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The agricultural revolution securing future food supplies

Food security is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. The solutions are emerging in Dubai

Every February, innovators, entrepreneurs, and food and beverage (F&B) thought leaders gather in Dubai for the world’s largest F&B trade show, Gulfood. The 2023 edition convened over 5,000 companies, showcasing 100,000 new products from more than 125 countries.

The exhibition is an opportunity to make deals, form partnerships, and announce new products on the industry’s largest stage.

But in its talks, Gulfood Green and Foodverse initiatives, and even podcast – ‘Let’s Chew’ – Gulfood attendees also seek to answer a key question facing humanity: how will the world secure its future food supply?

Agtech city

There’s a reason Gulfood is hosted in Dubai. Driven by the UAE National Food Security Strategy 2051, the emirate has emerged as the epicenter for F&B innovation in MENA.

The strategy seeks to propel the UAE to the top of Global Food Security Index by 2051, principally by transforming the country from a net importer of food into a major agricultural center.

Achieving that goal requires major investment and innovation in multiple overlapping areas, all increasingly relevant across the world: improving agricultural yields, while minimizing farming’s environmental impact, and reducing food and water waste in an increasingly challenging climate. In short: a full-scale revolution in how food is produced and distributed.

In Dubai, that revolution is guided by data. The emirate’s Food Security Dashboard uses AI-powered analytics to measure availability, consumption and local production to inform short-term purchasing decisions and long-term investments.

Back to homepageGovernment cannot do it alone. They believe the private sector has a big role in contributing, working hand-in-hand with government to overcome these challenges.”
– Saleh Lootah, Managing Director of Al Islami Foods and Chairman of the UAE Food & Beverage Manufacturers Group

Data also informs the National Farm Sustainability Initiative, which guides the government into purchasing local produce, as well as connecting major food companies with local farmers – demonstrating Dubai’s commitment to public-private partnerships as a path to food security.

“Government cannot do it alone,” says Saleh Lootah, Managing Director of Al Islami Foods and Chairman of the Dubai-based UAE Food & Beverage Manufacturers Group. “They believe the private sector has a big role in contributing, working hand-in-hand with government to overcome these challenges.”

And future solutions are supported by the Food Security Research Platform – where agriculture innovators can freely share ideas – alongside the Emirates Development Bank’s AgriTech Loans, which provides financial support for innovative agtech projects.

This combination of investment and support has seeded a burgeoning ecosystem of companies using innovative methods to bolster Dubai’s food supplies.

Saleh Lootah, Managing Director of Al Islami Foods and Chairman of the UAE Food & Beverage Manufacturers Group

Precision farming

Khadija Hasan is the CEO of Krispr, a Dubai-based agtech startup that grows leafy greens in its indoor vertical farm on the outskirts of Dubai.

She says the company’s mission is to decouple farming from its traditional variables like soil, climate, temperature, and water, bringing it inside, “so that we can address food production issues that we are increasingly seeing because of climate change and other variables in urban cities in particular.”

Vertical farming – where produce is grown in vertical stacks, using less square footage than in a field – offers many advantages. One is a perfectly controlled growing environment. The other is much more efficient use of resources. Hasan explains that even when using precision irrigation outside, “most of the nutrients get absorbed in the soil.” At Krispr’s farm, plant roots are suspended in mid-air, allowing exacting application of water and food.

Back to homepageWe've been very fortunate. We've had experienced people on board who've helped us with financial models and accessing our customers, potential mentors and investors."
– Khadija Hasan, CEO of Krispr

The approach will only become more efficient as new technologies like AI proliferate, harvesting data to optimize the farming process, with robotic ‘farmers’ carrying out algorithmic directives.

While the company’s current focus is easy-to-grow leafy greens and herbs, Hasan says they’re “gateway products… Ultimately our objective is to graduate upwards and do [crops like] tomatoes,” aligning with government goals for agricultural self-sufficiency.

Krispr is part of a growing community of vertical farmers in Dubai, including the world’s largest vertical farm, Crop One. And they’re joined by a cluster of other F&B innovators in the emirate – and abroad.

Khadija Hasan, CEO of Krispr

Collaborative cultivation

“We were part of the Mohammed bin Rashid accelerator last year,” says Hasan. The accelerator connects startups and founders with each other, as well as mentors and government departments.

“We’ve been very fortunate… We’ve had experienced people on board who’ve helped us with things like financial models, accessing our customers, and accessing potential mentors and investors,” she continues. Other alumni include startups exploring vertical farming, aquaponic farming, and AI-powered farm management.

And Food Tech Valley will soon cluster agtech innovators in a physical space. The project aims to triple Dubai’s food production by bringing every element of the food supply chain under one roof: from R&D and indoor farming to logistics and a shopping area.

While cultivating this ecosystem at home, Dubai is also collaborating across borders. The Future Food Forum – co-hosted by Dubai Chambers and the UAE F&B Business Group – is a conference dedicated to resolving food sustainability and import reliance in MENA, gathering C-suite leaders and F&B industry speakers from across the region.

It is a focal point in Dubai’s wider efforts to promote intra-regional trade, as well as to share innovations and technology. “You grow by sharing knowledge,” says Lootah.

Feeding the future

Krispr’s vertical farming is just one approach transforming agriculture in Dubai. Others include hydroponic greenhouses, greening the desert, and sustainable aquaculture.

This varied range of technologies testifies to the strength of Dubai’s agtech ecosystem as a launching pad for F&B innovators, supported by government and peers alike. One can only imagine what it will yield as it grows.

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