November 6, 2020

Abu Dhabi invests in world’s biggest indoor farm

A Netherlands/UAE joint venture has announced plans to build the world’s biggest indoor farm on a 17.5-hectare plot in Abu Dhabi.

The facility will combine vertical and flat farming to produce up to 10,000 tonnes of fresh food a year, from a cultivation area of 160,000 square metres.

Netherlands-based indoor farming specialist GrowGroup IFS and Abu Dhabi’s entrepreneurial catalyst RainMakers Capital Investment, jointly known as GreenFactory Emirates, are behind the AED650m ($177m) project.

According to online news platform MEED, the first phase of the farm will be operational before Expo 2020 Dubai in October 2021. When the event opens, a year later than planned due to Covid-19, Dutch innovations in the water, energy and food sectors will be on display at the Netherlands pavilion.

The move to build the indoor farm comes as the UAE makes concerted efforts to improve domestic food production through the use of agricultural technology, or ‘AgTech’.

The government’s national food security strategy, launched in November 2018, aims to achieve a 30 per cent yield improvement from technology-enabled production. It also endeavours to position the UAE as a world-leading hub in innovation-driven food security by 2051.

“Indoor farms such as GreenFactory Emirates are instrumental in helping us reach these goals,” stated UAE Minister of State for Food Security Mariam Hareb Almheiri.

Harvesting savings

The farm’s water consumption is expected to be 95 per cent less than standard cultivation methods, and its CO2 footprint reduced by up to 40 per cent. Waste associated with the transport of food imports will also be cut. 

Research and development by GreenFactory Emirates will ramp up production at the farm beyond the 56 current varieties of lettuces, leafy greens, herbs and kale, with real-time data collected to support the further expansion of indoor farming around the globe. 

GreenFactory has confirmed partnerships with the Netherlands-based indoor farm expert GAAS Wageningen and agri-consultant Delphy.

Their plans also include building indoor farms in other parts of the world where extreme climates present a challenge. 

Agritech growth

Over the past few years, the number of indoor and vertical farming projects in the UAE has grown.  

Emirates Airlines announced plans in June 2018 to build a 130,000 square-foot vertical farming facility near Dubai’s Al-Maktoum International airport in partnership with California-based Crop One, with a price tag of $40m.

AgTech firm Madar Farms, meanwhile, intends to grow fresh tomatoes under LED lights at the world’s first commercial-scale indoor farm. The homegrown firm is working in partnership with Dutch horticulture solutions provider Certhon.

Madar was among four other firms to receive funding totalling $100m from the Abu Dhabi Investment Office’s AgTech Incentive Programme. 

AeroFarms, RNZ and Responsive Drip Irrigation (RDI) were also granted funding.