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UAE agtech startup aims to disrupt $500bn fodder industry

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Seed preparation at Dubai's World of Farming, part of the UAE’s National Food Strategy 2051 to improve food security
  • Country imports over 89% of its food, including livestock feed
  • World of Farming aims for national self-sufficiency in cheaper fodder
  • Uses 90% less water and up to 90% less land than traditional farming

A UAE agtech startup is aiming to disrupt the $500 billion livestock feed industry, as prices rise on the back of supply chain disruptions caused by the Ukraine war.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reported last week that, while the FAO Food Price Index declined 8.6 percent month-on-month in July on the back of an agreement between Ukraine and Russia to unblock Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and resume grain exports, prices still remained 13.1 percent above what they were in July 2021.

The UAE imports around 80 to 90 percent of its food, including livestock feed, and is therefore at the mercy of global fluctuations.

As part of the UAE’s National Food Strategy 2051 to improve food security, the Dubai-headquartered World of Farming (WoF) is aiming to help the Emirates become self-sufficient when it comes to fodder production for livestock.

“The launch of WoF comes at a time of profound geopolitical challenges and tensions across the world,” said Dr. Walid Saad, CEO and co-founder of WoF. “Due to the current global crisis threatening food security, supply chain disruptions are significantly impacting farmers and end customers.

“We look forward to scaling WoF in the coming years to accelerate the practice of sustainable farming in the UAE and support the UAE and wider region in developing more robust food security.”

Currently in beta testing mode, WoF’s vertical farm uses technology to track crops during their growth cycles, applying artificial intelligence to determine the crops’ health and rate of growth and to detect diseases.

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Dr Walid Saad, CEO and founder of World of Farming

Circular farming economy

WoF has teamed up with its first customer to build, operate and manage its technology in an existing farm.

Set to become operational later this year, the vertical farm will produce a total of 3,000 metric tons of fresh animal feed per year.

The produce will be pesticides free and use 90 percent less water and up to 90 percent less land than traditional farming.

The fodder will also cost less, as the WoF system will be a true circular economic model.

“The fodder we produce on the farm is cheaper than the imported form,” Saad said.

“We take the manure, extract the methane, and then use it for energy generation which we reuse in our operation. This farming cycle will help us have a winning equation economically and bring our costs down.”

Researchandmarkets.com estimated the global animal feed market to be worth around $482.1 billion in 2021. It predicts that it will grow at an annual rate of 3.5 percent to be worth around $589.4 billion by 2027.

WoF has been backed by Hatch and Boost Ventures, an Abu Dhabi-based venture capital firm which invests in agtech and foodtech startups, and the partners are aiming to raise $2 million in funding this year, in order to expand into Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East region.

“WoF’s vertical farming technology will enable farmers to overcome their dependence on imported livestock feed by growing fresh and nutritious animal feed on their farm,” Saad said.

“With more farmers adopting our farming approach locally, our ultimate goal is to enhance the agricultural sustainability of livestock ranching and supply chains, and the customers they serve on the regional and global scale.”

Agtech is a booming sector in the UAE. Startup research firm Magnitt reported that the sector was second just behind fintech in the amount of funding generated for startups in the UAE in the first half of 2022.

This was mainly on the back of the epic $181 million raised by Abu Dhabi-based vertical farm operator Pure Harvest in June.

Founded in 2016, Pure Harvest plans to double in size within 18 months and is aiming to become the Middle East’s next big $1 billion unicorn startup within two years. 

In June Abu Dhabi-based Pure Harvest secured $180 million in funding from global investors

Food for thought

The GCC imports around 85 percent of its food, so food security is a major issue.

In May 2021 the UAE launched Food Tech Valley, an 18 million square foot development located in Dubai’s Warsan area.

The project will harness the latest agricultural technologies to triple the country’s food output, produce 300 new varieties of crops and provide a hub for innovation and R&D.

Speaking at the launch of the Food Tech Valley project, Mariam Almheiri, UAE minister of climate change and environment, said: “The Agtech market is projected to grow from $13.5 billion to $22 billion over the next four years.

“The project is part of our efforts to achieve our strategic national goals with respect to food security, as it constitutes an incubator for advanced farms –including indoor and vertical farms – with more than 60 percent of the project’s space allocated to these activities.”

Hydroponic farming is a technology that grows plants with the use of little or no soil and reduces water usage by up to 70 percent. It was introduced to the UAE in 2009. 

Vertical farms were introduced to Dubai with the launch of Badia Farms in 2016. The 8,500 square foot warehouse uses hydroponic farming technology to grow microgreens and herbs for local restaurants. 

Dubai’s Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC) and US company Crop One have also invested $40 million to build the world’s largest vertical farming facility near Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central. 

Another option was also introduced by Dubai-based startup Desert Control, which uses liquid natural clay (LNC) technology to transform the dry deserts into fertile land. The company signed its first agreement in June to commercialise its products in the UAE.

Meanwhile, in July DP World UAE announced the signing of two projects with multinational agricultural commodity processors, strengthening food and beverage capabilities within Jebel Ali in Dubai. The quayside facilities aim to enhance year-round availability and production of essential grains and pulses.

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Badia Farms’ 8,500 square foot warehouse uses hydroponic farming to provide food sustainably for millions