Dr. Shamal Mohammed, AgriTech Director, Silal: Digital Transformation & Food Sustainability
According to the UN’s World Population Prospectus 2022, the global population reached a remarkable eight billion this year. By 2050, the figure is projected to hit close to 10 billion, throwing up a raft of new challenges, including the necessity to produce more food with fewer resources. Put simply, the world now needs to increase food productivity in a far more sustainable way, and this is where the critical importance of agricultural technology – or AgriTech – comes into play.
AgriTech is the application of technology to increase the efficiency of our farming and food systems, from the planting of seedlings right through to packaging and distribution. The sector is considered key in addressing many of the world’s most complex food security challenges, helping ensure the planet can continue to grow enough produce to meet our needs.
In 2018, a report by the World Government Summit outlined three AgriTech trends that are already making a big impact on boosting food production. They include the use of new techniques, such as hydroponics, IoT sensors and desert agriculture, to increase cultivation; new technologies, such as gene editing and 3D printing, to improve food chain efficiencies; and the adaption and incorporation of existing technology, such as drones, AI and data analytics, into the agricultural sector to optimize yields.
Silal, which is part of ADQ, a major investment and holding company based in Abu Dhabi, was established in 2020 with a mandate to explore all three of these trends. Our mission is to invest in new ideas to future-proof the agricultural sector, ensuring that diverse, fresh and affordable food remains available to all.
One current and ongoing example of our efforts is our collaboration with Hoogendoorn, a world-leading innovator in horticulture. Earlier this year, we launched the Digital Agronomy Service with the aim of deploying IoT sensors in 100 farms within the UAE over the course of 2022. Via this partnership, farmers will now be able to better monitor key indicators such as temperature, humidity, pH values and soil moisture, allowing them to make improved and more timely decisions on irrigation, fertilization and crop management. The result will help drive farm productivity and increase their profitability.
Silal has also developed a close partnership with Saudi Arabian firm, and previous FoodTech Challenge winner, Red Sea Farms. Late last year we reached an agreement with the company to develop an innovation facility to demonstrate their saltwater cooling systems and heat blocking technologies in the UAE, to help improve water and energy efficiencies and increase food productivity. The technology is specifically designed and developed in the region for hot climate agriculture to help make farming more sustainable.
In December 2022, Silal also launched a new project offering farms in our network with free, detailed soil and water analysis. The reports will allow farmers to determine the exact nutrients requirements to grow crops more efficiently, as well as minimalizing the excessive use of fertilizers.
Food sustainability will continue to remain a key strategic priority for the Emirates and the AgriTech industry is central to that aim. Already the UAE can point to significant successes, ranking first in the Middle East and North Africa region on the Global Food Security Index 2022, up two places since 2021. The UAE also ranked as the third most innovative country in the Middle East and Central Asia based on the 2022 Global Innovation Index by Visual Capitalist, leading innovation in sectors including agriculture. We recently announced a partnership with DANA Global, an Abu Dhabi-based desert tech venture builder and investment platform to create an innovation ecosystem for AgriTech start-ups and entrepreneurs to address challenges such as resource scarcity, local production, and food security.
Through ongoing collaboration, new investments and partnerships, and the development of cutting-edge innovation, Silal will continue to build on our achievements. Food security is a global challenge, and the UAE is committed to forging a more sustainable, prosperous future for us all.
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