The UAE typically imports 85% of its food. Mainly produce and fruit, the UAE must import food because the arid environment is not conducive to growing a variety of leafy plants. While importing food ensures the population does not go hungry, it often results in more expensive, less fresh food, with a lower nutrient density. And, as we saw with covid-19 last year, food supply chains are fragile. Relying on other countries to grow your food is no longer always reliable.
Controlled environment agriculture, like greenhouses and vertical farming, offers a hyper-local alternative to importing food by making agriculture accessible in harsh environments. With the use of new technologies, companies can capitalize on the sprawling desert and sunshine. The UAE's three deserts offer a massive amount of real estate for building warehouses for vertical farms and an almost unlimited solar power supply. Although water is scarce, vertical farming uses over 90% less water than traditional farming.
Both the government and the private sector are funding an agricultural revolution. In 2018, the UAE government announced plans to be the top country in food security (measured by the Global Security Index) globally by 2051 and in the top ten by 2021--as of last year; it ranked 42. Like Singapore’s “30 by 30” plan, the government has since aggressively funded food startups and partnered with larger companies, including those from other agtech centers of excellence like the Netherlands and Korea.
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