New steps are being taken to enhance domestic agricultural production and food security in Abu Dhabi through innovative practices. Technology, and research and development (R&D) will be key to expanding the agriculture sector and making it more resilient and sustainable. With a rising global population, accelerating food demand, scarcity of agricultural land and a growing need for rapid reforestation to reduce greenhouse gases, there is a strong case for the application of technology for agricultural development on marginal lands such as those found in Abu Dhabi.
While the sustainable intensification of agriculture on existing arable land will play a major role in meeting food demand, efforts are also being made to explore the possibility of farming in deserts and arid climates. Desert agriculture faces multiple challenges such as a lack of water, scorching sun and infertile soil.
However, new technology-driven agricultural methods are creating opportunities. Indeed, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimating that just 11% of the UAE’s agricultural land was arable in 2016, technology will have a big role to play. To that end, Abu Dhabi has introduced a number of agricultural technology (agri-tech) initiatives and are encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in the space.
In 2019 Abu Dhabi announced a Dh1bn ($272.2m) incentive package to establish the emirate as a global centre for agriculture innovation in desert environments. The funding is targeted at local and international agri-tech companies, and encourages them to set up shop in the emirate and scale their innovations for both domestic and international markets. The scheme incentivises those working on solutions related to precision farming and agriculture robotics, algae bioenergy and indoor farming, and includes up to 75% rebates on R&D costs. In 2019 the UAE also launched the $1m FoodTech Challenge, a global competition that seeks innovative solutions to food security and agricultural challenges across the value chain.
Private Sector Initiatives
Abu Dhabi is turning to a mix of start-ups and more established local and global players to unlock innovation, while also achieving more sustainable use of scarce resources.
Pure Harvest Smart Farms, launched in 2016, is working to grow tomatoes in the desert by developing smart greenhouses which measure sunlight, humidity, CO , water, temperature and airflow to ensure optimal growing conditions. Meanwhile, VeggiTech, a local agri-tech company, is using protected hydroponics on over 15 ha of farms in the UAE. It also has 4500 sq metres of indoor vertical farms that use grow light-assisted hydroponics.
A form of dry farming, hydroponics is soil-less agritech that vastly decreases the agricultural inputs needed in farming such as water, fertilisers and soil. Compared to traditional farms, hydroponic farms can use up to 90% less water and space.
In late 2019 French supermarket giant Carrefour launched Abu Dhabi’s first series of indoor, temperature-controlled hydroponic farms to supply locally grown agricultural products across all their UAE stores while reducing their carbon footprint. Carrefour’s farms will grow fresh herbs and microgreens.
Seed & Plant Varieties
The Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA) is pushing for the development of new seed and plant varieties that are better suited to local growing conditions. Crops of the future will need to be able to cope with climatic shocks, including heatwaves, cold snaps, droughts, floods and greater concentrations of atmospheric CO , as well as exhibit greater resistance to pests and diseases. R&D is already being used to find crop varieties that provide higher yields in arid climates. Saeed Al Bahri Salem Al Ameri, director-general of ADAFSA, told OBG that the emphasis should be on investing in developing new varieties rather than in the technology that existing varieties demand, such as greenhouses. This would involve developing salt- and heat-tolerant crops that need less water and are more resistant to drought.
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