Dubai’s food technology centre, Food Tech Valley, has entered into an agreement with the ReFarm group of companies to build a gigafarm which will be capable of growing more than three million kilograms of produce annually.
The project, the companies said in a joint statement on Wednesday, aims to support the UAE’s move to decarbonise food production, replacing 1 per cent of the country’s fresh produce imports.
Under the agreement, signed at the Cop28 summit, the construction of the 83,612 square metre farm will start in mid-2024, with the project expected to be fully operational by 2026.
The innovative waste-to-value farm will be capable of recycling more than 50,000 tonnes of food waste and growing two billion plants each year, the statement said.
“Rethinking our food production systems is a clear priority, and the decision of ReFarm to launch a facility in Dubai’s Food Tech Valley is a significant step forward for the development of a technologically advanced, low-carbon agricultural sector,” said Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade.
"ReFarm’s mission to make farming autonomous, self-sufficient and sustainable is very much in line with our goal to use innovative techniques to meet our food needs.”
Food Tech Valley, a UAE-government-led initiative designed to address food security locally, regionally and globally was launched in May 2021 to further develop vertical farming and other advanced agriculture technologies and bolster the Emirates' food security.
The centre aims to triple the UAE's food production and make the country more self-sufficient.
The food centre will have four main clusters: agritech and engineering; a food innovation centre; research and development centres; and an advanced smart food logistics hub.
In the gigafarm project, six complementary technologies will be co-located on the Dubai Food Tech Valley site as part of a closed-loop circular waste-to-value system, establishing a self-contained ecosystem designed to maximise resource efficiency and prevent any waste going to landfill, the company said.
Food waste will be recycled on site by black soldier fly larvae, with by-products including organic compost used in traditional agricultural practices, animal feed for replacing unsustainable fish meal and soy oil, and water for use in the vertical farming towers, it said.
“This is one of many transformative projects which is set to be part of Food Tech Valley which will have a significant impact on the UAE’s food security, maximising the use of precious resources and decarbonising the food supply chain,” said Hesham Al Qassim, chief executive of Wasl Asset Management Group, which is developing the project in partnership with the Ministry of Food and Water Security.
ReFarm was established in the UAE by SSK Enterprise and Christof Global Impact as a group of companies with a focus on projects with circularity and clean technologies.
“Our circular approach contributes to wider ambitions of food security and landscape regeneration, with the vertical farming towers capable of growing more than 250 varieties of plants," said Saeed Al Marri, chairman at SSK Enterprises.
Technologies used at the site are expected to recover up to 90 per cent of ammonia sulphate from wastewater for use in plant fertilisers and will produce organic biodegradable polymers designed to gradually release water and nutrients to crops in arid regions.
“No mains or groundwater connection will be required to grow fresh produce since water will be recovered as a by-product from the organic-waste-to-value technology and fed into the vertical farm. which is up to 98 per cent more water efficient than growing in a field,” Mr Al Marri said.