Emirates Airlines will build the world’s largest vertical farming facility in Dubai, in a $40 million (Dh147 million) partnership with Crop One, a California-based firm.
The airline said the 130,000 square foot facility will be located near Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central.
At full productivity the project will produce 2,700kg of herbicide-free and pesticide-free leafy greens every day.
The cost of growing fresh produce in the UAE is exceptionally high. As The National reported this week, the costs have forced some Fujairah farmers to give up growing fruit and vegetables altogether.
Vertical farming is a technique with a significantly smaller carbon footprint than traditional farming. The facility is predicted to use 99 per cent less water than outdoor fields with only 0.003 per cent of the space. It will cover 130,000 square feet and will produce the equivalent of 900 acres of farmland.
Fresh vegetables will not need to be imported from abroad, and will have a very short trip to customers at the airport.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline and Group, says such projects will lead to greater "self sufficiency" for the emirate.
“This investment to build and operate the world’s largest vertical farming facility aligns with the UAE’s drive for more agricultural self-sufficiency, a vision which began with the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father.
“The introduction of ground-breaking technology at the facility also enhances Dubai’s position as a global innovation hub.”
Emirates Flight Catering, a subsidiary of Emirates group, supply in-flight food for Emirate’s airlines and all other airlines based at Dubai International Airport.
“Our proven business model has demonstrated profitable commercial production longer than any other major vertical farmer,” said Sonia Lo, chief executive officer of Crop One Holdings.
“We are farmers using the most sophisticated plant science and proven business efficiencies to provide market leading consumer products every day.
“Our selection after a 10-month search by EKFC is a validation of our successful business model that uses patented technology and processes to optimize crop yields and facilitate hyper-growth.”
Vertical farming is seen as an environmentally friendly, efficient, and sustainable solution to the UAE’s future food supply.
In March 2018 the UAE's first commercial farm, Badia Farms, opened in Dubai.
Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, officially inaugurated Badia Farms, describing it at the time as an “exceptional example of how the UAE’s agricultural industry can thrive while protecting our environment for future generations.”
The Gulf’s warm and dry climate means it is hard to grow leafy greens, with water a precious resource particularly during the summer months.
Emirate’s customers could be eating vertically produced leafy greens by the end of next year. Construction on the farm is due to begin by November 2018, and the project is hoped to be finished by December 2019.