Farm tech will boost UAE food productivity
Differences in local environmental conditions, such as dust, humidity and heat, and overall weather patterns can take their toll.
Food security refers to a sustainable food production system providing affordable and nutritious food that can be accessed easily. Thus, in a food secure community, all people at all times have economic and physical access to food that is safe and nutritious. Water security is the capacity of a population to ensure sustainable access to adequate quantitates of water for human well-being and socio-economic development. In a water secure community, quality water is available for people, industry, and the environment.
In the GCC, our reliance on imports to meet over 90 per cent of our food demand results in an extremely high carbon footprint. Local agriculture is reliant on traditional methods that are unsustainable due to their intensive use of dwindling fresh water. If we take UAE as an example, the population is predicted to increase by over 60 per cent in the next 30 years, exceeding 15 million by 2050. Feeding them is a collaborative effort between governments and the private sector.
Discussions of a green economy or sustainable development often focus on issues of transport, energy, waste management, or ecological conservation. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 report, agriculture produces a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all of our trucks, cars and planes combined. Agriculture is also the largest consumer of freshwater resources in the UAE. Agriculture technology (AgTech) such as controlled environment agriculture using hydroponics combined with vertical farming can reduce water consumption by over 90 per cent.
The year 2019 has been a great year for AgTech in the UAE as food security is on the country's national agenda. Acknowledging the strategic importance of this industry, under the guidance of Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) conceptualised a Dh1 billion incentive scheme to help AgTech companies cover R&D costs. The initiative recognises that agricultural innovation is expensive and challenging even when conditions are ideal. Our desert climate adds complexity to an already herculean task. This support is crucial and timely, given that there is no clear dominant company or city that is home to the AgTech revolution.
Government funding alone does not ensure success. Regulations need to keep pace with technological and commercial innovation. The Abu Dhabi government consolidated regulation of the agriculture sector through the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA). This new organisation has taken on the roles of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, the Abu Dhabi Farmers' Services Centre, and the Food Security Centre - Abu Dhabi. It is responsible for overseeing agriculture, food safety, food security, and biosecurity.
Like any new industry, businesses in the AgTech industry will inevitably discover that some aspects of the existing regulatory framework do not meet their commercial needs. This is natural as regulators cannot predict future industry requirements with 100 per cent accuracy. However, it is encouraging to see that the government is proactive about increasing their understanding and are taking decisive actions.
Research & Development is vital for the successful adoption of global sustainable technology. AgTech products being deployed around the world cannot simply be copied and pasted here in the region. Products developed in Asia, Europe or North America were created to be successful in their local environments. Differences in local environmental conditions, such as dust, humidity and heat, and overall weather patterns can take their toll, which means that effective localisation is key to success. Localisation also means the industry caters for the local consumption needs identified by The UAE National Food Security Strategy which mentions 18 main food items that are integral to the diet of UAE residents.
It is an exciting time for the UAE with the local green economy generating interest and support from all sectors of society. A sustainable AgTech revolution will help reach sustainability goals by reducing dependence on imports and conserve precious water resources.
Abdulaziz Al Mulla is Co-founder and CEO, Madar Farms