Dubai launches hub to triple local food production


The UAE plans a sprawling new campus to pioneer new forms of ag-tech and bolster its food security.


THE UAE TOOK another step toward bolstering its food security on Saturday, as it unveiled plans for a sprawling city that will house climate-controlled vertical farms, a blockchain-enabled food storage system, and laboratories testing food-tech techniques ranging from 3D printing to alternative proteins.

Dubai’s Food Tech Valley is set to be a center for agricultural technology and engineering, a smart food-logistics hub, R&D facilities, and a food innovation center, according to the Emirates News Agency. Created in partnership between the Ministry of Food and Water Security and Wasl Properties, the new cluster of developments aims to become an incubator for researchers, startups, and industry experts shaping the future of the food industry.

According to the government’s announcement, Food Tech Valley will develop projects leveraging fields such as bioengineering, automation, and artificial intelligence. It will also rely on techniques such as vertical farming, aquaculture, and hydroponics. The campus aims to produce over 300 varieties of crops, helping accelerate the country’s shift toward self-sufficiency, reducing food waste, and combatting the UAE’s longstanding food-security concerns.

Although food security has long preoccupied the Gulf countries, population growth and climate change have exacerbated their concerns. The global population is expected to surge to almost 10 billion by 2050, propelling food demand to increase by more than 50 percent over the next 40 years, according to the World Resources Institute. Unless food production significantly picks up, the gap between food produced in 2010 and food required by 2050 is expected to equal approximately 7,400 trillion calories. Dwindling natural resources and an increasingly urgent climate crisis have only added to the problem.

Limited fresh water and arable land have made the Gulf—which imports roughly 85 percent of its food supply—particularly vulnerable to these changes. But as innovations in agricultural and food technology grow, the UAE and its neighbors are slowly bolstering their food security.

A national food-security strategy announced in 2018 has helped the UAE rise up the ranks of the Global Food Security Index. Climate-controlled facilities in Dubai’s Sustainable City have already helped it cultivate leafy greens through the year.

The UAE’s sovereign wealth funds have also looked to invest in food-tech startups tackling these problems. For instance, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office has provided $100 million (Dh367m) to partner with ag-tech companies like AeroFarms, Madar Farms, RNZ, and RDI.