Desert terrain, extremely high temperatures and limited rainfall have historically made agriculture unworkable in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — but thanks to new technology, companies in Dubai are finding ways to grow locally-sourced produce.
With temperatures in the desert city regularly exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in summer months, a massive 80% of the Dubai’s food supply is imported. But the government is keen to reduce dependency on imported foods.
Badia Farms is one of several firms tapping into the demand for locally grown foods by developing an indoor farm in the city.
Using hydroponics, a growing technique that doesn’t require soil, the farm is successfully growing fruit and vegetables that are already being served in some of Dubai’s top restaurants.
Speaking to CNBC’s Dan Murphy, founder and CEO Omar Al Jundi explained that crops are moved along a production line in artificially optimized conditions.
“As they move along the production line they sprout and grow, (then) at the end we take them out and offer them to the market,” he said, adding that some plants can be grown and sent to a restaurant in as little as 30 days.
“Our region is agriculturally challenged,” Al Jundi added. “I really wanted to solve a problem and impact this region positively — and I want to inspire the rest of the rest of the region as well. We have a long list of issues and problems, we need to start tackling them.”
By confronting the UAE’s food supply problem, Badia Farms is also helping Dubai work toward its sustainability goals. By reducing the need for long-distance transport, Al Jundi’s indoor farm and others like it are reducing the carbon footprint of the food consumed in the city. Additionally, thanks to the technology being employed, Al Jundi’s said his facility uses 90% less water than open-field farms.
“We control the humidity, we control the temperature, we control the CO2,” he told CNBC. “We’ve got dehumidifiers to regulate the humidity… and each one produces 60 liters of water, so in the summer we were water positive for the first time.”
The farm’s annual crop yield is claimed to be much higher than that of a traditional farm.
“Depending on the crop (we can produce) between four to eight times (as much),” Al Jundi said. “For example, with lettuce we could grow twelve cycles a year, compared to conventional farming which has four cycles a year.”
“Once we take care of all the leafy greens we want to go into vine crops — tomato, capsicum, chilies, melons — everything that could be grown within this type of controlled environment,” he added. “In the future you’ll be able to grow all these crops anywhere in the world, pesticide free, with minimal use of water and environmentally-friendly setups,” he said.