A top-level Dubai official is creating an entire city dedicated to revolutionizing the food industry in the Middle East. Food Tech Valley, which was founded by United Arab Emirates prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, will provide a welcoming, well-resourced environment for start-ups and entrepreneurs focused on innovative ways to grow, process, store, and distribute food.
“It will host R&D facilities, [an] innovation center, [a] smart food logistics hub, and areas for vertical farming,” Al-Maktoum recently told a media outlet. Food Tech Valley also will be home to food businesses that create advanced farming technology in hopes of creating solutions to food insecurity in the region—and potentially tripling its food production. Officials say as many as 300 different types of crops could be produced by Food Tech Valley innovations.
“[This] new modern and vibrant city [. . .] will serve as a global destination for start-ups and industry experts in the food ecosystem,” Al-Maktoum stated in a Tweet. These innovators face ongoing issues with the food and water supplies in the Middle East, as growing populations and an inhospitable growing environment are forcing stakeholders to find new ways to grow food and supply water.
Along with modern farming technology, experts acknowledge the region also needs to have more fertile land for growing, a steady water supply, and stable weather patterns.
A Strategic Focus
Food Tech Valley will be strategically designed and situated, from its location near universities and other academic institutions in Dubai to its food innovation center that will look like a head of wheat and will house research centers, labs, and prototype agricultural systems.
Referred to by one media outlet as “UAE’s Silicon Valley of Food,” Food Tech Valley will be divided into four primary sectors: smart food logistics; research and development centers; food innovation; and agriculture technology and engineering. In addition to the main goal of creating sustainable food production models, each center also will focus on sustainability and efficient use of resources.
Food Tech Valley’s R&D facilities will focus on innovations such as agricultural robots, 3D printing applications in the growing process, and restaurant digitization. Specialists will experiment with how to use robotics to create drought-resistant crops and maximize yields, while others researchers will look into how 3D printing can assist with farming algae and developing alternative proteins.
They also will research how to monitor and manage crops with artificial intelligence and look at innovations such as nutritional genomics, saline agriculture, using drones in food production, and agricultural mechanization. Other sectors of Food Tech Valley will test automated food storage systems that will use blockchain technology and big data to sort, transport, and distribute food efficiently.
Food Tech Valley is the result of a partnership between Wasl Properties, a company based in the UAE, and the country’s Ministry of Food and Water Security. The development fits within the UAE’s National Strategy, which includes a goal to break into the Global Food Security Index top 10 this year and reach number one on the list by 2051.
Currently, the nation’s food industry is valued at more than $27 billion annually, but any growth must grapple with the region’s naturally dry climate. While Food Tech Valley will focus on continuing to build food-related innovations, it also hopes to build the AgTech sector from $13.5 billion to $22 billion by 2025. The UAE already hosts more than 175 farms that employ modern agriculture technology, 500 food processing companies with international export sectors, and 100 companies that promote organic agriculture.
Dubai Leads the Way
Business leaders have praised Dubai’s Food Tech Valley for its initiative in embracing new technology in food security and responding to the needs of its people and economy. Ahmed Shaikhani, Pakistan Business Council president in Dubai, called it a “futuristic approach” that will prepare the region for potential challenges.
Other leaders have described Dubai as a “hub” for food-related businesses, products, and trade, and this innovation comes at a time when countries worldwide need to consider how they can be more food self-sufficient. The COVID-10 pandemic shut down supply routes and trade throughout the world, exposing many nations’ dependence on others for their basic food supply.
“The essentials were stuck or delayed because of transportation or logistical issues in sea vessels and air transport,” Shaikhani said in a media interview.
Boosting food-related businesses also will have benefit other businesses in the region and serve as a catalyst for growth, he said. As Dubai continues to establish itself as a sustainable city, it will attract more businesses interested in the region’s growing food trade worldwide food sustainability. Al-Maktoum has recognized that a sustainable food and medicine supply along with stable food, water, and agricultural systems are vital to ensuring that future generations will enjoy a thriving and stable economy.