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Abu Dhabi looks to desert and space farming to boost food supply

Abu Dhabi looks to desert and space farming to boost food supply

The Abu Dhabi Investment Office will spend about $41m with other companies to develop technologies for producing food in arid conditions

Abu Dhabi is stepping up investment in projects for farming in the desert – and even space – as the Covid-19 crisis prompts more efforts to safeguard food supply.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) will spend about $41m with other companies to develop technologies for producing food in arid conditions.

The partnerships include a greenhouse venture focused on growing fruit and vegetables with less water. ADIO will also work with a firm that uses the International Space Station to research producing food in space and extreme climates on Earth.

The pandemic has forced a rethink among many nations on how to feed their people. Oil-rich but water-scarce countries like the United Arab Emirates – which imports as much as 90 per cent of its food – have been working on boosting domestic output and investing in farming abroad ever since food crises struck a decade ago.

The coronavirus crisis is now accelerating those plans.

“What 2020 has brought to light is the need to improve self-sufficiency, to be more efficient with the resources that we do have,” Tariq Bin Hendi, director general of the ADIO, said in an interview. “It’s not just about growing crops, we are looking at this across the seed-to-plate ecosystem of agtech.”

This year, the UAE announced a project to grow rice in the desert and imported 4,500 dairy cows from Uruguay.

Abu Dhabi will award financial and non-financial incentives to expand companies’ operations in the emirate. FreshToHome Foods will bring expertise in fish farming, while Pure Harvest Smart Farms, which already operates greenhouses in the United Arab Emirates, will invest in artificial intelligence, autonomous growing and robotics at new farms in Al Ain, an oasis town near the border with Oman.

NanoRacks is creating a commercial space research centre in Abu Dhabi to develop technology for desert farming and long-term space exploration.

Additional spending
The spending builds on a $100m investment earlier this year to encourage agtech firms to build research and development facilities in Abu Dhabi, which has attracted vertical farming companies such as AeroFarms.

“You have a big push to bring in these technology players because it does help with water usage, with yield, with how it is you manage crops,” Bin Hendi said. “We are never going to move away from reliance on international food imports, but we need to become more self-sufficient with some of the critical food items that we have.”

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