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Image Credit: Supplied

Pure Food Technology, a UAE-based, sustainable, agricultural and food technology startup has successfully developed an innovative hydroponic, robotic, solar powered proto-type that requires 95 percent less water compared to traditional farming and delivers 100 times higher plant-based crop yield, thanks to technological breakthroughs by a team of experts. Pure Food Technology are now looking to scale up the vertical farm technology in order to drastically reduce the UAE’s $7.7 billion vegetable food import bill and help the country attain self-sufficiency in nutrient-rich plant-based food production.

This is the world’s first artificial intelligence driven, solar energy powered, robotics enabled, patented, 3D-printed, hydroponic vertical farm in the world. All patents have been developed and registered in the UAE and the pilot plant has been designed and built in the UAE.

The UAE, where desert dominates its landscape, imports 90 percent of its food from other countries. As the country observes 2023 as the Year of Sustainability and prepares to host COP28 Summit it looks at innovative ways to deal with climate change and sustainability in all sectors – environment, business, hospitality, healthcare, agriculture, food and human resource. Pure Food Technology, which has already successfully obtained 11 patents for innovative solutions in food production and is awaiting to receive five more patents in sustainable agriculture, robotics and hydroponic vertical farming, offers the ultimate solution to the country’s agricultural and food sustainability.

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Sebastian Carlton and Cenk Yabas at Pure Food Hydroponic Farm in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Hydroponic farming is a method of growing plants without soil, where the soil is replaced by nutrient-rich water solution. The plant roots grow in a deep-water culture and a rich minerals solution. The plants and water are monitored for optimum nutrient composition to facilitate growth. As such, the hydroponic method removes risk of disease caused by soil pathogens and organisms. Additionally, hydroponically grown plants produce a higher yield than similar plants grown in soil because of optimum control over the nutrients.

Rising population is increasing the demand for food across the world. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), world population is expected to reach up to 9.1 billion by 2050, for which food production due to demand is required to increase from between 25 percent to 70 percent.

Such population explosion will drive the demand for alternative farming technologies that deliver higher yields in less time. The Mena region, where arable land and water are already scarce, are witnessing the increasing adoption of alternative high-yield farming technologies.

The Global hydroponics market is growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7.5 percent from US$35.2 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach of US$58.3 billion by 2030, according to Vantage Market Research. The hydroponics market is currently undergoing substantial growth, fuelled by the rising global demand for pathogen free foods and the widespread adoption of hydroponic techniques in agriculture.

Pure Food Technology has a fully-functional hydroponic vertical farm located at Jebel Ali Industrial Area that produces vegetable crops within 35 days – using water and minerals, AI, 3D printing and robotics as a live Proof of Concept. In the planned full-scale farms, the energy required by LED lights, chillers and de-humidifiers will be completely supplied by a unique patented solar farm solution.

The UAE had earlier announced the National Strategy for Food Security that aims to make the UAE the world’s best in the Global Food Security Index by 2051. By launching the National Food Security Strategy 2051, the UAE aims to achieve zero hunger by ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round. The strategy specifically aims to implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems.

Pure Food Technology, which powers the proposed scale vertical farm with solar energy, uses 3D printing technology to develop parts of its components and proprietary home-grown robotics solutions to transport fresh produce from farm areas to packaging stations that reduces the cost of production.

“The UAE imports $7.7 billion of fresh vegetables each year. If funded adequately and scaled up properly, Pure Food Technology can produce enough plant-based food, such as fruits and vegetables, to meet the total demand of the UAE throughout the year and make the UAE self-reliant in food production,” Sebastian Carlton, Chief Executive Officer of Pure Food Technology, says.

“Our proprietary in-house solution that involves 11 registered patents for innovation, is the ideal solution to the UAE’s food security needs and if scaled up further, it could meet the total demand of the plant-based food of the entire GCC. We have the proof of concept and a hydroponic farm in place that produces vegetables in just 35 days.

“Pure Food Technology’s hydroponic vertical farming is an innovation – many parts of which have been patented, ensures sustainable agriculture and falls in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UAE’s drive for innovation and sustainability. Once scaled up properly, we could grow enough food not only to meet the UAE’s domestic demand, but also export to other countries and this will facilitate the UAE becoming a centre for global hydroponic vertical farming.”

Vertical farming – where produce is grown in vertical stacks, using less square footage than in a field – offers many advantages. One is a perfectly controlled growing environment. The other is much more efficient use of resources.

Due to the UAE’s climate, water and land resources, it can only provide a small fraction of its overall food requirements. The UAE Government is striving to develop its food producing sectors with key focus on the agriculture sector, to facilitate its goal of achieving the UAE Vision 2021 and the UAE Centennial 2071 Plan.

In 2017, for the first time the UAE Government established a State Ministry for Food Security, in line with FAO’s vision. The new ministry led in creating the UAE National Food Security Strategy 2051, which was approved in November 2018. The new strategy aspires to make the UAE top of the Global Food Security Index by 2051.

In 2018, the UAE stood at 31st place on the Global Food Security Index. In December 2019 the index showed that the UAE had risen 10 places to 21st position, with the National Food Security Strategy 2051 proving its influence throughout the year.

Further, on 28 June 2020, the UAE Cabinet approved the national system for sustainable agriculture to improve self-sufficiency in food, enhance farms and create opportunities to ensure that the agriculture sector is always ranked high in the UAE. The national system for sustainable agriculture seeks to: Improve self-sufficiency from the targeted agricultural crops by five per cent annually, increase the average farm income by 10 per cent annually, increase the workforce in the sector by five per cent annually and achieve a 15 per cent annual reduction in water used for irrigation of a production unit.

Cenk Yabas, a UAE-based hydroponic expert, engineer and Chief Technology Officer at Pure Food Technology, says, “Our unique innovative hydroponic vertical farm system will accelerate the UAE’s drive for food security, nutrition, good health of its citizens and ensure sustainability across the entire agriculture and food value chain.

“In addition to that, if scaled up at a national level, this could turn the UAE into a net vegetable and fruit exporter, from a large importer that will not only save the country valuable foreign currency, but also help it to increase its export earnings – ensuring economic stability. It will also protect the UAE consumers from external food shocks and crises by stabilising domestic supply.

“Pure Food Technology’s innovative hydroponic vertical farm uses the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing Technology – as well as Solar Energy to power the farm. We can set up the farm in the middle of the desert and grow food without adding power supply from fossil fuel, without using soil, affecting environment or deploying a large pool of people. Everything is automated – from start to finish with very minimal human intervention – that makes it unique.”

The company is currently promoting its sustainable agricultural solution to investors for investment to scale up to fulfil the UAE’s vision 2031 and 2071.