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

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.

Oil world tries to read Chinese post-pandemic demand

Updated 25 October 2020

Oil world tries to read Chinese post-pandemic demand

  • The economic outlook for Asia will help decide some pretty pressing short-term policy issues
  • China’s refineries are getting back in top gear, and are looking to increase crude purchases in anticipation of economic recovery

DUBAI: While all eyes are on the US presidential election, the energy sector is keeping a watchful scrutiny on what is happening on the other side of the world, in China and the rest of Asia. Who the Americans choose will of course have enormous influence on energy policy for years to come, not least because Donald Trump versus Joe Biden is, in many ways, a runoff between the traditional oil and gas industry and the alternative renewable future.

But policymakers in the Middle East and in the broader OPEC+ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia are looking eastward to determine more immediate priorities. The economic outlook for Asia, and of China in particular, will help decide some pretty pressing short-term policy issues.

At what official selling price should big producers such as Saudi Aramco and Adnoc mark their exports to China in the coming weeks? What stance should OPEC+ take toward compliance and compensation for the rest of this year? And, crucially, should it press ahead with plans to put an extra 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil on global markets in January, as the historic April cuts deal envisaged?

An added variable has been thrown into the works with higher-than-expected output from Libya, which has resumed production and exports from its war-torn facilities and could, according to some energy experts, be producing another 1 million barrels by the end of the year.

That is hardly a deluge of crude by global standards, in a world that consumes above 90 million bpd, though it is enough to complicate the already-delicate calculations of OPEC+ analysts.

But the big imponderable is China. The country blew hot and cold on oil imports since the April crisis, snapping up cheap oil one month and easing back on imports the next. It was hard to read the signals coming out of China.

Were the pauses in imports due to a slower rate of recovery from the pandemic economic lockdowns? Or was China simply chock-full of crude, to the extent that it had filled its strategic reserve and had nowhere else to store it?

Evidence of the latter came in the form of the flotilla of crude tankers waiting to unload off the coast of the Shandong oil terminal. At one stage, there were as many as 60 million barrels afloat awaiting discharge off China’s coast.

The people who make a living from tracking these things say that there has recently been evidence of a slow unloading from these ships, but that there is still an awful lot of crude afloat, waiting to come onshore.

There have also been signs that China’s refineries are getting back in top gear, and are looking to increase crude purchases in anticipation of economic recovery. One of the biggest, Rongsheng Petrochemical, recently snapped up 7 million barrels through Singapore, in a move taken by some to be the starting gun on an aggressive Chinese buying spree.

The economic logic suggests that if that is going to happen, it will take place pretty soon. According to the International Monetary Fund’s latest review, China — the only major economy forecast to grow in 2020, with 1.9 percent growth — will soar to 8.2 percent expansion next year. The country’s early and rigorous lockdown, and high levels of economic stimulus since then, are clearly paying off.

Whether the Chinese lift-off comes in time to affect OPEC+ calculations over the planned January increase remains to be seen. From where oil policymakers are looking at it at the moment, it looks like a good bet that China, at least, will need plenty of crude next year to fuel its post-pandemic recovery.