Technologies that enable agriculture in desert
It can be said that agriculture, whose outcome depends on the weather, is the industry most susceptible to climate change. There is a fact that the damage of cultivated crops in various parts of the world due to abnormal weather, such as torrential rains and extreme heat, is increasing year by year.
On the other hand, regardless of such climate changes, there are some lands in the world that are not suitable for growing crops due to the severe climate conditions. It is a desert with less fresh water that can be used freely, without rivers and lakes. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Middle East, where most of the land is covered by deserts, agricultural researches using advanced technologies such as planting in the deserts and desalination of seawater have been conducted since the 1970s, in addition to traditional agriculture in scattered oasis. Today, the capital city of Abu Dhabi has about 24,000 farms, many of which are equipped with modern irrigation facilities and hydroponic technologies to grow produce with minimal water.
In Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE that can be said to be such a hidden agricultural advanced country, it has been decided to construct a next-generation large-scale agricultural research facility. Abu Dhabi Investment Office, which has invested $100 million in total for four domestic and overseas AgTech companies*1 aiming to transform agriculture through science and technology, announced on April 9. The four companies will advance agricultural researches on crop cultivation in dry zone and that can help solve global issues such as climate change and population growth.
AeroFarms based in the US, one of these four companies, will build the world’s largest 8300 square meter indoor farm. It is said that the farm does not require sun, soil, and pesticides and can grow crops with only 5% of the water needed for traditional field farming. Compared to hydroponics, the amount of water used is about 60%. With LED lights that promote efficient photosynthesis and “recipes” for nutrients, the productivity per square foot (about 930 square centimeters) is 390 times that of commercial field farm. In addition to growing local crops in the indoor farms, the company will hire some experts in fruit and vegetable, engineers, and scientists for advanced agricultural research.
Madar Farms, an indoor farming company based in UAE, will build a research facility to grow tomatoes with LED lights, which will be the world’s first commercial-scale indoor tomato farm. In this facility, the company will contribute to the local dietary habit by expanding the cultivation of micro greens such as arugula and kaiware radish, which it specializes in, and by growing more types of crops. Additionally, US irrigation equipment manufacturer RDI and the UAE-based water-soluble fertilizer manufacturer RNZ will also make efforts in advanced researches to increase crop productivity at their respective facilities.
The Director General of the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, which invested in the four companies, said: “Our long-term goal is to support the development of innovation that will contribute to solving challenges of regional and global importance.” The countries around UAE include India, Pakistan, Egypt, and Ethiopia, which are among the nine countries announced by the United Nations that are expected to have an explosive population growth. Researches by these four companies are expected to be utilized to food problems due to climate change and population growth.
AgTech: A coined word that combines “Agriculture” and “Technology.” There are various definitions and interpretations of this word: It sometimes refers to applying advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, IT, and robotics to agriculture, sometimes it refers to applied efficient agriculture. It may also refer to a business area where agriculture and IT technology overlap, or an agricultural startup specialized in IT technology.