A "GreenFactory" the size of 32 football pitches and capable of producing 10,000 tonnes of fresh vegetables a year is coming to the desert emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Dutch agricultural technology company GrowGroup IFS has joined Abu Dhabi investor RainMakers Capital Investment to build what would be the world’s largest indoor farm there.
The plan is to build a 17.5ha structure containing 16ha of cultivation area, equal to about 32 football pitches.Â
John Breedveld, chief executive of GrowGroup, told a Dutch website that the €150m project arose from investors’ interest in "Dutch quality". He said: "We will cultivate baby leaves like spinach, rocket, herbs and kale."
Satellite image of the UAE in the month of October (NASA/Public domain)
The initiative fits in with the UAE government’s aim to become a "world-leading hub in innovation-driven food security".
The climate of the country is too hot to grow vegetables for eight months of the year, so the building will protect the plants from heat and excess exposure to sun. It will use pesticide-free indoor growing systems developed in the Netherlands.Â
It will also be able to grow the produce with 5% of the water that would otherwise be required, an important factor in the UAE, which may face a water shortage in coming years (see further reading).
According to GrowGroup, the farm will be seeded with sensors to generate real time data on the performance of plants. Dutch "agtech" companies GAAS Wageningen and Delphy will install the digital systems to monitor and control the farm.Â Â
GreenFactory Emirates, as the project is titled, will be developed in three phases and, when complete, is expected to produce 10,000 tonnes of leaves a year. The first stage is expected to be growing before Expo 2020 Dubai, rescheduled amid the pandemic for October 2021.
UAE food security minister, Mariam Al-Muhairi (UAEcabinet.ae)
UAE food security minister Mariam Hareb Almheiri commented in a press statement: "The UAE is applying concerted efforts to improve its domestic production of food, with agricultural technology having a hugely important role to play.
"In fact, key targets of the government’s National Food Security strategy launched in November 2018 are to generate a 30% yield improvement from technology-enabled production and for the UAE to become a world-leading hub in innovation-driven food security by 2051."
The Dutch-UAE team are planning similar farms in other regions of the world where normal cultivation is restricted by climate.
Image: The "vertical" cultivation of high-value crops has taken off around the world in recent years. This example is the RusEco farm in Moscow (MosRu/CC BY 4.0)