man using a computer at Dtec
Series: The growth of UAE green tech – Part 2: Renewable energy technology
April 25, 2021
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May 19, 2021

Series: The growth of UAE green tech – Part 3: Food production and farming

food technology Dubai

The world’s population is set to surpass 9 billion by 2050. It’s a staggering figure, and it doesn’t take a genius to infer that this is going to mean demand for food will also skyrocket. The world’s production systems need to adapt to keep pace with this.

That’s where FarmTech – or AgTech, to use an interchangeable term – comes in. Technological developments in this sector can help to maximize yields in the years to come without putting a greater burden on the environment.

Now, you wouldn’t expect that the Middle East, with its typically arid landscapes, would be a fertile – pardon the pun – area for agricultural innovation. But in fact, this is precisely why the UAE is an ideal environment for FarmTech companies to flourish: the government is aware of the need to encourage innovation to address the specific challenges the region faces. And quickly.

The UAE government is therefore taking active steps to foster the AgTech sector. The National Food Security Strategy aims to drastically reduce the UAE’s reliance on food imports and build a sustainable food production model for the future.

As such, the emirates are actively encouraging AgTech companies to the region. For example, in April 2019 the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) partnered with four AgTech companies – AeroFarms, Madar Farms, RNZ and Responsive Drip Irrigation – to establish new R&D and production facilities in the emirate. More will surely follow.

Here, then, are some of the most promising areas of agricultural technology in the UAE:

  • Automation: Remote-controlled drones can increasingly be spotted in the skies over the UAE. In June 2017, a pilot project was launched that saw unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being used to map farming areas across the country and create a highly accurate agricultural database to support decision-making. Closer to earth, there are growing opportunities for autonomous tractors, robotic harvesters, automatic water and seeding robots… the list goes on.
  • Tech-enhanced cultivation: One technology now widely used to further the UAE’s food security goals is hydroponics. Facilitated by technologies such as IoT-based automated climate control systems, yields in today’s greenhouses can be significantly increased. Madar Farms, for example, manufactures controlled-environment hydroponic growing infrastructure based out of shipping containers. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi-based Pure Harvest Smart Farms designs and operates high-tech, climate-controlled hybrid growing systems that make use of the region’s natural sunlight.
  • Harnessing data: Today’s farmers don’t have to be at the mercy of chance. Sensor-equipped gyroscopes, satellites and GPS can be used to gather information 24 hours a day. Remote sensing data can allow farmers to keep track of metrics such as plant health, soil quality, humidity etc. that are invisible to the naked eye. Ultimately, they can then employ specialised software platforms to aid decision-making. There’s huge scope for investment here. Dubai-based The Platform, for example, is a provider of IoT-based precision farming software which facilitates farm management through IoT ground sensors and satellite imagery.

Global demand for more sustainable – and efficient – agriculture will only increase along with populations. And like many other aspects of our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic has served to accelerate the move towards smart farming by highlighting the precariousness of global supply chains.

Fortunately, technology has the power to deal with this challenge. And if the UAE is to meet its ambitious strategy to achieve one of the top 10 spots in the Global Food Security Index by 2051 it will need all input it can get from innovative young companies. The field, as they say, is wide open.