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Farming tech startup moves HQ from Europe to UAE

Agtech Supplied
iFarm's indoor, vertical farming technologies are combatting food security issues in hot climates
  • iFarm’s indoor, vertical farming tech is being deployed in Riyadh
  • Dubai facility set to open in partnership with SpaceFarm
  • Middle East expansion to be followed by growth in Asia-Pacific region

A Finnish tech startup is swapping the green countryside of Northern Europe for the Arabian desert as it looks to grow its urban farming business.

iFarm was invited in November to join the incentive programme of Abu Dhabi’s Hub71, the technology project led by Mubadala Investment Company and backed by the Government of Abu Dhabi. 

As a result, it is moving its global headquarters to the UAE and launching a research and development facility in the Gulf state.

“I think this is a most important region in the world that requires indoor farming right now,” iFarm co-founder Maxim Chizhov said. “There are a lot of potential clients here.”

Founded in 2017, iFarm sells vertical farms for commercial production of greens, berries and vegetables.

The company’s technologies are already being deployed in an industrial farm in Riyadh. Designed by iFarm, the facility opened last year and is operated by Green Farm, with plans to grow microgreens, herbs, edible flowers, tomatoes and leafy greens on site.

The farm has a cultivation area of over 2,000 sq m and production capacity estimated at 16 tonnes per month.

Saudi Arabia is aiming to catch up with some of its neighbours in global food security rankings. In 2021 the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture allocated $27 million to develop and localise vertical farming technologies, which are proving increasingly popular.

iFarm agtech
iFarm co-founder Maxim Chizhov said there are a lot of potential clients in the region

On Tuesday the National Agricultural Development Company announced a partnership with Pure Harvest Smart Farms on a national food security project in the kingdom, which uses over 27 hectares of production to deliver a variety of locally and sustainably grown, fresh produce.

iFarm is set to open a further facility in Dubai in the second quarter of this year courtesy of a partnership with agtech company SpaceFarm (UAE).

Designed for year-round cultivation of leafy greens, herbs and strawberries, the vertical farm has a growing area of around 800 sq m and capacity to produce 3.2 tonnes per month.

Constrained by arid soils, scarce water resources and searing temperatures, the Gulf has historically imported around 90 percent of its food. 

However, concerns about the impact of climate change on agriculture, as well as the pandemic-induced supply chain crisis and the war in Ukraine, have forced governments to rethink their food security strategies.

According to CB Insights over $6.4 billion was raised globally in 2021 through investments in tech providers and next-generation crop producers.

Market research firm Data Bridge forecasts that the vertical farming market in the Middle East and Africa alone will be worth almost $5 billion by 2029.

iFarm raised $4 million from an initial seed round in 2020 and needs an additional $2 million to close its latest Series A round, which has seen participation of venture capitalists from the Mena region, Chizhov said.

With 15 farms already operating or under construction globally, including in Russia, France, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, Chizhov said the Middle East expansion would be followed by further growth into the Asia-Pacific region by the end of the year.

“We’ve started in Indonesia but we already have requests from the Philippines and Singapore,” he said. “This is a goal, that we work from our headquarters in the Mena region and work with Asia Pacific also.”

A Deep Knowledge Analytics report published in July said GCC governments should step up their efforts to develop agri-food technology and reduce waste.

The study acknowledged progress in countries such as Israel and the UAE, but said 86 million people in the Mena region did not have sufficient food consumption.

In the 2022 Food Security Index that accompanied the report – which ranked countries according to access to food, crisis risks and resilience of the economy – the UAE was the top-placed Arab country at 26th. Qatar was 29th, Bahrain 30th, Oman 41st, Saudi Arabia 44th and Kuwait 47th.

The high-income countries of North America and Europe topped the index of 171 nations. 

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