Abu Dhabi's Masdar City and investment platform Dana have signed an initial pact to advance food security in the UAE and contribute to expanding the agriculture technology sector in line with the country's National Food Security Strategy 2051.
Under the agreement, Dana will build its first beta site in Masdar City to test the feasibility of early stage AgriTech projects that can be developed and piloted in the UAE capital, Masdar City said on Tuesday.
It will focus on local and regional start-ups at the pre-seed and series A funding stage.
“This beta site will be an invaluable hub for the enhancement of the AgriTech sector, where innovation and technology — led by women — once again prevails as the winning combination behind long-term sustainability and success,” said Ahmed Baghoum, Masdar City's acting executive director.
The regional agriculture market is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 5.7 per cent through to 2026, according to Morgan Philips.
Rising demand for food and long-standing food security challenges also amplify the need for innovative breakthroughs and solutions.
When completed, the site will consist of 1,700 square metres of greenhouses, net houses and open field farming, displaying diverse approaches to the sustainable production of crops in the desert.
It will focus on developing solutions with the potential to overcome water scarcity, irrigation, greenhouse cooling and soil cultivation and regeneration challenges, as well as testing the resilience of new seed varieties.
With many start-ups already submitting applications to test at Masdar City, construction is set to begin in July 2022 before full-time operations are set to start by the fourth quarter of this year, Masdar City said.
The beta site will provide a platform for start-ups to showcase the potential of their homegrown food ideas before market entry.
It will also ensure companies from the UAE and the wider Mena region have the infrastructure and guidance needed to overcome food security challenges and resource scarcity in desert locations, Masdar City said.
The partnership has started discussions with venture capitalists and incubators from across the Mena region to offer services to portfolio companies as the AgriTech sector grows.
“We witness the Abu Dhabi ecosystem’s potential on a daily basis," said Zada Haj, co-founder and chief executive of Dana.
"However the option for hands-on testing of the tech solutions in the field is often missing. For the agritech sector, a pivot is more than just a new line of code, so the product needs to be tested for its feasibility, accessibility and affordability as early as possible."
Dana was founded by three women about two years ago and has served as a venture builder and investment platform that supports female-led start-ups in the AgriTech, energy, water and circular economy sectors.
As a result of Dana's focus on female entrepreneurs, the new beta site will emphasise the importance of providing opportunities for the UAE’s female founders to scale up their businesses.