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Vertical saffron farm spices up UAE’s agtech sector

Veggitech's vertical saffron farm in Sharjah is the latest UAE food security initiative
  • Veggitech saffron farm in Sharjah harvests first crop of ‘red gold’
  • Agtech is key pillar of UAE National Food Security Strategy 2051  

Agtech company Veggitech opened the first vertical saffron farm in Sharjah this summer, with the harvest of the expensive spice, known as red gold, peaking at the end of November. 

The UAE saffron farm is the largest in the Middle East and North African region, spanning only 165 square metres but equivalent to 3.5 hectares of land typically. 

Working in line with the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy for 2051, the Veggitech “red gold” farm has smart built-in systems to manage the entire farming process from temperature control to irrigation systems.

The vertical farm technology will produce healthier crops without the use of fertiliser and pesticides, as well as reduced land usage and minimum water consumption creating a more sustainable production cycle. 

Saffron is of high value due to the fact only a small part of the flower is used and the extraction process is labourious. 

Saleh Nasser Al Sorayai, chairman of Snasco Holding Group, which owns Veggitech, said: “Agtech is one of the key pillars within the UAE National Food Security Strategy 2051 and the Global Food Security Index. 

“We continue to expand our indoor vertical farming ventures in the UAE, ultimately contributing to food security and production.” 

Veggietech saffron Sharjah
Saffron, as one of the world’s most expensive spices, is often referred to as red gold

Dr Ardalan Ghilavizadeh, who joined Veggitech to lead on the saffron project, said: “In our first harvest each bulb will produce three to four strands of saffron but next year we would expect 12-15 strands and this will only continue to grow over time. 

“Our inaugural saffron vertical farm currently houses approximately five tonnes of saffron bulbs, from which we would expect 1,000 kg of saffron crocus.” 

The Gulf region has historically imported around 90 percent of its food requirements, constrained by arid soils, scarce water resources and searing temperatures.

But concerns about the impact of climate change on food production are forcing governments to rethink food security.

Abu Dhabi has set its sights on using technology to boost local food production. In 2020, it launched an incentive programme for Agtech innovators to come to the emirate to develop new farming techniques and advance research in the sector.

It has signed partnerships with companies including the US’ AeroFarms, Nanoracks and Responsive Drip Irrigation, India’s FreshToHome, local players Madar Farms and RNZ, and hydroponics startup Pure Harvest.