Lifestyle

Creating a food-secure future

Creating a food-secure future

Hemant Julka, Co-founder and COO, VeggiTech, answers:

Why is sustainable agriculture gaining ground in the UAE?

Owing to a combination of visionary leadership; local partners like VeggiTech; and an advancement in technology, the paradigm of sustainable and environmentally-friendly agriculture has been proven to be a reality today. With over one million sqft of sustainable farms and one of the largest indoor vertical farms in the UAE, these milestones have certainly created a positive wave.

The tangible proof of concept created by VeggiTech has added to the awareness for sustainable agriculture. Investment authorities have provided funds to agro-technology players thus raising their visibility at the international level.

LED-assisted hydroponics and protected hydroponics have been in the industry for over a decade. However, the game-changer has been the optimisation of resources to make it cost competitive.

- Hemant Julka, Co-founder and COO, VeggiTech

During the pandemic there is an increased awareness of the food sources amongst the residents in the UAE and this has certainly brought a positive influence on choosing local produce.

What are some of the top tech trends changing the face of sustainable farming in the UAE and worldwide?

LED-assisted hydroponics and protected hydroponics have been in the industry for over a decade. However, the game-changer has been the optimisation of resources to make it cost competitive.

The rise of plant-based proteins will see the emergence of food grade algae farming. Food on demand, or rather nutrition on demand, would be a near-term reality. We, at VeggiTech, are looking at creating digital platforms to connect smart cities to urban farms that would ensure near zero food miles and near zero food wastage.

Rachana Shah, Co-founder, Armela Farms, answers:

Do you think supporting research and investments in new technologies is critical for advancing food security?

Yes, definitely. Considering the harsh climate in the UAE, research and innovation in new farming techniques are critical to take the agricultural sector forward.

We are in the process of an expansion to add more heads of lettuce to our current capacity and we have just started producing baby spinach and rocca. We are in the R&D stages of growing broccoli and asparagus.

- Rachana Shah, Co-founder, Armela Farms

What other types of produce are you in the process of adding to your inventory?

We are in the process of an expansion to add more heads of lettuce to our current capacity and we have just started producing baby spinach and rocca. We are in the R&D stages of growing broccoli and asparagus.

What factors will influence the UAE’s ability to grow all of its own produce in a sustainable manner?

Availability of water and its judicious usage; as well as the selection of the right growing system and cooling technology that allow farms to produce crops in hot climatic condition, will determine the sustainability of agricultural production systems. Uninterrupted availability of power to run the advanced cooling technology is also important.

Role of food packaging

Sami Syed, Founder and CEO, Phoenix Group, answers:

We’ve developed a system where we can operate everything on a smartphone. During this pandemic, even production personnel can work from home. That’s how our automation and advanced machinery technology are helping every industry.

- Sami Syed, Founder and CEO, Phoenix Group

To what degree has advanced automation changed the packaging process for food?

Whether you’re in the food industry, are building a car, or creating lubricants for machines, automation is used everywhere, even inside our homes. We’ve developed a system where we can operate everything on a smartphone. During this pandemic, even production personnel can work from home. That’s how our automation and advanced machinery technology are helping every industry.

Where do you get the materials used in the food packaging space?

We’re blessed that nearly all the materials we need are manufactured in the UAE itself. We use foil for crisps and other snacks. There is the hot pack, or HDP, and plastic materials. There are lots of corrugated paper companies here as well. The raw materials are used in our packaging machines to pack all types of food, including dates and chocolates. For other types of packaging, such as in edible oil bottles, we have the manufacturers of the bottles and packs in the UAE. Basically, the UAE has become a hub for manufacturers. If you look back to the Eighties and Nineties, we were always dependent on importing these materials from India and China. But today, everything has changed. The manufacturing industry has become increasingly important for every country.