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The new Food Technology Valley will promote Dubai as a food hub of the region and attract global brands and leading companies in agriculture and food sectors, government officials, experts and analysts said.
The project, which was launched on Saturday by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, will create an integrated modern city to serve as a hub for future clean tech-based food and agricultural products. It will also serve as an incubator for researchers, entrepreneurs, startups and industry experts involved in developing solutions that have the potential to shape the future of the food industry.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai; Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and First Deputy Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai; Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Emirates airline and Chief Executive of the Emirates Group; Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Media Council; Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs; Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, Minister of State for Food and Water Security; Khalifa Saeed Sulaiman, Chairman of Protocols for the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE; and Hesham Abdullah Al Qassim, CEO of Wasl Asset Management Group, attended the launch.
Almheiri said the project features a food innovation centre that has been designed to resemble a head of wheat and will incorporate laboratories, research centres and prototype agricultural systems.
“Strategically located close to universities and academic institutions, it will support the R&D ecosystem and explore and deliver sustainable solutions around food,” she said at the launch event.
“We seek to adopt and develop the latest methods for smart agriculture and food production, rationalise water use, accelerate basic food self-sufficiency, and share our successful experiences with countries around the world. This will help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and safeguard the future of forthcoming generations,” Almheiri said.
Innovative trade zone
Al Qassim said the Food Technology Valley is a state-of-the-art economic, trade and research zone in terms of its innovative ideas, advanced infrastructure, specialised role in supporting smart future societies, and diversity of options it provides to creative entrepreneurs, investors, startups, and small, medium and large companies in the food processing and production ecosystem.
“The project provides an integrated legislative framework that facilitates new food product development and access to the market. Its competitive incentives and services enable investors to utilise local and global demand for the UAE brand and leverage Dubai’s global commercial and trade networks to achieve the desired growth,” he said.
The city is established on the basic priniciples of establishing flexible legislative frameworks for the food industry, leveraging joint collaborations and global trade networks to reach markets, and providing immediate and comprehensive services for food processing companies in Dubai at competitive costs.
The valley will be home to four main clusters that will help promote food security, as well as boost research and development facilities in the emirate.
The agricultural technology and engineering cluster will have a vertical farm that will employ the latest food technologies to grow year-round vital crops for future smart cities.
“The cluster will also be centred on developing innovative projects in bioengineering, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence and supporting capacity building across the food ecosystem,” according to a Media Office statement.
The food innovation centre will provide an integrated agri-business ecosystem to nurture promising ideas and support start-ups and entrepreuners.
“The cluster, which will have a specialised food factory to produce new foods and second-generation restaurants (restuarants 2.0), will explore a futuristic model that applies the highest standards of sustainability and production sufficiency to reduce consumption and wastage of resouces,” the statement said.
The third cluster will have world-class R&D facilities to train food specialists and support food establishments. The facilities will explore the use of agri-robotics to maximise yields and drought-resistant crops. Specialised researchers will also explore the application of 3D printing in algae cultivation and alternative protein production.
“The R&D facilities will also study the use of artificial intelligence to monitor, analyse and manage agricultural crops, and detect environmental impact and climate change. They will contribute to global food security research efforts by exploring successful saline agriculture, nutritional genomics, agricultural mechanisation and the use of drones in food production,” according to the statement.
The fourth cluster will feature a fourth-generation food storage system that provides smart and automated logistical storage services.
“The comprehensive smart storage system will apply blockchain technologies and big data in sorting, transporting and distributing various food products. It will track food quality, origin, components, processing methods, storage and delivery to ensure efficiency of food supply chains,” the statement said.
Solid trade numbers
Dubai’s external foodstuff trade totalled Dh52 billion in 2020 as consumptions recorded steady growth in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trade included imports worth Dh34.7 billion while exports and re-exports reached Dh10 billion and Dh7.3 billion, respectively.
In terms of volume, food trade weighed 17 million tonnes and included 12.5 million tonnes of imports, 3.1 million tonnes of exports and 1.3 million tonnes of re-exports last year.
“Food security is gaining more importance under the current circumstances, and the challenges posed by the pandemic which swept across the world,” said Nassim Al Mehairi, manager of the statistics sat Dubai Customs.
Food demand on the rise
Saad Maniar, senior partner at Crowe, said demand for food and water is constantly going to increase and will continue to be the basic necessity.
“Thinking about sustainability ahead of time is a smart decision and this will have lasting values in the long term,” Maniar told Khaleej Times on Saturday.
Besides having technology, he said the key to food sustainability is having fertile land, enough water supply and an adequate climate.
“In view of global climate change, food security will be a challenge for the world in near future and the initiative is taken at the right time to promote Dubai as a food hub in the region,” he said.
Dubai at the forefront
Shailesh Dash, an entrepreneur and financier, said Dubai has always been at the forefront of adopting new technologies which makes it the city of the future.
“This development announced shows the vision of the leadership as food security is one of the key ingredients to be self-reliant and also caters to the requirement of the country as well as the nearby region. This clearly shows the leadership of Dubai as a city state which is always changing to the ever-changing needs of society, consumers and economies of the region,” Dash said.
Ahmed Shaikhani, president of the Pakistan Business Council (Dubai), said it’s a very futuristic approach to overcome any future challenges, should they arise.
“Since Covid changed the entire environment of countries, it’s now essential that every country should have their own resources of food, agriculture and manufacturing facilities of food-related products. There were some challenges to ensure the food supply chain due to the Covid-19 crisis and the essentials were stuck or delayed because of transportation or logistical issues in sea vessels and air transport,” Shaikhani told Khaleej Times on Saturday.
He said Dubai is also a trade hub of food and food-related items, so it creates a positive impact on business and improve the economic activities in the region.
“As the Expo is ahead, this is a very positive approach and a right move towards growth,” Shaikhani added.
A great initiative
Kamal Vachani, group director of Al Maya Group, said Dubai’s new Food Technology Valley is another great initiative launched by Sheikh Mohammed.
“Dubai is truly a modern hub for food and beverages trade and this initiative will further enhance Dubai’s position as one of the top sustainable cities. It will attract more F&B companies to establish businesses in Dubai and take advantage of the more than Dh100 billion food trade annually,” Vachani told Khaleej Times on Saturday.
“Countries across the world have expressed concern about food security. This new city will offer a dedicated platform to food-related companies and it will help to consolidate Dubai’s future food security,” he added.