Urban farming: Green evolution

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Some projects in urban farming have already been implemented in Dubai.
Some projects in urban farming have already been implemented in Dubai.

Dubai - UAE residents may soon pluck vegetables from their balconies and start cooking


Sandhya D'Mello

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Published: Mon 10 Apr 2017, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 27 Dec 2022, 10:27 AM

UAE residents may soon pluck vegetables from their balconies or living room or any corner of the house and start cooking given the rage of urban farming catching up in the emirate. Portals have listed commonly used vegetables - cauliflower, cabbage, celery, mint and many more - used in daily cooking being grown in homes.

"100 square metre room can produce as much as yield of one acre farm can produce," said Ravi Shrotriya, founder and CEO Veggitech of Arabia.

The company has tied up with leading brands to test their pilot project in the emirate. "The farming technique involves installation of its self-sufficient equipment which runs on electricity and is controlled by sensors, reducing hassel of supervision of the agriculture produce."

Recently Dubai SME has also intsalled an urban farming unit at its headquarters.

A US headquartered Agritecture.com is strongly pitching for the urban farming in the UAE stressing the importance to involve the real estate companies to promote the concept of urban farming.

It is well documented that the government bodies such as Dubai Municipality and The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment strongly support sustainability including encouraging developments to take part in urban farming.

Dubai Silicon Oasis is leading the way with a community farm for their residents.

Urban farming is being well received by population of the UAE and there are many social media groups and blogs bringing people together on the subject.

"The UAE is developing quickly with new real estate projects and master planned communities sprouting up. The region should incentivise developers to make 20 per cent of all space for urban agriculture and agtech," said Henry Gordon-Smith, founder of Agritecture.com on sidelines of two-day event AgraME.

The agriculture fair - which will conclude tomorrow in Dubai - will address issues around water management and greenhouse farming in the UAE.

Urban farming has also been put forward as a key solution to food security in the UAE. Some projects in urban farming have already been implemented in Dubai, including the urban rooftop garden at Time Oak Hotel and Suites and the Biodome Greenhouses in Dubai Sustainable City. These have proved popular and been used to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs.

However, to truly have an impact on the nation's food supply, urban farming needs to take place at a much greater level and be embraced in all the city's construction projects.

With the world's urban population projected to rise by 72 per cent in the next few decades, cities around the globe are facing numerous challenges. With noticeable climate changes and other environmental factors adding to these challenges, cities are now forced to find innovative solutions to become economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

So what are benefits of urban farming? The high-tech vertical urban farms grow high volumes of vegetables using less water.

"The inhouse farming takes anywhere from five-eight weeks to grow. We sell 33 varieties of vegetables and 13 varieties of herbs," said Jean-Charles Hameau, founder of Dubai-based mygreenchapter.com.

Gordon-Smith said the UAE should demonstrate the technology through design and architecture to inspire others to envision greener cities every day. Also, residents should be encouraged to grow some food at home through hydroponics and small scale vertical farming.

The Middle East faces one major resource challenge in regards to agriculture: lack of fresh water. This problem will not be easy to solve.

Agriculture uses 70 per cent of freshwater globally and the volume of water required to feed the Middle East from local agriculture seems unsurmountable. Incremental changes will be needed to get the region towards food security.

One technology worth continued investment is desalinisation. This method of converting sea water to water that is usable for agriculture is costly but remains the critical technology for the region.

Other low-tech solutions like rainwater capture and atmospheric water generators are unlikely to have a significant enough impact on the region's agriculture needs. Desalinisation technology should be developed in parallel with water saving irrigation methods including drip irrigation for outdoor crops and hydroponics for indoor crops, informs the US entreprenuer.

One of the prime reasons also cited for lack lustre approach to agriculture is the sector is not promoted aggressively. A recent survey into Emiratisation conducted by human resources consultancy Mercer highlighted the lack of Emirati students pursuing careers in certain industries, including the food and agriculture sector. An issue seems to be perception of the sector as an employer. In the 2015 Emirati Employment Report produced by Oxford Strategic Consulting, 34 per cent of the UAE nationals surveyed selected agriculture as one of their least attractive employment sectors. "There should be training programmes for university students to learn about agtech and how to manage them. These programs need to be promoted heavily and encouraged through the culture. Agriculture must be seen by current and future generations as a sustainable and profitable pursuit. Otherwise the labour and talent force will not grow," said Gordon-Smith.

The University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) was recently selected by Plantagon as their academic research partner in Dubai. The Swedish company, known for their patented innovations in the field of urban food production systems, and the University of Wollongong in Dubai, with expertise on Supply Chain Management, Marketing and Engineering science, have established a newly formed partnership with a focus on urban agriculture related research and the development of innovative solutions for the UAE.

"Urban farming is a prerequisite for any city claiming to be sustainable, it goes beyond producing food and connects the necessities and security of Food, Energy and Water - what is referred to as FEW nexus. We at Enspire are proud to be part of the collaboration between Plantagon and the University of Wollongong in Dubai to create a research hub here in Dubai", commented Soud Baalawy, Board member of Plantagon Agritechture and executive chairman of Enspire.

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