This ‘GigaFarm’ in the desert could produce 3 million kilograms of food

This ‘GigaFarm’ in the desert could produce 3 million kilograms of food - Business and Finance - News

The Future of Sustainable Farming: Introducing GigaFarm – A Revolutionary Vertical Farming Project in Dubai

In 2022, Dubai unveiled the world’s largest vertical farm, covering an area of 31,000 square meters, at Al Maktoum International Airport. However, this title will soon be challenged by a new project in the city: GigaFarm.

Overseen by UAE-founded enterprise ReFarm, the 83,612-square-meter GigaFarm, located in Food Tech Valley, is not only larger than other vertical farms but operates differently. According to Oliver Christof, CEO of Christof Global Impact, the company behind ReFarm, food systems are responsible for approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with agriculture and land use contributing two-thirds of this total. To combat this issue, GigaFarm plans to employ innovative technologies that can transform waste streams into valuable agricultural products.

By bringing farms closer to consumers and using more efficient production methods, GigaFarm aims to reduce the carbon footprint of food production significantly, producing up to three million kilograms of leafy greens, herbs, and vegetable seedlings annually while replacing up to 1% of the UAE’s food imports.

GigaFarm’s vertical farming solution is provided by IGS, a Scottish company founded in 2013. The growth towers of the farm are a controlled environment that carefully monitors and regulates water and nutrient levels, providing synthetic sunlight through LED light strips and growing plants using organic compost or coconut fibers as substrate. The towers are modular and range from six to 12 meters in height, making them easy to scale.

To make farming more sustainable financially and environmentally, GigaFarm will integrate waste streams and renewable energy. The farm will be powered using energy generated from incinerating its solid waste, with black soldier fly larvae processing food waste to produce high-protein animal feed and water as by-products. GigaFarm will recycle 50,000 metric tons of food scraps annually, generating enough water to sustain the entire vertical farm.

Moreover, the farm plans to produce several agricultural products, such as a biofertilizer that reduces fertilizer application by 50% and a soil enhancer that can restore depleted soil or sand to better absorb water, microorganisms, and fertilizer.

The impact of GigaFarm goes beyond just addressing the problem of food imports and carbon emissions; it can also help the UAE’s 38,000 operational farms grow seedlings using hydroponics or high-tech greenhouses. Christof believes that this could make a significant dent in food security.

Vertical farming offers numerous benefits, including faster crop growth, reduced water use, and the ability to grow produce indoors regardless of climate or seasons. However, it requires a large upfront investment in technology and infrastructure and has high running costs, largely due to electricity bills from LED lights.

The recent financial struggles of several vertical farming companies, including Fifth Season and AppHarvest, highlight the challenges of competing with conventional agriculture’s low costs. However, ReFarm plans to overcome these obstacles by integrating waste streams and renewable energy into its operations.

Vertical farming is increasingly crucial as climate change threatens food security, particularly in regions with large urban populations. The Middle East and Africa are expected to invest heavily in agritech, with the sector’s value reaching $6.22 billion by 2030.

The UAE imports over 85% of its food, making it vulnerable to supply chain disruptions, as witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine-Russia War. The Emirati government aims to diversify its income streams by investing in greener sectors like renewable energy, sustainable transport, and agritech.

Consumer consciousness regarding food miles and carbon emissions is on the rise, as shown by supermarkets like Carrefour in Dubai launching mini hydroponic farms for customers to pick their produce in-store.

Despite the potential benefits, it may take another decade before we see widespread adoption of vertical farming, and more research is required to expand the range of crops that can be grown using this method. The 1.2 billion dirham ($326.7 million) GigaFarm project is set to break ground later in 2023 and aims to be fully operational by 2026.

In conclusion, GigaFarm represents a significant step towards a more sustainable and efficient food production system in Dubai, integrating waste streams and renewable energy while reducing the carbon footprint of food imports. The future of agriculture lies in innovative solutions like GigaFarm, which can help address the challenges of climate change and food security while ensuring a more resilient and sustainable food system.