UAE’s high-tech food plan pays off in pandemic

UAE’s high-tech food plan pays off in pandemic
An International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) scientist advises a farm owner, in the Al Wagan area, near Al-Ain, UAE. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 May 2020

UAE’s high-tech food plan pays off in pandemic

UAE’s high-tech food plan pays off in pandemic
  • Agriculture is becoming possible and profitable in a country with harsh climatic conditions
  • ICBA works with local ministries, farmers’ associations and businesses to introduce climate-resilient crops such as quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum

ABU DHABI: In the past four years, the United Arab Emirates has grown a small but rising share of its own organic tomatoes, aiming to shore up food security in an import-dependent desert country.
The effort — part of a broader push to produce more home-grown food amid fears climate change could trigger instability in the global food trade — started after the country was hit by food export bans during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
Today, the move to build up food resilience is paying off early in the face of another crisis: the coronavirus pandemic.
When the United Arab Emirates (UAE) went into lockdown in April to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, residents had the same reaction as millions of others around the world — they started panic-buying.
The instinct to stock up made sense in a country where more than 80% of food is imported, said Ismahane Elouafi, director general of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).
Nonetheless supermarket shelves have remained fully stocked, partly because the UAE has long had policies in place to ensure an uninterrupted supply of food from abroad, she noted.
But in the face of the pandemic, the UAE’s confidence that it will continue to have enough food is bolstered by its success in growing its own, using innovations like vertical farming and climate-resilient crops, she added.
“Thanks to the work being done to harness the benefits of innovation, agriculture is becoming possible and profitable in a country with harsh climatic conditions,” Elouafi said.
According to data from the World Bank, the contribution of agriculture to the country’s gross domestic product rose from $2.39 billion in 2012 to $3.06 billion in 2018.
The UAE’s Ministry of Food Security declined to respond to a request for comment.
Currently ranking 21 out of 113 countries on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index, the UAE aims to be in the top 10 by 2021 and number one by mid-century.
By then, the federal government hopes half the food Emiratis consume will be produced locally, compared to 20% today.
Under the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy — which was officially launched in 2018, but had already been woven into government policy for several years before — the country has worked to boost domestic food production.
It has built infrastructure, including complexes for cattle-breeding — and introduced financial measures, from exempting value-added tax on food produced on local farms to paying subsidies on fodder.
But traditional farming methods can only go so far in a country with limited supplies of fresh water and arable land.
Last year, the World Resources Institute classified the UAE as under “extremely high water stress,” meaning more than 80% of available surface and groundwater supply is withdrawn on average every year.
The bulk of that water is used by the agricultural sector. Combined with a warming climate and a growing population, this is causing available groundwater levels to drop by 0.5 cm (0.2 inches) per year.
To meet the country’s freshwater needs, the government is increasingly turning to energy-intensive desalination methods.
Another challenge is that less than 1% of the UAE’s land is arable, according to the World Bank.
The focus is on finding ways to farm with fewer resources — which is where technology and experimenting with new crops can help, said Sajid Maqsood, associate professor in the College of Food and Agriculture at United Arab Emirates University.
“Urban and vertical farming has to be an important part of the strategy,” he said by phone.
Farming in the UAE has been moving in a high-tech direction over the past decade.
In 2009, for example, the Middle Eastern country had 50 hydroponic farms, where plants are grown without soil using nutrient-infused water. Today, it has more than 1,000, according to the ICBA.
Most of the farming innovations gaining ground in the UAE involve growing crops indoors, in an attempt to tackle one of the main challenges facing the region’s farmers: the climate.
Global warming is expected to lead to less rainfall, fiercer droughts, higher sea levels and more storms in the UAE over the next 70 years, a group of climate experts said in a 2019 paper.
By 2050 the country’s average temperature will increase by about 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), they noted.
“At least four months of the year are not conducive to traditional agriculture — heat, humidity and dust are challenges to farming in the region,” explained Digant Raj Kapoor, people manager at Madar Farms, a local agriculture tech company.
“It means that yields and quality cannot be controlled or predicted. An indoor facility is able to tackle this by having as much control over growing conditions as possible.”
One project, Pure Harvest Smart Farms, has been producing a share of the UAE’s home-grown tomatoes since it launched in 2016, using the country’s first technology-enabled greenhouse.
With its climate-controlled system developed in the Netherlands, the Emirates-based start-up can grow year-round, producing about 2 metric tons of pesticide-free tomatoes each day on its 1-hectare (2.5-acre) proof-of-concept farm.
Pure Harvest plans to diversify into other fruits and vegetables, expanding to 30 hectares in the next few months.
In recent years, the UAE has also seen a rise in the number of vertical farms, in which crops are grown stacked under LED lighting and watered with mists or drip systems.
In Dubai, the country’s business and tourism hub, airline catering service Emirates Flight Catering and vertical farm operator Crop One Holdings have launched a $40-million joint venture to build the world’s largest vertical farm.
Crop One Holdings says the 130,000 square-foot (12,077 sq m) farm — due to be completed this year — will produce 6,000 pounds (2,721 kg) of pesticide- and herbicide-free fruits and vegetables daily, using 99% less water than traditional farms.
Branching out into new crops is key to the UAE’s quest to become self-sustaining, said the ICBA’s Elouafi.
The Dubai-based ICBA works with local ministries, farmers’ associations and businesses to introduce climate-resilient crops such as quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum to farmers, she added.
“The global food production system is currently dominated by just a few staple crops — this needs to change,” she said.
For Kapoor at Madar Farms, which has been growing leafy greens and microgreens in vertical systems since 2017, the move into tech-enabled agriculture is inevitable to deal with challenges like climate change and the novel coronavirus.
“The world will have to shift toward controlled-environment agriculture,” he said.


Dubai real-estate transactions surge 43% in March as sector rebounds

Dubai real-estate transactions surge 43% in March as sector rebounds
Updated 44 min 55 sec ago

Dubai real-estate transactions surge 43% in March as sector rebounds

Dubai real-estate transactions surge 43% in March as sector rebounds
  • The value of property transactions jumped 40 percent YOY in March
  • Real-estate agents earned 392 million dirhams in commission in Q1

RIYADH: Dubai real-estate transactions jumped 43 percent year over year in March 2021 to 6,590 as investors flooded back into the sector.

The value of sales rose 40 percent to 22.9 billion dirhams ($6.2 billion), according to the real estate bulletin issued by Dubai Land Department (DLD), WAM reported. The number of transactions was the second highest monthly total since February 2017.

The bulletin highlighted continued attractiveness of the real estate sector to new investors, with 5,683 entering the market in Q1 2021, representing 64 percent of the total number of investors in the period.

The value of commissions achieved by active real estate brokers reached 392 million dirhams in Q1 2021, while 143,374 rental contracts were recorded in Q1 2021, 57 percent of which were new contracts and 43 percent were renewed.

The bulletin highlighted the top five areas for investor attractiveness. In villa sales, Hadaeq Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid topped the list in Q1 2021, followed by Wadi Al Safa 5, Wadi Al Safa 7, Nad Al Sheba 1, and Al Thanyah Fourth. In apartment sales, Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah, Business Bay, Burj Khalifa, and Al Merkadh topped the list in Q1 2021.

Sales of luxury villas, sea-view apartments and second-hand family houses jumped in March, re-energizing a property market that saw a sharp fall in activity at the height of the pandemic and had been in a five-year slump prior to that, Reuters reported at the time.

S&P Global credit analyst Sapna Jagtiani does not expect Dubai’s real estate market to recover to pre-pandemic levels until next year, the agency said.


Red Sea Project uses smart light systems as it seeks dark sky accreditation

Red Sea Project uses smart light systems as it seeks dark sky accreditation
Updated 23 April 2021

Red Sea Project uses smart light systems as it seeks dark sky accreditation

Red Sea Project uses smart light systems as it seeks dark sky accreditation
  • Smart systems help reduce waste and minimize light pollution
  • Red Sea Project wants to be certified by the International Dark Sky Association

RIYADH: All Red Sea Project assets, including resorts, hotels and facilities, run through smart control systems that allow enough light as needed while being careful to save energy consumption and reduce waste, said Myriam Yaniz, director of lighting management at the company.

Red Sea Project is using the technology as it looks to be certified as an International Dark Sky Place by the International Dark Sky Association.

The company reviews different scenarios to know the adequate amount of lighting required during different times of the day and during the different seasons, Yaniz told Al Eqtisadiyah paper, during the World's Earth Day celebration on Thursday.

"At the design stage and during the first meeting of any destination project, our night vision is conveyed to our team of consultants and provided with our list of criteria to ensure that the work is carried out accordingly," she said.

Red Sea Project is a land and property development on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast announced by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in July 2017.


Saudi bank deposit growth accelerated to 11-month high in February

Saudi bank deposit growth accelerated to 11-month high in February
Updated 23 April 2021

Saudi bank deposit growth accelerated to 11-month high in February

Saudi bank deposit growth accelerated to 11-month high in February
  • Bank deposit growth was the fastest since March 2020

RIYADH: Bank deposits in Saudi Arabia grew during February at the fastest pace since March 2020 as the economy continued to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

Deposits reached SR1.96 trillion ($522.5 billion) at the end of February, an increase of 1.83 percent, the most since the previous March’s 1.92 percent gain, Al Eqtisadiah reported, citing SAMA data.

On an annual basis, bank deposits in Saudi Arabia increased by 10.2 percent, or SR180.47 billion. Individual and corporate deposits, which made up 74.6 percent of total deposits, increased by 9.8 percent year over year.

Demand deposits increased 14.2 percent to SR1.29 trillion in the 12 months to the end of February, making up 88 percent of total deposits with savings and foreign deposits accounting for the rest.


Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts
Updated 23 April 2021

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts
CAIRO: Egypt and Russia have agreed to resume all flights between the two countries in a call between their presidents, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s presidency said in a statement.
Flights to resort destinations Sharm Al-Sheikh and Hurghada were suspended after a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai in October 2015, killing 224 people.
The Egyptian statement did not specify a timeline for the resumption of flights, but Russia’s Interfax news agency reported this week that flights could resume in the second half of May.
An Airbus A321, operated by Metrojet, had been taking Russian holiday makers home from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg in 2015, when it broke up over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all on board. A group affiliated with Daesh militants claimed responsibility.
The decision to resume flights followed “the joint cooperation between the two sides on this issue, and based on the standards of security and convenience provided for visits at Egyptian tourist destination airports,” the statement said.

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform
Updated 23 April 2021

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform
RIYADH: Egypt’s price-setting committee raised domestic fuel prices on Friday for the first time since it was formed in October 2019 following the completion of subsidy reforms, the petroleum ministry said in a statement.

Prices were last raised in July 2019 when Egypt, a net oil importer, finished phasing out subsides on fuel products as part of a reform program backed by the International Monetary Fund. Prices had remained stable over the past year after being lowered in April 2020 and October 2019.

The prices of 80-octane, 92-octane, and 95-octane fuel were raised by 0.25 Egyptian pounds each, to 6.25 Egyptian pounds ($0.40), 7.5, and 8.5 pounds per liter, respectively, the statement said.

The pricing committee’s mechanism links energy prices to international markets, and takes into account the exchange rate as well as the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the statement said.

Egypt lowered fuel prices in October 2019 following several rounds of price hikes as part of an austerity program that triggered discontent, including protests against President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.