Al Ain-based AgTech Park, the agricultural venture of Abu Dhabi holding company ADQ, has started operations with the opening of a multipurpose vertical farm as the UAE seeks to enhance food security by developing local supply chains.
ADQ teamed up with Italy-based tech company Zero on the vertical farm, making it the first of several controlled-environment projects that will be housed in AgTech Park, the Abu Dhabi Media Office said on Wednesday.
The initiatives are intended to boost local indoor farming and "push the boundaries" of desert-climate farming in the UAE.
The inaugural vertical farm is located within the Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi Group (Kezad), home to a network of food industries across the entire value chain.
Additional sites exploring different technology will be set up in Al Ain Industrial City in the coming year, the media office said.
“We are pleased to host Zero Farms as part of ADQ’s AgTech Park," said Capt Mohamed Al Shamsi, managing director chief executive of the AD Ports Group.
"Kezad has a well-established ecosystem for food industries that spans the entire value chain, with a strong base for growth for both local producers and the food industry as a whole.
"The project will contribute to the National Food Security Programme and help establish Abu Dhabi and the UAE as the regional hub for food.”
Vertical farming has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than traditional agricultural methods.
It grows plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water and without the use of soil.
The plants are grown in a controlled environment — with everything from temperature, humidity, lighting, water and nutrients is tightly monitored to maximise growth and yields.
The new farm is in line with the UAE's agenda for reliable crop production all year round and a stable supply chain not dependent on the weather and free from attacks by pests, the emirate's media office said.
The Zero project is retrofitted in a 1,000 sqm warehouse and will achieve an initial production volume of approximately 10 tonnes per year at the proof-of-concept stage.
This pilot phase is expected to conclude in the summer of 2023, following which a 40,000 sqm commercial phase of the vertical farm is expected to be launched in Al Ain, alongside other projects featuring controlled-environment technologies.
At full scale, the 200-hectare AgTech Park will target production volumes of more than 40 kilo-tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables annually, which would account for up to 6 per cent of the UAE’s total consumption and 12 per cent of the import of the produce grown within the park, the media office said.
“As our vision of creating a state-of-the-art AgTech Park takes shape with the support of Zero ... we are harnessing technology to create a controlled environment that advances the UAE’s ability to grow fresh, nutritious and tastier foods year-round," said Gil Adotevi, executive director of food and agriculture at ADQ.
"The breakthrough technology utilised in the park for the first time in the UAE explores new solutions to help tackle the challenge of sustainably farming in arid and desert climates, allowing us to contribute to not only shortening but also ‘greening’ the food value chain, which is top of the agenda for policymakers around the world as we progress on our net-zero journey.”
The UAE has been bolstering its support for AgTech companies to reduce its reliance on imports, which are thought to make up about 90 per cent of the food consumed in the country.
UAE residents are already seeing evidence of recent efforts to grow food in the country as locally harvested farm produce is now a common sight at markets or on dining menus.
Much of this has surfaced over the past few years as vertical and hydroponic farming ventures, as well as research and cloud-seeding, bear fruit.
“Vertical farms respond to the urgent need to rethink agriculture, making it more environmentally friendly and sustainable in a world prioritising the responsible use of resources," said Daniele Modesto, chief executive of Zero.
Zero's collaboration with ADQ "allows us to play a role in building one of the most diversified indoor farming facilities in the region that will contribute to realising the nation’s food security strategy", he said.
Last month, US vertical farming company AeroFarms opened its 6,000-square-metre research and development centre in Abu Dhabi, the largest in the world, with the aim of advancing sustainable agriculture in arid climates.