The Middle East is home to the world’s fastest-growing population, which naturally results in a demand for more food. In a region of the world with extensive deserts, very low precipitation and very high temperatures (as much as 50 degrees celsius in the summer), open field agriculture is virtually impossible except for some small areas in the winter months. As a result, the desert Gulf Arab states rely on food imports to meet 80-90 % of local demand.
This dependence on food imports has been compounded by the closure of borders and airports as a result of the Covid pandemic; the demand for locally produced food is higher than ever.
Water is also an issue. There is very little ground water in the region, and virtually all water for drinking and irrigation is desalinated water from the sea.
“There is very little locally based manufacturing in the region, but this is changing”, says Nina Eriksson, Netled’s representative in the UAE since 2020. “The oil-rich UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, approved a series of incentive packages in 2019 worth $272 million to support agricultural technology projects. The Emirate wants to encourage foreign companies to set up operations in the region by offering joint ventures with manufacturing companies.”
Nina Eriksson has worked in the UAE for the past 10 years and knows the Emirate and the surrounding Gulf Arab states well.
“It’s clear that the UAE needs the support of international companies in tackling its food production challenges. Technology that is capable of producing food in the extreme heat and with very little water is going to be a game changer for the region. It is extremely important for local farmers and investors to choose reliable and proven technologies for indoor farming and technology providers with experience of both farming and R&D, as well as functioning reference operations with several customers.
In the long run, profitable farming should be the main target for vertical farming and joint ventures in the region.” Eriksson explains.
“Furthermore, it is not sufficient for international companies to come to the region, build the facilities, and leave. There needs to be an ongoing relationship with international controlled environment agriculture companies that includes support and maintenance.” Eriksson concludes.
CEO of Netled, Niko Kivioja, sees huge potential for growth in the UAE and Gulf Arab states.
“Our vertical farming technology is proven to be absolutely reliable even in the most harsh environments. We have simply removed external conditions from the equation, and we are able to precisely control the internal growing environment so that the facilities can produce the maximum amount of crops.” says Kivioja.
“In addition, we provide 24/7 support and maintenance as part of the package. We are able to make alterations to the growing conditions remotely from anywhere, and we can also provide on- site support for new facilities.” he continues.
“In vertical farming and controlled environment agriculture, there is naturally a lot of focus on the technology and what it can do. But it is not enough to simply supply the technology. The vertical farm needs to be run by a horticulturist with specialist knowledge in vertical farming best practices, plant nutrition, HVAC and irrigation systems, effluent processing, etc. We provide constant support for the set-up and commissioning of the vertical farm, and include a maintenance contract as standard.” Kivioja explains.
“We are quite simply the one-stop-shop for vertical farming systems, in that we design, build and provide all the equipment ourselves. If a part needs replacing, the customer does not need to find a supplier from elsewhere – in fact they cannot – our technology is proprietary, and we provide all the parts and servicing for our systems. We are kind of like the Apple of vertical farming”, Kivioja adds wryly.
“With this tried and tested package, we are the perfect partner for vertical farming and CEA ventures in the UAE and Gulf Arab states.” Kivioja concludes.