Pure Harvest farm
Food security is an immediate priority and funds are chasing such investments in the UAE and Gulf. The Pure Harvest operated farm in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: With food security assuming high priority, funds are flowing into the UAE’s agri-business ventures. Abu Dhabi based Pure Harvest Smart Farms has secured a multi-year $100 million commitment from Kuwait’s Wafra International Investment Company, a subsidiary of The Public Institution for Social Security.

This is, reportedly, the “largest-ever agriculture technology investment in the region”.

Pure Harvest currently owns land in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi), and is in “late-stage discussions” with prospective sellers for land near Riyadh. If that happens, this would be its first Saudi Arabia build this year.

Part of the current $20.6 million fund mop up will be used by Pure Harvest for the Saudi plans.

“We have demonstrated that the Middle East can be among the lowest-cost producers of fresh fruits and vegetables in the world,” said Sky Kurtz, CEO - Pure Harvest Smart Farms.

“Given the abundance of sunlight, low-cost/abundant land, abundant CO2, affordable and fluid labor markets, reliable energy, low taxes and very low transport costs. Add this up and you’ve described the cost structure of farming anywhere in the world.

“The COVID-19 crisis and resulting supply chain disruptions further highlight the need for sustainable local-for-local food production capacity, especially for fresh, nutrient-rich foods. Together with structured debt financing that we are simultaneously arranging, we will invest Wafra’s funds in growth, key hires, enhancing our technology portfolio, and ultimately to deliver our solution across the region – including in Wafra’s home market of Kuwait.”

Get a grip on nature

Pure Harvest set up its first farm in 2018, and a second will be built following a new land acquisition in Al Ain.

“One of our fundamental beliefs is that once you control the inhospitable climate - using technology – we believe that the GCC can be among the lowest-cost and most diverse producers of fresh produce in the world,” said Kurtz.

“We can grow like they do in Holland, but with twice the amount of natural light per annum. And sunlight equals yield. Our core KPI is light efficiency - how many units of light do we turn into plant matter and how cost-effectively do we do so.”

Sky Kurtz of Pure Harvest

Pure Harvest has secured access to $100 million in new funding, split over phases, from Kuwait's Wafra.

What does Pure grow?

At its first farm, the company is producing 17 varieties of tomatoes. “The goal was to test our technology and the solution’s ability to navigate the climate year-round (including the cold),” the CEO added. “We started with tomatoes, but it has always been the plan to diversify and meet more of the market’s needs.

“We’ve now learned to produce a 16-32 degree centigrade Mediterranean climate year-round, enabling production of anything that grows within such a climate corridor - tomatoes, greens, capsicums, aubergine, lettuces, herbs, berries.

“In 2020 we are upsizing our tomato production, expanding into greens and retrofitting our existing R&D greenhouse into berry production. Plus building a large-scale tomato farm in Saudi Arabia.”

Capacity is there to produce over 600 million tonnes a year at the pilot facility. For this year, the goal is to raise the production area by 15 times.

$ 5.8 million

What Pure Harvest raised in seed financing in December 2017.

Produce locally, sell regionally

The Pure Harvest produce is sold through the usual channels - Carrefour, Spinney’s, Waitrose - and to hotels, restaurants and catering channels through partners.

“We offer year-round, local production of sustainably-grown fresh fruits and vegetables that are European-standard quality but at a 20-50 per cent discount vs. comparable quality imports. We are also partnering with new channels to market - online direct-to-consumer farm-box delivery solutions.”

Transporting has significant costs and environmental impact. Burning jet fuel to fly tomatoes around the world is unsustainable long-term

- Sky Kurtz of Pure Harvest