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How The UAE is Transforming Agriculture Through Innovation

Written by Vitaliy Chiryassov, CEO of UPPERCASE

With 80% of its land covered in scorched desert, no perennial surface water resources, and facing catastrophically low and erratic rainfall, along with periodic locust swarms, the UAE might initially seem like the least likely place for AgriTech to flourish. But, it’s precisely because of these challenges that it is a fascinating launchpad for innovation in agriculture.

 

Why There is a Need for Agricultural ​​Innovation in the UAE

Consider this: if crops can thrive in the UAE’s harsh conditions and still yield sufficiently, they’re likely to flourish anywhere.

To this extent, the UAE government has initiated what’s known as the National Food Security Strategy 2051. The year 2050 is significant — it’s when experts predict that the impact of climate change will reach a tipping point, leading up to 25% loss of crop yield globally.In response, the UAE government aims to pioneer agricultural practices that boost yields even in harsh conditions we’ll all likely live in within the next 30 years.

According to the official UAE government website, their goal is to achieve zero hunger not only within the UAE but globally. To achieve this, they are enlisting the help of startups through initiatives such as the KEZAD city zone in Abu Dhabi,  known for its vertical and hydroponic farms.

 

Government support has also spurred the growth of the AgriTech market in the UAE, with projections indicating it will reach $22.6 billion by 2025.

But before we talk market figures, let’s quickly cover the state of agriculture in the UAE, both historically and today:

 

The State of Agriculture in the UAE: Past and Present

Agriculture in the UAE has a rich heritage that goes back generations, especially in regions like Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Al Ain, and the Liwa oasis, where date palms are cultivated — currently the most widespread crop in the country.

The rapid development of agriculture in the Emirates began in the 1970s when the government launched a strategic effort to reduce reliance on imports. Between 1979 and 1985, agricultural production increased by a factor of six, and the number of farms grew from about 4,000 to over 18,000 by late 1980s. (There are over 38,000 farms operating in the UAE in 2024). In certain crops, such as tomatoes, cabbage, and eggplant, the Emirates was able to satisfy its consumption needs — but only during the green season.

Fast forward to today, and in some key areas, the UAE has become almost entirely import-independent. For instance, there is sufficient poultry and milk produced domestically to satisfy between 70 to 90% of demands. By the end of 2024, the UAE hopes local producers will supply half of some basic food items, such as meat and poultry, and double that by 2030.

However, the Emirates still famously imports about 85% of its food, and the need for innovation to reduce this figure remains pressing.

Given the UAE’s harsh climate, indoor farming is a key area of development, and 36% of AgriTech companies in the UAE are working on solutions in this sector. Yet, this is just a fraction of the broader AgriTech market. 

 

Overview of the UAE’s AgriTech Market

AgriTech involves using technology to help promote the use of agriculture, especially in environments with limited arable land, and scarcity of resources like water.

The UAE government operates a $272 million program aimed at supporting AgriTech companies that create products to decrease dependence on imported goods and put less taxes on scarce natural resources.

This has led to a significant market for AgriTech innovation. In 2022, for instance, this sector generated $15.4 million in revenue—making it the second-largest AgriTech market in MENA and representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.4% between 2017 and 2022.

The largest segment of this market was devices, accounting for a total revenue of $9.8 million in 2022—equivalent to 63.6​​% of the market’s overall value.

An example of a company involved in AgriTech devices is Falcon Eye Drones Services (FEDS). In cooperation with the government, they used drones in 2019 to plant an area of 150 square kilometers with millions of ghaf and mar seeds.

 

How the UAE is Innovating in AgriTech

Start-ups like the aforementioned FEDS are the cornerstone of agricultural innovation in the UAE. Below, we list notable examples of disruptive AgriTech companies in the Emirates.

To start, Pure Harvest Smart Farms is a pioneer in hydroponic farming in the UAE. They grow fresh fruits and vegetables in high-tech indoor farms designed to overcome the arid climate and water scarcity of the UAE. Their facilities use closed-loop systems that recirculate and purify water, to recycle this precious resource. Pure Harvest also uses advanced climate control systems: they employ LED lighting and automated monitoring to optimize growing conditions and maximize yields. This way they can avoid pesticides and minimize transportation. The result? Fresh but environmentally friendly produce, grown in the middle of the desert.

Another innovator in the UAE’s AgriTech landscape is Agrimatic; this startup provides automated farming solutions geared towards sustainability. Their precision agriculture approach uses sensors, drones and data to monitor crops, soil and water usage — allowing targeted interventions to boost efficiency and minimize waste. Agrimatic’s hydroponic and aquaponic systems enable year-round crop cultivation without soil, conserving water while eliminating pesticide needs. Designed for urban areas, these systems bring locally-grown, fresh produce into cities.

Last but not least, FodderTech tackles livestock feed production with hydroponic technology. Traditional fodder growing methods are resource-heavy, but FodderTech grows nutrient-rich green fodder hydroponically. Their approach uses significantly less water, land and resources compared to conventional methods. Automated hydroponic systems ensure consistent quality with minimal labor. FodderTech improves sustainability in agriculture while providing quality, reliable feed for better animal welfare.

 

What AgriTech Support Programs Exist in the UAE

Naturally, none of the startups we mentioned above could thrive without sufficient support. Alongside the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment’s $272 Million AgriTech and Food Security Fund, the UAE has various initiatives aimed at assisting AgriTech companies in their growth. We’ll highlight some of the main ones below:

Government Initiatives

 

Free Zones

  • Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD): Offers integrated facilities within the Abu-Dhabi Food Hub focused on indoor farming, food trading, and logistics.
    Masdar Free Zone: This free zone is widely recognized as the most sustainable business hub in the UAE. In addition to low-carbon development, Masdar is currently integrating vertical farms, which will allow startups to develop sustainable agriculture.

 

Venture Funds and Investment Platforms

  • Mubadala Investment Company: This investment group manages a fund of US$276 billion. The company invests in various sectors, AgriTech and life sciences
  • Dubai Future Foundation: Invests in futuristic projects, with a big focus on sustainability and technology that drives sustainable development.

 

Conclusions

Agricultural innovation stands as one of the most crucial areas of research today. We’re facing a pressing food shortage, and if we don’t take action, global crop yields will drop by 25% by 2050 due to the impacts of climate change. Adding to the challenge, by 2050, the world’s population is predicted to reach 9.7 billion. World hunger is no longer just a horror story — it’s a stark reality that’s right at our doorstep.

It’s vital that more countries follow the UAE’s lead and invest in innovative solutions to promote sustainable production.

In the Emirates, free zones such as KIZAD and Masdar are instrumental in helping technology companies drive solutions to address this global challenge. They do this by streamlining the setup and providing support for AgriTech companies, allowing them to focus on their products rather than getting bogged down in red tape.

Visit us at UPPERSETUP to learn about the step-by-step process and cost of registering an AgriTech company in the UAE.