Almost a decade ago, Khadija Hasan couldn’t help but notice the lack of local produce sold in supermarkets and grocery stores in the UAE. At the time, the former investment banker was attending business school and already working on her own start-up that focused on oil purification methods to clean up crude in an environmentally friendly way.
While that business didn’t work out, Ms. Hasan, the founder and chief executive of KRISPR, started exploring other industries. “I started looking at other potential industries that could be disrupted because building a business that had both the hardware and software component was very attractive for me.”
What first turned out to be an observation about the lack of local produce in supermarkets grew into the idea for KRISPR, a start-up that uses vertical farming methods to grow produce in a 700-square-meter warehouse in Dubai that aims to reduce the UAE's reliance on imported foods.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the largest food importers in the GCC and accounted for 74.9 percent of the region’s net imports in 2019, according to a 2021 GCC Food Industry report by investment banking advisory Alpen Capital. While traditional farming in the GCC region is challenging because of the harsh climate, a number of advances have been made in the AgTech sector that make it possible to grow local produce indoors.
“I'm originally from an agricultural country, where it's mostly soil-based production,” says Ms. Hasan, who is from Pakistan. “However, we don't do it really well, so we end up importing a lot of the food – and food quality and traceability, consistency, nutrition, all of that is always questionable.” Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi holding company ADQ said last month it planned to start a new venture in Al Ain to increase the production of fresh fruits and vegetables.
ADQ will be teaming up with three agriculture specialists to develop and operate greenhouse units within the new 200-hectare AgTech Park at Al Ain Industrial City that has an annual production capacity of 39-kilo tonnes, it said at the time.
For Ms. Hasan, KRISPR is a platform that is helping to fulfill her ambition to sustainably solve the world’s food security challenge. “Our goal as a farming company is to find a more sustainable way to grow produce in this difficult environment,” she says.
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