UAE agricultural firm uses technology to help with food security

UAE agricultural firm uses technology to help with food security
Smart Acres’ vertical farming technology enables it to produce approximately 8 tons of lettuce per cropping cycle. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 July 2020

UAE agricultural firm uses technology to help with food security

UAE agricultural firm uses technology to help with food security

DUBAI: Smart Acres aims to support the UAE’s food security program by using high-tech vertical farming to produce approximately 8,000 kilograms of lettuce per cycle.

“In the expansion phase, we will have 78 modules, which comes to a total of 88,320 pots. Each lettuce, for example, will weigh 100 grams. So, that is approximately 8,000 kilograms of crops per cycle,” the company’s CEO Abdulla Al-Kaabi told Arab News.

The vertical farm — currently in the proof-of-concept stage — is expected to launch in the third quarter of 2020, producing 12 cycles of crops annually and expanding from Abu Dhabi to the rest of the country. In this type of farming, plants are stocked vertically, providing more produce per area and resembling something similar to the green walls sometimes seen in malls.

Smart Acres collaborated with South Korean vertical farming technology n.thing in their farming processes. (Supplied)

The company collaborated with South Korean vertical farming technology n.thing to employ the Internet of Things in their farming so as to efficiently use water and monitor humidity, temperature and nutrients.

“Vertical farms, in general, save over 90 percent of water compared to traditional farming methods. There is a constant water flow across all the little pots, and the water is filled with all the nutrients necessary for the plant to grow,” Lead Project Manager Aphisith Joe Phongsavanh said.

The high-tech design of the farm allows Smart Acres to produce clean crops without any pesticides and with minimal intervention.

“Since we are growing our crops in a 100 percent closed environment, we don’t have to use pesticides at all. That’s exactly what we mean by clean food: non-adulterated food products that go through minimal processing,” Phongsavanh said.

However, this closed environment in which the plants grow requires staff and visitors to wear protective gear before entering the premises in order to preserve the sterility of the area.

“It is almost like going into a very high-tech factory. You have to wear lab coats and go through an air shower, where one is door closed and the other door only opens after 10 seconds of disinfection,” Director of Smart Acres Sean Lea said.

Currently, the company does not have any investors, but Al-Kaabi said that the expansion phase “of course will require an investment,” expected to cost around AED16.7 million ($4.5 million).

It will not just include a larger number of crops, but also a research and development center with a vision to start cultivating baby spinach, mature spinach, baby arugula, strawberries and potato seeds.

Earlier in July, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan visited some local farms and met with agricultural entrepreneurs.

“I was pleased to meet some of the UAE’s aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs who are pioneering sustainable and resilient farming practices using modern technology,” Al-Nahyan tweeted.



The UAE is pushing for local production of crops and livestock. According to Khaleej Times, the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority provided over $174 million to “138,000 families, 30,632 breeders and farmers, and 259 small-scale producers and commercial animal farms in Abu Dhabi” to support the industry in June.

China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from coronavirus gains

China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from coronavirus gains
Updated 18 January 2021

China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from coronavirus gains

China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from coronavirus gains
  • Growth in the three months ending in December rose to 6.5 percent over a year earlier
  • China’s quick recovery brought it closer to matching the US in economic output

BEIJING: China eked out 2.3 percent economic growth in 2020, likely becoming the only major economy to expand as shops and factories reopened relatively early from a shutdown to fight the coronavirus while the United States, Japan and Europe struggled with rising infections.
Growth in the three months ending in December rose to 6.5 percent over a year earlier as consumers returned to shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas, official data showed Monday. That was up from the previous quarter’s 4.9 percent and stronger than many forecasters expected.
In early 2020, activity contracted by 6.8 percent in the first quarter as the ruling Communist Party took the then-unprecedented step of shutting down most of its economy to fight the virus. The following quarter, China became the first major country to grow again with a 3.2 percent expansion after the party declared victory over the virus in March and allowed factories, shops and offices to reopen.
Restaurants are filling up while cinemas and retailers struggle to lure customers back. Crowds are thin at shopping malls, where guards check visitors for signs of the disease’s tell-tale fever.
Domestic tourism is reviving, though authorities have urged the public to stay home during the Lunar New Year holiday in February, normally the busiest travel season, in response to a spate of new infections in some Chinese cities.
Exports have been boosted by demand for Chinese-made masks and other medical goods.
The growing momentum “reflected improving private consumption expenditure as well as buoyant net exports,” said Rajiv Biswas of IHS Markit in a report. He said China is likely to be the only major economy to grow in 2020 while developed countries and most major emerging markets were in recession.
The economy “recovered steadily” and “living standards were ensured forcefully,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement. It said the ruling party’s development goals were “accomplished better than expectation” but gave no details.
2020 was China’s weakest growth in decades and below 1990’s 3.9 percent following the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, which led to China’s international isolation.
Despite growth for the year, “it is too early to conclude that this is a full recovery,” said Iris Pang of ING in a report. “External demand has not yet fully recovered. This is a big hurdle.”
Exporters and high-tech manufacturers face uncertainty about how President-elect Joseph Biden will handle conflicts with Beijing over trade, technology and security. His predecessor, Donald Trump, hurt exporters by hiking tariffs on Chinese goods and manufacturers including telecom equipment giant Huawei by imposing curbs on access to US components and technology.
“We expect the newly elected US government will continue most of the current policies on China, at least for the first quarter,” Pang said.
The International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters expect economic growth to rise further this year to above 8 percent.
China’s quick recovery brought it closer to matching the United States in economic output.
Total activity in 2020 was 102 trillion yuan ($15.6 trillion), according to the government. That is about 75 percent the size of the $20.8 trillion forecast by the IMF for the US economy, which is expected to shrink by 4.3 percent from 2019. The IMF estimates China will be about 90 percent of the size of the US economy by 2025, though with more than four times as many people average income will be lower.
Exports rose 3.6 percent last year despite the tariff war with Washington. Exporters took market share from foreign competitors that still faced anti-virus restrictions.
Retail spending contracted by 3.9 percent over 2019 but gained 4.6 percent in December over a year earlier as demand revived. Consumer spending recovered to above the previous year’s levels in the quarter ending in September.
Online sales of consumer goods rose 14.8 percent as millions of families who were ordered to stay home shifted to buying groceries and clothing on the Internet.
Factory output rose 2.8 percent over 2019. Activity accelerated toward the end of the year. Production rose 7.3 percent in December.
Despite travel controls imposed for some areas after new cases flared this month most of the country is unaffected.
Still, the government’s appeal to the public to avoid traditional Lunar New Year gatherings and travel might dent spending on tourism, gifts and restaurants.
Other activity might increase, however, if farms, factories and traders keep operating over the holiday, said Chaoping Zhu of JP Morgan Asset Management in a report.
“Unusually high growth rates in this quarter are likely to be seen,” said Zhu.