Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s nimble policies and ambitious goals to become one of the most food secure countries by 2051 can help the country become an agritech leader, seen as the future of the food industry, said a leading agritech expert.
Speaking at Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, Stuart Oda, an investment banker turned urban farmer, said it would only be fitting for a Middle Eastern country to lead the next generation of innovations. in agriculture, given that agriculture itself began 12,000 years ago. in the region, in an area of the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin known as the Fertile Crescent.
“In 2050, the world population is expected to reach 10 billion, and we need to increase agricultural production by 70% to feed this massive population. This means that over the next 30 to 40 years, more food we need to grow than for the past 12,000 years combined, but with less land, resources and farmers,” Oda said.
“Agriculture today is a massive global industry controlled by a small handful of companies in five countries that consume huge amounts of resources. But there have recently been a series of technological breakthroughs that should make the industry more productive, efficient, sustainable and affordable. And the UAE has already established itself not only as an innovation hub, but also as an agritech champion and leaders. [In fact]smaller and more nimble countries like Singapore, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates have been [better able] to attract entrepreneurs, investors and partners to lead the next wave of technical innovation and commercialization,” he added.
The Majlis brought together Lieutenant General Sheikh Seif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Minister of Interior, as well as other officials, educators, entrepreneurs and industry experts.
Aid for innovation
Oda, which specializes in the development of indoor vertical farms and farm management software, said he expects Emirati companies to soon provide agritech solutions to the region.
“The UAE has a competitive education system to support the next generation of local talent. It has launched numerous acceleration programs and start-up competitions to establish itself as an innovation hub. The UAE’s commitment to becoming the most food secure country in the world by 2051, backed by a national strategy and roadmap, not only reassures residents, but also inspires the next generation of people. ‘agritech innovators, who are flocking to the region,’ Oda said.
The innovator himself got his first taste of the UAE’s penchant for entrepreneurship when he entered a start-up competition in 2016.
Excessive dependence on a few
Oda went on to explain why agritech is the way to go to achieve food security.
“Today, only five countries in the world are responsible for the majority of staple crops produced, as well as 30 types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy and food products. The pandemic has revealed many vulnerabilities in this global agricultural supply chain, which depends on only a handful of countries,” he said.
The five countries, which include the United States, China, and India, are endowed with abundant labor, arable land, and natural resources. But these alone are not enough to sustain a rapidly growing global population, not least because of conventional agriculture’s demands on resources such as water and its large share of carbon emissions.
“The agricultural value chain consumes an enormous amount of resources, including 41% of all habitable land on Earth and 72% of its freshwater reserves. In addition, 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. As the world’s population grows and demand for agricultural products continues to rise, industry must find more sustainable and climate-resilient methods of production, processing and logistics,” Oda said.
To this end, indoor vertical farms are seen as a promising solution as they can produce hundreds of crop varieties every year, regardless of the amount of arable land available or the climatic conditions.
“Indoor vertical farms can produce 300 times more food per square meter than conventional farms, while using 100 times less water and without pesticides,” Oda said.
Additionally, biofermentation facilities help produce proteins and food additives in specialized vats.
“Some companies are also looking to nature to develop plant-based alternatives to meat that are much more sustainable to produce and healthier to eat, and the texture of these products is slowly becoming indistinguishable from animal products. And huge Insect farms harness the natural appetite and natural digestive process of insects to recycle organic waste and break down the waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer,” Oda explained.
There is also another series of initiatives aimed at transforming mushrooms and mushrooms into natural plastics, leathers and packaging materials.
“There are so many incredible technologies developing unique solutions [for food security], and these technologies offer each country the opportunity to ensure its own food and nutrition security. They are also more productive, produce far less waste and offer dramatic cost reductions. [over time]”Oda said.
The urban farmer said the food and agriculture industry is therefore at an exciting crossroads, which opens up opportunities for flexible and innovative economies like the UAE.
“The UAE has many great ingredients for attracting great talent and big business, and it has the opportunity to create vibrant ecosystems by supporting start-ups and growth-stage businesses,” Oda said.
He also called on people to have a more diverse diet that does not focus on meat and meat products, and to eat local produce to help support food security efforts.
“Changing our diet [to be less meat-intensive] can have a huge [positive] environmental impact. And eating local helps ensure local and regional food security, while minimizing food waste,” Oda explained.