes 95% less water than traditional farming practices. 

INITIATIVES BY INSTITUTES IN BIOSECURITY

The farms are prone to diseases that can pose risks to the farm animals, the crop itself, and the safety and quality of food products. The measures aimed at preventing crop diseases fall under the umbrella of biosecurity, which is essential to avoid an outbreak. 

The Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA) Board of Directors recently issued a decision concerning biosecurity requirements for Abu Dhabi farms and livestock holding. 

“The comprehensive plan for agricultural sustainability supports the UAE’s Net Zero by 2050 strategic initiative and is in line with global trends to promote climate-smart agriculture and food production,” said Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and chairman of the board of directors of Adafsa.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, stated how these requirements would contribute to sustainable agricultural production, making greater use of local farms. He emphasized the importance of following good farming practices and taking precautions to support the biosecurity system, contributing to food safety and community well-being.

To surge biosecurity and increase farming needs, ADAFSA has launched its strategic plan for 2022-2025.

The new strategy aims to motivate the agriculture and food production sectors and increase their contribution to the emirate’s GDP. The main goal, however, is to act on Abu Dhabi’s President’s vision, which aligns with the government’s objective to build a diversified economy based on knowledge and empowerment of sustainable agriculture development.

In addition, Abu Dhabi is organising the Abu Dhabi International Food Exhibition (ADIFE) in December. The exhibition will see local and international food and beverage companies attending the event and signing key deals and partnerships between government agencies and private sector establishments.

EMPOWERING LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION

The UAE is taking active steps to encourage local food production capabilities, including deploying regenerative and advanced farming tech, empowering local farmers, and digitizing the supply chain. 

”Changing human consumption behavior is necessary, but it will take a while. We’d rather focus on a disruptive change at the top of the value chain that has the highest potential of considerably diminishing carbon emissions,” says Alexandre Skander Allegue, founder and CEO of Graze it, a UAE-based startup that eliminates the expensive transportation of the imported livestock feed by growing it directly on-site.

Dubai is building a dedicated hub for future clean tech-based food and agriculture products to support a diversified knowledge-based economy. Supported by the UAE government, the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) is at the forefront of research and development of agritech solutions that help in local food production.

Innovators are using the UAE as fertile testing grounds for new agritech solutions to address some of the world’s most pressing food and environmental challenges. Elite Agro, a leading local producer and distributor of fresh produce, is increasing its supply of locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. This is to help strengthen national food security while reducing its carbon footprint in the market.

In light of the growing threat to food security, the UAE is taking active steps toward implementing and developing sustainable food production systems. 

The country is set to not only make food security a reality but also become a hub for global innovation in food production. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bilal is a freelance writer currently living in Dubai, specialising in tech and fashion, with an interest in enterprise tech and fast-moving trends both locally in Dubai and globally. More

FROM OUR PARTNERS