Turning the Desert Green

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Let’s take a closer look at Abu Dhabi's approach to food security

By Stephen Sullivan

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Published: Fri 8 Apr 2022, 12:45 PM

The UAE relies heavily on food imports, with over 85 per cent of its food imported every year. The nation has long vowed to reduce its reliance on food imports through a variety of initiatives introduced to encourage sustainability and to invest in technologies to find a solution to food security. Although the UAE has been addressing issues around food security for a number of years, the Coronavirus pandemic has only sharpened the focus on this topic.

In 2018, Abu Dhabi launched the National Food Security Strategy 2051 with the main aim of ensuring access to safe food through sustainable agricultural practices. This was followed by the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority by Law No. 7 of 2019. The Authority's main aim is to encourage sustainable agriculture and enhance biosecurity that maintains animal and plant health.

What is Agricultural Tech (AgTech)?

What is considered agricultural technology has changed over the years. It ranges from simple tools and farm equipment to artificial intelligence, connected sensors and other techniques that can be applied to grow and harvest crops and animal husbandry. An example of modern agricultural technology is the use of vertical farming or LED lights to grow crops, indoors and under controlled conditions so that fruits and vegetables are available all year round.

AgTech and the UAE

In recent years, Abu Dhabi has grown to become a world-class AgTech hub. The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) has allocated over Dh500 million in incentives to eight AgTech companies seeking expansion to the emirate, as part of its Dh2 billion Innovation Programme. ADIO’s partner companies are developing agriculture solutions that are locally relevant and globally exportable, supporting Abu Dhabi’s vision to “turn the desert green”.

In further support of the strategy, an AgTech Park is opening up under the Abu Dhabi Ports’ Industrial Cities and Free Zone Cluster. Not only is this the UAE’s first fresh produce AgTech Park, but the new venture by Abu Dhabi’s holding company ADQ will also position the UAE as the region's leading farming hub. The expected annual production capacity at the AgTech Park for fresh fruits and vegetables is 39 kilo tonnes. This is a clear example of the UAE’s serious commitment and investment into technology to help sustainability.

Another testament to Abu Dhabi's investment into agricultural technology is Pure Harvest Smart Farms. It was one of the three Ag Tech companies that the ADIO invested in as part of the ADIO's Innovation Programme in 2020. The Dh152 million funding has helped Pure Harvest Smart Farms advance its technology that is used in the process of growing fresh fruits and vegetables in controlled environments. It's unique proprietary climate management system builds on from the data collected during the time it has operated in the UAE to provide improve the conditions used to grow produce. Following the Ag Tech company's USD 60 million Sukuk financing solution in March 2021, Pure Harvest Smart Farms has expanded to another location in Al Ain. In October 2021, the company announced a joint venture with PlanTFarm to design and operate vertical farms in hypermarkets and grocery stores to sell the produce directly to the customers.

The UAE’s efforts to find a solution

It is clear that food security is integral to the UAE's mandate to preserve the UAE’s plant, animal and living aquatic resources. In fact, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment set out seven key objectives in order to facilitate its mandate which include, amongst other things, strengthening the enforcement of environmental legislation, cultivating a culture of innovation, enhancing food diversity and utilising the UAE's natural resources in a sustainable manner.

The UAE has been quick to introduce measures with food diversity and security at the heart of it. The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment confirmed that as part of the process, the UAE government has partnered up with private partners and other stakeholders to explore different ways to provide food from reliable sources such as setting up veterinary and agricultural quarantine centres and laboratories.

2020 saw the announcement of a joint venture between Dutch-based GrowGroup IFS and Abu Dhabi-based RainMKRS Capital Investment, setting Abu Dhabi up as the home for the world's largest indoor farm. The progress continued in 2021 with Abu Dhabi's Environment Agency combining forces with New Zealand to research projects that will help enhance water and food security.

The way forward

Abu Dhabi's initiatives and continuous investment in finding solutions for food security, encouraging agricultural technology and development, and promoting awareness and skills to lead more sustainable lives highlights the importance of technology and the role it plays in moving forward. Already the UAE's efforts can be seen internally even just through your weekly grocery shop where you can pick up products like free range and antibiotic free chicken from Al Ajban Poultry Farm, or camel milk products from Al Ain Dairy. With many new projects under way and a new AgTech Park launching, Abu Dhabi is sure to be the proving ground for the practical application of the UAE’s investments in the use of agricultural technology for achieving future sustainability.

Stephen Sullivan, Partner and Mira Bagaeen, Paralegal from the Trowers & Hamlins International Corporate team in Abu Dhabi

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