Why Abu Dhabi conglomerate Yas Holdings' Elite Agro is focused on food for the future
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Why Abu Dhabi conglomerate Yas Holdings’ Elite Agro is focused on food for the future

Why Abu Dhabi conglomerate Yas Holdings’ Elite Agro is focused on food for the future

With food security gaining increased focus during the pandemic, the UAE is focusing on the adoption of new technologies to yield greater results, say Elite Agro Division’s executive director and board member Dr Abdulmonem Almarzooqi and its CEO Ian Summerfield

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How has the year been for Elite Agro?

Dr Abdulmonem Almarzooqi: It has been a challenging year. This time last year we were all hoping that 2021 would be a Covid-consequence free year, and even though the UAE has led the way in its Covid response, we operate in a global business environment and as such have been exposed to a number of external headwinds. In other territories in which we operate we have also seen this at play in varying degrees.

Our challenges have been threefold: At the outset of Covid, our employees, the business and our customers’ safety were paramount to us alongside ensuring the UAE as a nation had plentiful availability of high-quality, safe and healthy food at fair prices. The second challenge we faced was disruption to the supply chain, and thirdly, it was cost pressure across the board, from power to people and from raw materials
to equipment.

Despite the challenges, Elite Agro has ensured a continued supply of healthy food while delivering on our business objectives.

Is the UAE now better positioned to meet any future eventualities in terms of food security?

Ian Summerfield: The UAE has focused on food security for a significant period of time prior to the pandemic. What became clear very early on was that our advanced preparations as a nation ensured we were able to meet the challenges of Covid-19 with no disruption to food availability.

How has consumer demand for local produce changed? Do you see these trends continuing in the future?

Dr Abdulmonem Almarzooqi: Consumer macro trends we are responding to include the shift towards ultra-fresh, locally produced high-quality food that can also be delivered direct to consumers’ homes. As part of this, we have accelerated investment in our farm-to-table e-commerce concept Farmbox, in addition to increasing the ranges we provide on the platform including a variety of fresh, organic and premium produce as well as gluten and preservative-free products. We also deliver dairy products produced by Marmum in the UAE and our recently launched chicken range sourced by Reef Emirates. Hence we are able to offer produce from our own farms to their tables.

Within the agriculture space, where do you see most potential for growth?

Ian Summerfield: The agriculture industry should be focused on optimising efficiency of our use of limited resources, in particular water and high-quality land. If we focus on these simple but vitally important areas of opportunity, we will continue to produce high-quality food sustainably. To produce food and at the same time minimise our impact, I believe we need to combine traditional and emerging technologies such as precision fertiliser applications, smart water systems and satellite controlled tractors.

At Marmum we monitor our Holstein cows’ individual health, nutrition and life needs through an individual ear identifier which collects data at multiple points throughout the farm, allowing us to ensure each cow is healthy.

Have you seen increased demand for agriculture infrastructure projects? And if so, what are investors seeking?

Ian Summerfield: As food security gained focus during the recent pandemic, the demand for our construction services through Elite Agro Projects has tripled, including for traditional net houses and environment farming facilities with smart systems and retractable roofs.

You are also very active in fresh food and FMCG. Any new deals or launches that you are planning within this space?

Dr Abdulmonem Almarzooqi: We invest to operate. In terms of agriculture and food, we continue to pursue growth across a range of fresh produce and food categories, in addition to developing, acquiring and deploying technologies and techniques designed to enhance the availability of high-quality fresh produce while minimising resource utilisation.

Our investments include Marmum, one of the oldest dairy farms in the UAE. We also recently invested in 250,000 blueberry plants in our orchard in Morocco, and have launched new packaging for our ‘Elite Berry’ blueberries – both for our local and international variants.

We also operate over 30 farms, specialise in the construction of farms, and also produce a variety of fresh produce including capsicums, potatoes and local pumpkins – which proved to be popular this winter season. We have also recently brought to market a new chicken brand called Reef Emirates.

Our investment in food and agriculture, in particular on the back of our focus on the role of technology in fresh supply chains, has resulted in great demand for our produce.

What are the main challenges facing the agriculture, fresh produce and dairy industries?

Ian Summerfield: In the short term, we expect demand to remain high with a significant challenge posed to all companies as a result of supply chain disruption and high energy prices. Across our operations, we are working hard to ensure stability and affordability.

Looking at agriculture, the transient disruption in supply chains, logistics and commodity costs caused by the pandemic, coupled with the need of having an effective contribution to R&D has expedited our investment decisions in this sector, such as accelerating our focus on precision agriculture.

How much of a role does technology play in the way a traditional sector such as agriculture operates?

Dr Abdulmonem Almarzooqi: Technology is challenging the current status quo in every part of the agricultural value chain. It has – and will continue to play – a transformative role in the way we do business. We have deployed technology to improve and enhance food production efficiency, save water and control costs. We see technology playing an important role in helping us reduce resource consumption to drive sustainability, which importantly also offers the mutual benefit of reducing our costs. Our focus as a company is on ensuring future food security, while also keeping in mind the important aspects of saving water and overcoming the challenges of climate change. We’re also investing in farming machinery and agro-infrastructure to bring further efficiencies along the complete value chain.

Looking ahead, what are your plans for 2022? Any major acquisitions in the pipeline?

Ian Summerfield: Elite Agro is confident about the future. Yas Holding, our parent company, is a growth company and will always be looking for opportunities to acquire new businesses while pursuing prospects for further investment through our existing enterprises across international territories.

Across our agriculture division, we will continue to invest in existing companies to expand production, while using new technologies to advance efficiency. Further investments and initiatives on Yas Holding’s horizon span bio-pharmaceuticals, licencing, technology and manufacturing.

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