Food production must increase by 70%, according to UN estimates, as the global population hits 10 billion by 2050.
On November 28, 2018, Mariam Hareb Almheiri, United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Food Security, presented the National Strategy for Food Security, with the aim, among others, to make the UAE the world’s best in the Global Food Security Index by 2051 and among the top 10 countries by 2021.
It will do so by enabling sustainable food production through the use of modern technologies.
As of 2015, it was estimated that the UAE imports 85% of its food and in 2014 alone, spending on food imports reached $100 billion.
UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, placed food and water security among UAE’s priorities for the post- COVID-19 period via investing in food technology and developing international partnerships that help provide practical solutions in the sector.
On the ground, the UAE is doing good on its promise.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), vertical farming consumes 75% less raw material than traditional farming and just 60 watts of power daily to grow 150 kg of vegetables in a month.
It uses just 12 liters to produce 1 kg of vegetables against 300-400 liters with traditional farming. Farming techniques use hydroponics and aeroponics to grow vegetables where nutrition is supplied to plants through macro and micronutrients dissolved in water, optimizing the use of water.
Vertical farms also bump up yield and ability to cultivate commercial varieties of crops in a controlled environment which otherwise would be unsuitable to local climatic conditions.
UAE’s Badia Farms has built a large-scale high-tech vertical farm in Dubai Industrial City, with the capacity to produce up to 3,500 kg of high-quality fruits and vegetables per year.
UAE-based VeggiTech’s vertical hydroponic farm at Al Zubair Orchards, Sharjah, uses LED-assisted hydroponics for indoor vertical farms and protected hydroponics to farm sustainably. Its farm facility has grown to over 60 acres of protected hydroponic farms and more than 45,000 sqft of indoor vertical farms, with a team of over 150 agronomists, engineers and farmers.
More fish in the sea
Gulf farmers are using hydroponics and fish farming to balance out the needs of a growing population. Salmon is being harvested at the Fish Farm in Jebel Ali which started off by sourcing 40,000 baby salmon from Scotland, with plans to produce 10,000 to 15,000 kg per month.
Fish Farm, the UAE’s first organic aquaculture business, was set up in 2013 to grow a variety of foreign species and slash the country’s reliance on imported produce where around 92% of all fish consumed in the country is imported. The UAE consumes 220,000 tons of seafood per year.
The UAE’s wider strategy is to support marine biodiversity and replenish depleted fish stocks by 30% by 2030 and cope with an 8-10% year-on-year increased demand for fish.
The company has an annual production capacity of around 3 million Kilos of fish. Bader Bin Mubarak, CEO Fish Farm, has ambitions for 80% of production to rely on solar power by the end of 2020.
Meanwhile at Dibba Bay, Fujairah, a 3-hectare farm is producing 25,000 to 30,000 oysters per month to supply local restaurants.
Fujairah is home to about half the mango trees in the UAE, numbering 109,000 across the country in 2015.
The UAE is conducting several research projects to try and boost food security and reduce reliance on imports – including trying to grow and test crop varieties that are suitable for the country’s harsh weather and environmental conditions. This includes growing rice for the first time in the UAE.
Breathable sand creates breathable roots, and a thin cover of sand reduces water usage for agriculture, farming, forestation, or gardens by 80%, which could mean billions of gallons of water saved per year.
Dake Rechsand, a collaboration between South Africa’s Dake Group and the Rechsand Technology Group from Beijing, recently announced the launch of their revolutionary ‘magic sand’ technology and its affiliated sand-made product range in the Middle East region to alleviate pressing challenges of food and water security, especially in desert regions like the Middle East.
The technology transforms the properties of ordinary sand, to allow the free passage of air while retaining water. Phenomenal results were achieved and include growing 1,500 acres of organic rice in the Ulam Buh Desert – one of the world’s seven driest regions, with temperatures of up to 57 degrees Celsius.
Dubai is serving as the regional launch pad for the innovations first global launch.
The region is currently using over 75 % of its renewable water resources, 85 % of which is being used for irrigation”, says Chandra Dake, Executive Chairman & Group CEO of Dake Group.
“In the UAE, the decade between 2008 and 2018 saw water consumption rise by almost 26%, to 1.87 billion cubic meters. UAE authorities made significant investments in cloud-seeding technologies however, the country is limited in its capacity to harvest this increased annual precipitation through wastage of surface water,” said Chandra.
Additional rainfall has done little to green the desert or reduce the dependence on external sources of food and Chandra said that the project can address both these issues simultaneously.