Sharjah Innovation Park developing hydroponics to boost food security

SRTI Park has been developing innovative technologies, including hydroponics, for agricultural production and food security in the region
SRTI Park has been developing innovative technologies, including hydroponics, for agricultural production and food security in the region

Rohma Sadaqat

Published: Tue 24 Aug 2021, 5:26 PM

The Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI Park) has announced that it has been developing innovative technologies, including hydroponics, which will help ensure food security in the region.

Experts have noted that the UAE’s agriculture sector has developed by leaps and bounds in the last decade.

Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO of SRTI Park, said that SRTI Park is a hub for researchers, entrepreneurs, start-ups and industry experts who develop solutions that can shape food production not only in the UAE, but also regionally and globally. “We have been harnessing technology for agricultural production and food security. We develop hydroponics and located inside SRTI Park is Merlin Agrotunnel, an aquaponics farm, which is a combination of raising fish and cultivating plants in tanks, with an area of around 150sqm that can produce over one tonne of organic vegetables and fruits every month.”

Al Mahmoudi explained that hydroponics requires a large investment in the beginning, but the technology significantly reduces the consumption of water. “It saves about 70 per cent of water, and uses less or no fertilisers, which makes it perfect to grow food in a desert environment with less agricultural space and far less water resources.”

Aquaponics, meanwhile, is a form of agriculture that combines raising fish in tanks with soil-less plant culture. The nutrient-rich water from raising fish provides a natural fertiliser for the plants, and the plants help to purify the water for the fish. The water that is used to irrigate the fruits and vegetables is seawater, desalinated through solar energy, thus completing the development of an integrated system ensuring sustainability of natural resources.

Al Mahmoudi noted a team of botanists, agriculturists and engineers from Merlin International, has been conducting researches to develop a soil-free vertical cultivation technology that is the ideal way to produce sustainable food in a land scarce environment.

“This agricultural system at SRTI Park is one of the solutions to the problems of agriculture and food production. The agrotunnel can be combined into multiple units to create a commercial farm to provide fresh organic produce for multiple households daily. The agrotunnel can work in any environment and weather condition – even in the middle of the desert. We use advanced cooling technologies that can work on solar energy and can harvest water from sea or air,” he explained.

Al Mahmoudi added that the Covid-19 pandemic has raised concerns about global food supply chains being disrupted. However, the UAE has the technology to boost local agriculture and foster innovation.

“By focusing on research and developing more advanced technology for agriculture, we can definitely overcome the challenges,” he said. “For instance, we can enhance the soil to have a higher water retention and allow us to have better water management. We can explain to local farmers how best to deal with crops and maximise their yield. We can teach them about hydroponics and aquaponics. We should also promote vertical faming to control the amount of water needed. This type of farming also uses artificial light as an alternative to sunlight.”

Looking ahead, he said that research and the further development of agricultural technology will definitely accelerate the sector’s growth. “We can also use Artificial Intelligence and big data to boost agricultural produce. We can use drones to map out plants suitable on outdoor farms to save resources. We want to grow more plants and learn how to grow them better. We want to invite farm owners, agri-business investors, startups and anyone interested in this vital sector to collaborate with SRTI Park and advance our agricultural technology.”

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