Sharjah: While some parts of the world are grappling with food security brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP) has been developing innovative and sustainable methods of agricultural production.
Located inside SRTIP is Merlin Agrotunnel, an aquaponics farm with an area of around 150 square metres that can produce one ton of organic vegetables and fruits per month.
According to SRTIP, Merlin Agrotunnels use very little water – about 90 per cent less than conventional farming – and because they are based on aquaponics, they also produce fresh fish, along with a range of vegetables and fruits.
“Aquaponics is a form of agriculture that combines raising fish in tanks with soil-less plant culture (hydroponics). The nutrient-rich water from raising fish provides a natural fertiliser for the plants and the plants help to purify the water for the fish,” the SRTIP explained.
Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO of SRTIP, told Gulf News: “Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, a team of botanists, agriculturists and engineers from Merlin International, one of SRTI Park’s innovative partners, has been conducting research over the past two years to develop a soil-free vertical cultivation technology that is the ideal way to produce sustainable food.”
“The water that is used to irrigate the fruits and vegetables is seawater, desalinated through solar energy, thus completing the development of an integrated system ensuring sustainability of our natural resources,” he added.
Al Mahmoudi also stressed the importance of supporting research and finding advanced technology for agriculture.
He added: “We invite all owners of farms and those interested in this vital sector to take advantage of this modern technology by communicating with SRTIP to collaborate and spread advanced agricultural technology and apply it in their farms or even in their own homes.”
Al Mahmoudi also noted the current global pandemic has brought to the fore the issue of developing a safe haven for food self-sufficiency.
“The agricultural system being developed at SRTIP is one of the solutions to the problems of agriculture and food production,” he underlined.
Agrotunnels thrive even in the desert
The Agrotunnel can work in any environment and weather condition – even in the middle of the desert. as it comes with advanced cooling technologies that can work on solar energy and can harvest water from sea or the air.
The Merlin Agrotunnel can be combined into multiple units to create a commercial farm, or a single unit can be setup in a community to provide fresh organic produce for multiple households daily.
Vertical faming saves the cultivated area and control the amount of water needed. These farms also use artificial light as an alternative to sunlight needed for plant growth.