The desert makes growing anything -- especially food -- rather difficult. Or, at least, it used to. A new startup in the United Arab Emirates hopes to reduce some of the food imports to the region, delivering fresher product that's grown right in the desert town of Dubai.
The UAE currently imports nearly 90 percent of its food, according to recent data. But Saudi Arabian entrepreneur Omar Al Jundi, hopes his first vertical farm in Dubai will decrease some of the region's import needs as well as contribute to the health of the residents, and decrease the impact on the environment due to transport.
The farm is called Badia Farm -- "badia" is Arabic for "oasis" -- and, like other urban indoor farms in cities like New York, London, and Chicago, it's growing a lot of salad greens. Radish, kale, mustard, basil, and arugula all thrive in indoor controlled climate farms. Greens are delicate; transport can often lead to produce arriving wilted and spoiled.
"As a region that has struggled to grow crops due to largely hostile desert landscapes, our farm offers a viable solution to farming that produces harvests 365 days of the year," Al Jundi said.
"The produce will not only be cheaper than imported goods, but fresher too, as the farms will be producing all year round."
The farm sits on an 800-square-meter plot in a busy industrial Dubai region. Already, Badia is producing two hundred boxes of fresh produce per day in just a year. And the plan is to continue increasing production as the company finds more places in the region's markets to sell its vegetables.
Vertical farming continues to see significant expansion into urban areas. As more people now live in cities, particularly in the U.S., transport costs, time to ship, and price, all make growing hundreds of miles from city borders less viable. The indoor climates also reduce the pest issues, which means fewer, if any, chemicals are needed in the process. Indoor farms also use significantly less water than outdoor farming operations, a plus as fresh water supplies continue to dwindle.
Indoor urban farms also bring the freshness factor--no more picked over wilted lettuces taking up produce aisle space. Shanghai is set to open a 250-acre "agricultural district" next year, which will be home to skyscrapers growing fresh fruits and vegetables within the city's borders.
"It makes no sense to order produce that arrives in boxes in the back of a ship from as far tens of thousands of miles away when it can be grown at home," Al Jundi said.
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