Innovating For A Food Secure Planet

Image sourced from the FoodTech Challenge website

Image sourced from the FoodTech Challenge website


Written By: Dhwani Laddha

Editor’s note: The following information is derived from the Food Tech Challenge Awards Ceremony that was hosted on 18th November 2020 in the UAE.

With the number of mouths to feed rapidly growing, and environmental challenges to farm traditionally exasperating this concern, we need to seek out innovative solutions that address food security for all. The FoodTech Challenge was one such platform bringing together innovators from across the board to solve this global crisis. The global competition sought to support the UAE’s commitment to providing safe, sufficient, and nutritious food to its population. 

Image sourced from the FoodTech Challenge website

Image sourced from the FoodTech Challenge website

As perfectly put by Rima Al Mokarrab, Chairman of Tamkeen, “we live in an unforgiving climate that has pushed us to innovate”. In reflection of this challenge to innovate, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Al Almheiri, UAE Minister of State for Food Security, added that “in raging towards a new direction in food security, we must have community at its core”. This seemingly obvious point is often forgotten in the conversation about food security, thus the central goals of this challenge are availability, access, utilization, and stability.

Supported by the UAE Food and Water Security Office and Tamkeen, and under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, the Challenge was able to promise winners a share of a $1 million prize pool, and support to grow through an accelerator program. The competition brought together 437 submissions from 68 countries. The Awards Ceremony itself showcased the 12 finalists who would compete for a share of the prize pool.


Winners of the FoodTech Challenge:

  • QS Monitor: an online platform to streamline food imports into the UAE

  • Has Algae: an algae-based superfood that's rich in omega-3 and protein

  • Safety Net Technologies: A state-of-the-art light-emitting solution to enable fisherman to catch more sustainably

  • Red Sea Farms: innovative greenhouse solution that uses saltwater for irrigation

Other Finalists:

  • Soliculture: a greenhouse that generates its own electricity using solar panels

  • Evja Green: crop monitoring technologies to improve agrochemicals and irrigation management

  • Pure Harvest Smart Farms: year-round production of fruits and vegetables in greenhouses

  • Whole Surplus: surplus food and waste management solution to help reduce food waste

  • Solar Freeze: portable solar-powered cold storage units for African farmers

  • Electrap: pesticide-free solution to tackle red palm weevil infestation

  • Jones Food Company: automated sustainable vertical farm driven by AI

  • Everfresh Biocoating Technology: nature-based edible food coating to extend shelf-life and reduce food waste

The Challenge additionally hosted a panel titled “Opportunity in Crisis: Food Security in a Post-Pandemic World”. Joining Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Al Almheiri, UAE Minister of State for Food Security, for this panel were Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank, Dr. Rami Zurayk, Professor at the American University of Beirut, and Mina Al-Oraibi,  Editor-in-Chief at The National

Al-Oraibi began the discussion with considering the pandemic’s impact on every single country, causing disruptions in supply chain distribution, reflecting on how “disadvantaged communities that were already vulnerable, are today more vulnerable, especially in terms of food security”. We mustn’t forget that “we have challenges ahead, but we also have opportunities”.

Image sourced from the FoodTech Challenge website

Image sourced from the FoodTech Challenge website

Adding to this, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Al Almheiri said that “going through a pandemic also comes with opportunities to plan and adapt to a new normal”. In the case of the UAE, food reserves and supply chain reserves need to be strong because “with less than 5% of arable land, it is very difficult to grow food here”. On the pandemic heightening the food crisis, she claimed that “boosting the local production by looking at what can be grown here in the UAE with technology”, and “boosting the agtech sector is an important one, alongside getting the ball rolling on community-based systems”. 

It’s important to note that innovation is what drives this change and brings us closer to achieving food security and stability. Maria Helena Semedo highlights how “the state of food security this year has shown us that 690 million have suffered from food insecurity”, and “usually the most vulnerable communities are the rural population, the women, the youth, and the disabled”. According to Semedo, this calls for a more integrated approach that “brings together humans, animals, and the environment”.

In continuing this conversation on invisible members of the crisis, Danielle Nierenberg focuses on “essential workers who have been invisible for so long, their lives were put on the line to keep people fed”. On the one hand, “we are seeing people valuing food more during this pandemic as there is less food being wasted due to the insecurity”, and on the other, she claims that both “small and medium-sized farmers have continued to innovate and pivot in this stressful time”. For instance, “food as medicine has become more prominent, not only because folks are more concerned about their own health, but also for the sake of their community”, and “farmers markets had to convert to drive-through models for safety”. Here, as asserted by Nierenberg, it is obvious that “there is no going back to normal so we really have to ensure secure food systems”.

In reflection of this panel discussion, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Al Almheiri adds that we must “catalyze this movement to eat locally and shorten the supply chain” so as to drive consumer demand, and support how “sustainable food production and nutritional security depend on technology to guarantee that we can feed everyone”. To do so, she believes we must focus our efforts in bringing together “technology and community. Each and every one of us has a responsibility in this”.

Such invigorating panels are getting us excited for Agritecture Xchange’s 3-day virtual conference. Henry Gordon-Smith will be giving his keynote address on “How Entrepreneurship is Fostering a New Age for Climate-Smart Agriculture” on December 1st. Join us for this conference connecting key innovations in the field of AgTech to the future health of our cities.


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