Abu Dhabi to spend Dh5.6bn on R&D into water scarcity and food security

UPDATE: The funds will be part of Abu Dhabi's Ghadan 2021 package

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - March 23, 2019: HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (L) and HH Sheikha Hassa bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2nd L), watch an equestrian performance by the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, at Emirates Palace.

( Mohamed Al Hammadi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs )
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Abu Dhabi will spend Dh5.6 billion to support research and development in water scarcity and food security, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said on Monday.

As part of the Ghadan 21 government initiative, the Abu Dhabi Executive Office and the XPrize Foundation, a global cash-prize competition series, on Monday signed a partnership to accelerate R&D in the emirate over a few years. A budget of Dh300 million from the Abu Dhabi government's Ghadan 21 funds will be used to sponsor a series of XPrize competitions.

The Executive Committee is entrusted with overseeing the Ghadan 21, or Tomorrow 2021, plan, a wide-ranging series of reforms and Dh50bn stimulus package, designed to accelerate Abu Dhabi's economic growth and reduce dependency on oil income.

Over the next three years, the partnership will hold two or three Abu Dhabi XPrize competitions annually to develop solutions that help answer the critical challenges of water scarcity, energy efficiency, food security, artificial intelligence, human ageing and environmental conservation faced by the UAE and the world.

One of the Abu Dhabi XPrize competitions will tackle the issue of food security.

The UAE Minister of State for Food Security, Mariam Al Mehairi, last year called the food security topic "one of the biggest challenges we will face in the future, with the issue likely to become increasingly important with global prices set to rise as demand increases".

With the global population expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, agriculture production needs to be increased by 70 per cent to keep up, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

The UAE, which imports 90 per cent of its food due to its arid climate, is looking to boost local food production by 40 per cent, the Ministry said.

Registration for the competition is expected to open in the second half of the year.

The Abu Dhabi Executive Office is also offering XPrize competitors with the best ideas an opportunity to work on their concepts in the UAEincluding through the tech Hub71 launched this week.

The agreement is the largest government partnership to date for XPrize, which has previously partnered with Google, Indian conglomerate Tata and Nokia, among others, to organise competitions.

“As you [Abu Dhabi] put out these challenges in the next three years, we are putting a call out to the planet that if you solve this problem, you win. Abu Dhabi wins. The world wins,” said Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of XPrize Foundation.

The prize is only awarded to those who can successfully demonstrate their solution. Anousheh Ansari, chief executive of XPrize, said some XPrize contests have ended with no winner, but the investment in R&D and the education that the prizes bring to society open up new markets.

The first XPrize competition in 2004 awarded $10m to a non-government project to launch and re-use a spacecraft in under two weeks. The contest is credited with creating Sir Richard Branson's private space company Virgin Galactic, sparking a multi-billion-dollar commercial space industry that now includes Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, among others.

Since then, XPrize has hosted 17 competitions in the areas of energy, environment, civics, health, exploration and mobility.

The most recent competition is the $10m ANA Avatar XPrize, challenging teams to develop a system capable of transporting a human senses, actions and presence to a remote location in real time, with the purpose of building a more connected world.

Further details on the XPrize for food security will be announced in the coming months, according to the Executive Office.