Vertical farming is on the up amid food security concerns, Dubai conference hears

The space-saving method is an increasingly fertile market due to global supply chain issues, experts say

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Global politics and the climate crisis have increased the need for vertical farming, according to experts speaking at a Dubai conference on Thursday.

Vertical farming involves growing crops stacked on top of each other to make the most of available space.

Commentators have described the method as the future of food production, especially with space increasingly at a premium as urban centres expand to cope with growing populations.

But experts on Thursday said the emerging sector's time may have already arrived.

“Geopolitical events and climate change have sharpened the focus on the need for vertical farming,” said Jamie Burrows, founder and chief executive of Vertical Future, which designs and builds vertical farms.

“A lot of it links back to climate change and the war in Ukraine, which have had an impact on the cost of energy and commodities.

“Ukraine is the bread basket of Europe really. To say that hasn't had an impact would be completely missing the point.

“I think it has heightened awareness and has increased the need for sustainable solutions.”

He was speaking at the Global Vertical Farming Show in Dubai on Thursday.

Demand on the rise

“There is an unmet demand for vertical farm products and the UAE imports more than 80 per cent of its food,” he said.

“We're seeing a massive increase in food insecurity, and global supply chains are a mess.

“Climate change is creating fluctuations in countries that export food to the UAE.

“This unavailability [of food] is only really starting as well, that's why there needs to be local solutions.”

In the first half of 2022 the UAE imported 41,000 tonnes of food a day, according to figures released by CSO Italy, a consortium of Italian food companies.

Food security is a topic close to the heart of Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

’Food security is one of the most important strategic directions for the UAE, given the challenges the country faces regarding the scarcity of arable land and water,” said Ms Al Mheiri in April.

“Additionally, economic and political changes taking place across the world increase pressures on the food systems in the country and make it necessary to continue working more quickly and more efficiently to enhance national food security.’’

Tackling food insecurity

Last month, the UAE urged the international community to take greater action to overcome food insecurity.

The UAE and the US also jointly launched the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate earlier this year, which has raised more than $13 billion to accelerate change.

One UAE-based firm getting behind the demand for more locally produced food is Al Aliyo Hydro Farms, which grows vegetables and fodder for animals in Sharjah.

The company started two years ago, in response to a growing demand for healthier food during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The challenges for us have been education and awareness,” said Tarannum Malik, managing director of the farm.

“After Covid, everyone wanted to eat better and look after themselves more.

“There is perception that fresh, local produce is more expensive. People are prepared to pay a little more, within reason, if they know they are getting healthy food but we have to make sure our food is still within the pocket of the common man.”

Climate change has played a significant role in pushing vertical farming to the front of the conversation, said another expert at the forum.

“Climate change is affecting every country in every part of the world right now,” said Novica Grgurevic, vice president of vertical farming company Greenstate.

“You're going to see an awful lot more vertical farming in the near future.

“More countries than ever are looking at it as a means of resolving some of their food security issues.”

Updated: October 16, 2023, 11:43 AM