Despite its climatic conditions that make farming and cultivating crops a challenge, the UAE has embraced the latest in agrotechnology to work towards achieving the country’s goal of becoming the most food secure nation
As a city, Dubai is lauded for its forward-thinking initiatives. It is not only focussed on being technologically advanced in all spheres of life but also strives to maintain a balance between economic growth, the well-being of its residents, and protecting the planet for future generations. Due to its many landmark endeavours, Dubai is perceived as an ideal city to live and work in and has set a precedent for other cities and nations to follow. Its efforts in the agriculture sector are just another example of this.
Agriculture in the UAE
With climate change and food security assuming greater importance around the world, the UAE has taken several steps to tackle this and become a centre for agriculture technology, food production and innovative food security solutions.
With respect to agriculture, the country’s climatic conditions throw up many challenges—from water shortage to infertile soil and high temperatures, which makes it difficult to cultivate and grow crops. However, these drawbacks have not held back the country from achieving its goals with respect to food security. The country has been increasingly investing in technology to strengthen and boost its agriculture sector.
It has set into motion a number of initiatives and policies to make it the most food secure nation, as part of its National Food Security Strategy 2051. Through this strategy, the country hopes to ensure access to nutritious and safe food supply for the world all through the year—thereby eradicating hunger. This will be achieved by innovative agricultural practices—like hydroponics, aquaponics and organic agriculture, among other efforts—that deliver better productivity and production whilst conserving resources and safeguarding the ecosystem. To achieve this vision, the UAE has been steadily investing in new agritech, sustainable agriculture practices, and offering support and subsidies to farmers and producers to make them more self-reliant. This strategy will also help to provide new jobs and raise USD 6 billion for the country’s economy. UAE’s food trade already exceeds AED 100 billion annually, making the country a global food logistics hub.
Last year, the UAE cabinet also approved a national system for sustainable agriculture to increase the efficiency of farms, improve self-sufficiency, boost average farm income by 10 per cent annually, raise the agricultural workforce by 5 per cent annually, and reduce the amount of water consumed by irrigation.
The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) has also been exploring and cultivating alternative crops that can thrive in the region. Other steps are also being taken, for instance, Desert Control, a chemical company, is working towards reversing desertification and making the earth green again by way of its patented Liquid Natural Clay (LNC) method.
Advanced agriculture initiatives
Dubai, too, has been consistently investing in, and utilising the latest technology to boost its agriculture sector. The city recently launched Food Tech Valley, a first-of-its-kind agtech city in the world, which will utilise the most advanced agriculture technology and modern sustainable processes to boost the country’s export of fresh produce to regional markets. It will also help the country conserve resources and become self-sufficient in terms of food production. It will serve as a centre for future clean-tech agricultural products and a knowledge hub for researchers, start-ups and industry experts.
Then there’s hydroponics, vertical farming and cellular agriculture, which are being utilised to help Dubai increase its food production. Vertical farming is one such solution where crops are grown in vertical stacks minimising the consumption of water, space and energy. While Badia Farms was the first to set up a vertical farm facility in the city, Dubai will soon see the launch of the largest vertical farm, a USD 40 million partnership between Crop One and Emirates Flight Catering, which will produce tonnes of pesticide-free grains. Many such projects are being facilitated in the city alongside R&D endeavours and investments to increase food production and make the deserts cultivable. Sokovo, a company specialising in high-tech agriculture, has also signed a deal with Dubai Industrial City, to set up a vertical farm that will produce tonnes of fresh vegetables and fruits every year.
The use of hydroponic technology—which uses far less water, space and is free of harsh chemicals—by farmers has been prioritised by the UAE government. The government is supporting farmers by providing research and development services, good quality seeds and more to help them transition to hydroponic systems and organic farming. All of this has helped increase the number of hydroponic greenhouses (there are more than 1,000) in the country. AI, biotechnology, genetic engineering, smart farming and aeroponics are some of the other techniques being developed and explored in the UAE.
With a steadfast focus on reducing its dependence on food imports and becoming food sufficient by way of modern agricultural practices that boost productivity while reducing the impact on the environment, UAE is on its way to achieving its agriculture and food goals.
Disclaimer: This article is a part of featured content series on Business in Dubai