Sep 29, 2020
Why The Gulf Region Urgently Needs AgTech
The Gulf Region’s interest in CEA
Countries in the Gulf region have been dealing with pressing issues like water scarcity, climate change, and a decreasing amount of arable land in the recent years. In their mission to become a leader across the board via better responding to these drivers, they’re launching initiatives that fund solutions for modern agriculture. The ruler of Dubai’s appointment of a new Minister of State for Food Security signals this renewed focus.
As of currently, the gulf countries are relying on each other by importing produce, however, these many drivers are posing a serious threat to traditional agriculture in the region, making Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) a viable and effective solution. The region’s ongoing food production concerns exacerbated by the demands of the ever-growing population prove the extent to which CEA needs to be normalized.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the region’s shrinking freshwater resources are being negatively impacted by climate change and will have a heavy bearing on the region’s food availability and stability. “While undernourishment has decreased worldwide, conflict has caused the number of undernourished people in the MENA region to increase,” says Farrukh Iqbal, Chief Technical Specialist at World Bank
Impacts of COVID on Agriculture in the Middle East
The UAE has made substantial investments towards its food security. Food imports to the region have been made accessible by strong trade relations, easy access to trade markets and ports. The UAE is expected to invest up to $7 billion in India’s food sector in the next three years as part of the UAE-India food corridor project. Likewise, Saudi Arabia is phasing out their domestic wheat production, saying that it's no longer sustainable given their finite water resources.
The Middle East’s interdependence for daily goods and produce has been challenged by the global pandemic. The pandemic had blocked trade between these countries, which, in turn, has caused material and resource deficits in the region. While a lot of countries have been facing challenges, Qatar has been working on developing a self-sustaining food system for the past few years.
Policy, Training, and Local Buying
In relying on their strong diplomatic and trade relations, and investing in food production outside the region, the GCC is incentivizing short-term solutions that will only temporarily improve the ongoing problems but won’t help the attainment of sustainable agriculture.
The region lacks appropriate and well-abled training institutions for agricultural studies. This is resulting in the poor training of agricultural professionals, thus costly and energy-and-resource-intensive mistakes. A general lack of interest in agriculture, due to the low-income range, is worsening the problem, as the region is not spending enough on talent and incentives to get citizens and residents involved. Training from a young age could lead to more skilled farmers in the Middle East, which would overall benefit the farming ecosystem.
Additionally, despite the region’s wealth, the population is driven by the low price of produce. Educational methods directed towards enabling the populations to value the quality of products that are produced by local farms, and to buy local produce to support their local economy, could support this transition. Buying local will not only support the local food supply chain and allow these nations to be self-sufficient, but they’ll also impact the general health of the population.
The region needs to create robust policies that promote a diverse range of solutions that include: incentivizing new farms, incentives for more technology transfers to the region that will equip them with the apt equipment, and finally, introducing consistent policies that encourage investors and entrepreneurs to enter the space and not be scared off.
According to AgFunder News, “$200 million of sovereign wealth capital in the region was earmarked for agri-food tech investments, including $100 million from Wafra, and $100 million from Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO). Wafra invested $10 million in Abu Dhabi-based vertical farming venture Pure Harvest Smart Farm’s $20.6 million Series A funding round, with plans to invest up to a total of $100 million to support the expansion of the company’s farms.”
Such funding will support the region’s plans to construct high-tech, climate-controlled greenhouses that use natural sunlight to produce pesticide-free fruits and vegetables. The development of such technology is particularly relevant in countries such as Kuwait that enjoy a high rate of annual sunlight but low rainfall.
Given this clear interest in CEA and growing efforts to enable this transition in the region, there is hope for continued progress and increased food security and self-sufficiency.
“Some of the leadership into GCC is focused on food as a “cure-all” solution when an ecosystem approach will strengthen the foundations of food security which is what’s needed” - Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder & CEO of Agritecture
Agritecture admires the announcements and strategies promoted by leadership by her excellency and has been grateful to participate and looks forward to onwards collaborations.
Note - Agritecture has been hired by larger consulting firms in the ME as they lack a nuanced system on developing their new strategies on the future of agriculture in the ME. AGR has been working in the GCC for many years now and has a large portfolio of projects.