Climate change poses a significant risk to global water and food security, particularly in the MENA region where higher temperatures, severe droughts, and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense. Among the 17 MENA countries facing water risks, 12 are currently dealing with high water stress levels, including the UAE.
According to the World Resources Institute, GCC countries import approximately 85% of their food and around 56% of their vegetables due to limited arable land, averaging only 4.25% in the region.
Given these challenges, how can these countries ensure food security, save water, and address climate change with limited arable land?
As highlighted by Ryan M. Lefers, Mark Tester, and Kyle J. Lauersen in their article on sustainable controlled environment agriculture in the MENA coastal regions, there is untapped potential for agriculture through emerging technologies such as transparent infrared solar panels and energy-efficient saltwater cooling. The growing adoption of controlled environment operations, especially those incorporating innovative production methods and energy sources, holds promise in enhancing food security and minimizing the impact of climate change.
Agritecture conducted consultations with controlled environment agriculture (CEA) operations in the region and identified the array of challenges that these operations encounter.
As per insights from CEA operators, several challenges within the sector include:
Misleading Perception: The industry’s high visibility sometimes magnifies its successes while downplaying the serious underlying issues that need to be tackled.
Fragmented Ecosystem: The CEA landscape’s fragmentation results in a lack of clear and uniform quality standards across the board.
Import Dependence: All elements necessary for cultivation have to be imported, posing logistical and resource challenges.
Inexperienced Entrants: The annual influx of new farms into the market often leads to a lack of understanding about the intricate financial and logistical aspects of farming.
Advantages of Imports: Competing imports based on traditional agriculture often enjoy advantages such as faster delivery and exemption from import taxes.
Resisting Consumer Behavior Change: Shifting consumer behavior in the Middle East is a challenge, and embracing the quality and benefits of European produce might require considerable time and effort.
Production Costs and Intermediaries: Factors such as production costs (energy and water) and how intermediaries like retailers and trading partners comprehend the products become pivotal, as they function as gatekeepers to potential buyers.
KRISPR, established in 2021 in Dubai, UAE, specializes in indoor Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) to produce leafy greens, herbs, and microgreens. Their distinctive edge lies in integrating innovative technologies. Despite anticipated challenges in the regional sector’s future, KRISPR remains dedicated to its mission.
Mojan Farms, founded in 2020 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, emerged from a Neapolitan pizzeria venture. It addresses the scarcity of locally grown non-traditional crops. Operating in 4,500 sq. meters, they employ hydroponic greenhouses and data-driven approaches for crops like Italian Basil, Siberian Kale, Pak Choi, San Marzano tomatoes, and Habanero peppers. Their efforts extend to appealing packaging, educational tours, and collaborations with startups.
Founded in 2020, Greener Crop Inc. aims to support new farmers in the CEA sector across several countries, including the U.S., U.A.E., Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Their operations span 29,000 square meters, encompassing greenhouses and indoor vertical farms. They offer data-driven farm management, optimizing plans remotely with a team of agricultural engineers. Greener Crop Inc. stands out with their unique blend of on-
site and remote support. Their produce is appreciated for freshness, taste, and extended shelf life, aligning with consumer preferences. They strategically establish farms in locations with favorable electricity prices and water availability.
The region’s CEA sector shows promise due to rising demand for fresh, sustainable produce and the emphasis on localized food production for resilience against challenges like the pandemic and inflation.Ivvestmanufactures The Capsule, a smart container farming unit producing up to 14 tons of leafy greens annually. Controlled by IvvestOS, this system manages climate, lighting, irrigation, and nutrients. It offers a 5x higher ROI and a faster payback than greenhouses.
Sokovo Nature Farms, established in 2020 in Dubai Industrial City, focuses on vertical farming for crops like greens, herbs, and microgreens. They blend nature and technology for sustainability. With a current 1500 sq. meter area and plans for 3500 sq. meters expansion, they foresee a bright future in the region’s growing agricultural hub.