Globally Agriculture accounts for the single largest source for food supplies. Creating a food secure future, yet, continues to be a daunting task, acknowledge Dubai. That shows why the emirate is using emerging technologies to reboot the country’s farming sector. “Smart farming is the way forward to achieving food security,” says Mariam Al Mheiri, the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment and Minister of State for Food Security.
Smart farming practices, experts say, are relevant globally, and even more to countries like the UAE due to their geographical conditions. “The idea is to utilise minimum resources for maximum yield, reducing wastage wherever possible. New-age technologies help and we are on to it,” Al Mheiri articulates as she talks about precision agriculture, which is all about cutting edge areas of “agritech” like nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, robotics and AI.
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“We want to use drones and sensors to specifically understand what every acre of land needs and what it does not. This will reduce inputs and their carbon footprints,” Al Mheiri adds. Accordingly the UAE, she says, has doubled its investment in research and development to ensure sustainable and innovative farming practices. A lot of companies set up in the UAE are using funds for innovation besides providing technology to neighbouring countries, she reveals.
Data from the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment shows that the UAE has over 177 advanced farms that use modern agricultural technologies and hydroponics and over 100 entities that are into organic farming. Lauding the UAE for redesigning its agricultural landscape, Henry Gordon-Smith, CEO and Managing Director of Agritecture, a global advisory firm on urban agriculture, says that the country has the right conditions to be the global leader in commercial urban agriculture.
The UAE, according to him, especially has vast potential in using controlled environments in agriculture technologies. Gordon-Smith, however, cautions that the UAE would need to foster AgTech among the youth, creating viable career pathways. Al-Mheiri concurs: “We are determined to lure the young Emiratis into the agricultural sector. I don’t call them farmers. Instead, I call them agri-technologists because farming is a cool thing to do.”
The UAE, which imports 85% of its food, has been making strategic interventions to improve the efficiency of its farms to achieve self-sufficiency. As part of our Food Security Strategy 2051, the country wants to raise average farm income and agricultural workforce by 10 and 5 per cent respectively besides reducing the amount of water consumed by irrigation. The Food Tech Valley further reinforces the country’s commitment to become a global leader in sustainable food production.
Dubai, the UAE’s springboard for Agritech, meanwhile witnessed an 11% increase in food trade in 2021 as the total value reached Dh.57 billion. Exports from the emirate also surged 11.3% to Dh.10.8 billion while re-exports grew 10% to Dh.7.9 billion. “We have underlined the importance of food security as a key element for comprehensive development,” confirms Hassan Al Hashemi, Vice President of International Relations at Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The steady growth of the UAE’s F&B exports may be seen as a sign of the country’s maturing food manufacturing sector. “This is in line with our national food security agenda and Dubai Chamber is committed to provide global opportunities to F&B companies by strengthening Dubai’s position as a preferred re-export hub for food products,” reiterates Al Hashemi explaining how different elements play a pivotal role in turbo-charging the country’s farming sector.
The UAE is, no doubt, sowing the seeds of Agritech. The strategy, the country hopes, would provide new employment opportunities and raise US $ 6 billion for the country’s economy. The country’s Food and Beverage sector has steadily grown to reach $ 20 billion in the first 9 months of 2021, shows the Dubai Chamber data. “We know there are no shortcuts to achieving food security,” says Al Mheiri. That means it is a long-drawn battle which the UAE would fight utilizing Dubai’s technology expertise.
Disclaimer: This article is a part of featured content series on Business in Dubai