In recent years, its been hard not to notice the United Arab Emirates’s (UAE) efforts to invest heavily in the agriculture technology sector. From the announcement of Emirates and Crop One’s 130,000 sq ft vertical farm in Dubai, to Abu Dhabi’s $100 million investment in farms such as Madar Farms and AeroFarms, as well as other players in the ecosystem such as RDI, an irrigation system company, and RNZ, a fertilizer manufacturer. It remains evident that in a country where, according to the World Bank, 5.4% of their land is designated as agricultural land. For context, the UAE is approximately 83,600 sq km – about the size of Austria.
On a recent trip to Dubai for Expo Live Dubai 2020, our team had the opportunity to speak to a number of farms to understand what the landscape looks like on the ground. As one of Expo Live’s grant winners, we had the opportunity to share our work. Our Founder, Tinia, shared some of her thoughts on Expo Live’s TV Channel below.
Re-Nuble's feature on Expo Dubai's TV Channel
We were also exposed to the country’s impactful initiatives to build up their agricultural strength and reclaim infertile land. For example, at the UAE’s pavilion, we learnt about how the UAE has begun planting more saltbush plants across the desert. Not only are these plants able to weather salt winds and desert storms, but its deeps roots draw salt from sandy soil and help bind it together, thus protecting the land from wind erosion. It made us think about just how resilient nature is and that the reintroduction of resources, whether it’s saltbush plants or in our case, food waste, can completely reverse environmental degradation.
An explanation of saltbush plants at the UAE pavillion
For a country like the UAE having successfully developed the country’s first ever food diversification strategy, together with the FAO, as a way to reduce food waste, while also building a more sustainable and stable food supply chain, they sent a message to the world about their focus on the reallocation of resources.
With the UAE, we aren’t land experts but the fact of the matter is that making land fertile again will take time, and yet the population in Dubai alone is expected to nearly double within the next 20 years to 5.8 million. In other words, the rate of people that need to food will grow faster than what the country is able to produce. The government though has taken heed. Take Abu Dhabi’s Sustainable Agriculture Plan for example. Two of these initiatives came up frequently as we met indoor growers from the region:
- The desire to grow organically – The Abu Dhabi Farmer’s Service Center has a mandate to convert 100 conventional farms into certified organic farms over a four-year period. Most growers want to walk down this path. But finding a solution that doesn’t need to be shipped from far away, or an option that allows growers to grow competitively to non-organic indoor farms. With approximately 80-90% of the country’s food being imported, many growers are on a mission to not just grow food quickly, but also healthily.
- Farmers are being encouraged to grow climate-resilient crops while also reducing waste of resources – How can indoor growers to this while also achieving profitability? Desalination has reduced exposure to climate change effects. However, it’s also a very energy intensive process. The technology exists though to grow efficiently while increasing crop resiliency, and the UAE is not short of it. For example, Evergreen Farms launched an indoor system, while we were in Dubai, that can now grow grain and cereal – key ingredients for many households. However, ensuring that crops are also climate-resilient is still not at a level whereby mass production for the country can be achieved.
Currently, in the UAE, there are over 30,000 farms. In the 1970’s there were only 4,000. There is a clear focus on this area and many growers in the region are brimming with the right technology and intentions. Finding the right partner though is key in order to get past the organic growing hurdles as well as the closed-loop and climate-resilient needs – both of which we can attest to. If you’re a farm facing these challenges, we can be of help. So do get in touch.
By Riyana Razalee