How agricultural tech is advancing the UAE’s food security goals

Hydroponics and other farming techniques are helping the UAE grow a sustainable ecosystem.

A couple of years ago, the UAE unveiled its National Strategy for Food Security. The plan’s primary aim is for the country’s population to have access to healthy food at affordable prices – and to hit top spot on the Global Food Security Index by 2051. However, the coronavirus pandemic and its ongoing impact on economies and trade have seen the importance of food security become paramount – something needs to change. “I believe the current pandemic has provided us the opportunity to completely reimagine the global food system,” Tony Hunter, a global food futurist, tells GN Focus. “Countries should look to ensuring domestic manufacture of basic foodstuffs for their own populations.”

One of the technologies touted to help the UAE achieve food security is hydroponics, which is used at Armela Farms to grow 5,000 heads of lettuce (in 19 varieties) and a tonne of kale (three kinds) every day. Yazan Abu Jaish, Managing Partner at Armela Farms, points out two major benefits of hydroponics: A severely reduced risk of pests and other insects, and sustainability. “Most pests, fungi and bacteria are soil-borne and as hydroponics is a soil-less growing technology, we are eliminating 80-90 per cent of this risk. Good agricultural practices are very important, for example using tolerant seed varities, modern biotechnolotogy, natural enemies and beneficial microorganisms.”

Saving water

In the sustainability stakes, he says the right hydroponic growing method, matched with the optimal cooling technology for the UAE’s climate, is what helps save water when it comes to growing sustainable produce. “In the traditional fan-and-pad cooling system currently widely used in the UAE, more than 80 per cent of the water requirement is used for cooling. The new agri-tech, fully automated climate control system used in our expansion, reduces water consumption from 80 per cent to 15 per cent while increasing production capacity by 60 per cent.”

Abu Jaish says Armela Farms’ closed-loop system is the first-of-its-kind in the region. “It is a hybrid greenhouse, fully automated with an advanced cooling system.” Building partnerships is also important for achieving the UAE’s long-term security goals. “VeggiTech has invested in a complete eco-system with local schools, universities, businesses, industry partners and respective ministries to raise the awareness of technology in disrupting the traditional agriculture industry,” explains Shrotriya.