08 JAN 2019

Transforming the global food system through digital technology

Food security is without doubt one of humankind’s most pressing concerns and the issue is one that is felt particularly keenly in the UAE. Although considered food secure - primarily because it enjoys a high degree of economic and political stability - the UAE still faces significant challenges. These stem from its arid climate, its shrinking groundwater levels and the volatility of the wider region.

Added to these geographic and geopolitical stressors is the country’s spectacular growth. As its population has expanded exponentially, increasing from around 300,000 in 1971 - the year the UAE was founded - to above nine-and-a-half million today, the need to provide for its residents has increased correspondingly.

My responsibility as UAE Minister of State for Food Security is to ensure that the UAE continues to enjoy an adequate food supply for its citizens as it develops and to elevate its current position of 31st on the global ranking for food security to the top 10 by 2021. In order to achieve this, we are championing trade facilitation and enabling technology-based production and supply of food.

The initiatives to support the strategic goals are anchored in diversification of supply, alternative supply sources, technology-enabled enhancement of local production, international trade links, amongst others. Thus a major part of my mandate is involved in incorporating Agricultural Technology - also known as ‘AgTech’- into the country’s food security agenda. This agenda is enshrined in the UAE’s recent launch of its National Food Security Strategy.

Variously defined as ‘transforming the global food system through digital technology’ and ‘smart farmers getting smarter using digital technology,’ AgTech encompasses advanced agricultural methods that differ distinctly from the traditional ways of farming practiced for millennia. Increasingly seen as a solution to the UAE’s food security issues, the office of Food Security is now placing a strong focus on adopting AgTech into the UAE’s agricultural sector as part of a concerted effort to considerably reduce the 90% of food that the country currently imports.

The Ag-tech Government Accelerator Project, with its two components, is one such initiative. The first component is the promotion of the use of ‘controlled-environment agriculture’ (CEA), which is a technology-based approach toward food production that utilises high efficient technologies to properly manage agriculture inputs and maximise output. It involves agricultural industry entrepreneurs working alongside government bodies to provide tangible solutions to promote CEA, primarily through implementing an enabling business environment that is conducive to innovation.

The second component of the Project is aquaculture, which is the controlled-condition farming of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants, algae and other organisms in freshwater and saltwater. With agriculture in general being the world’s thirstiest industry, accounting for approximately 72% of total freshwater consumption, aquaculture represents one of the best uses of what is the region’s most precious resource. To this end, the UAE has established a vibrant aquaculture sector with an investment of more than AED 100 million to develop hatcheries and fish farms. 

Vertical farming is another AgTech component that the office of Food Security is promoting and one that has been identified as offering a solution to the UAE’s food security issue. The concept sees plants grown in vertically stacked layers in an indoor environment where environmental factors can be controlled. Vertical farms typically use artificial light, humidity regulation, temperature control and minimum use of pesticides, enabling the production of vegetables in large quantities all year round without the need for soil, sunlight and chemicals.

The commercial applications of vertical farming are already being realised in the UAE, with the opening of the Gulf region’s first-of-its-kind facility, which commenced operations in December 2017. Located in the Al Quoz industrial area of Dubai, the 8,500 square feet farm produces 18 varieties of micro-greens, including rocket, kale, radish, red cabbage, basils and mustard.

Remote-controlled drones have become an accepted presence in the skies above the UAE, with the ubiquitous flying machines used by the authorities to - among other things - monitor traffic and deliver post. Now they are providing benefits for the country’s agricultural sector, with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being used to map farming areas across the country. Announced in June 2017, the pilot project sees UAVs being used to create a highly accurate agricultural database that supports decision-making and forward-planning by enabling the best use of resources and determining the optimum areas for crop growth.

Perhaps the most prevalent form of AgTech being incorporated in the UAE’s agricultural sector is sensors, with their adoption resulting in increased yields in both large-scale agricultural projects and smaller organic farms. Sensor-equipped gyroscopes, accelerators and GPS monitors are being employed to enhance crop production by making the most of land and water use - ‘precision irrigation’ that is highly effective in reducing water waste. A good example is an organic farm in Sharjah which relies heavily on sensors to determine the salinity and mineral content of the soil to ensure optimum crop growth with minimal use of water.

 Another prime example is a household-name Japanese electronics manufacturer that is creating a farm in Dubai to grow Japanese strawberries, with the facility incorporating light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for controlled lighting, air distillation technology and other appliances to check room temperature and humidity.

Aquaculture, vertical farming, drone use and sensors are just four of the technologies that are being utilised in the UAE to maximise crop production while ensuring good husbandry of resources. This is just the start of what will be an expanding role of AgTech in the country’s agricultural sector and the Office of Food Security is currently evaluating how emerging areas of technology, such as robotics, can play a part.

Automation combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an extremely exciting field that we are currently assessing. One company in the United States has produced a robot that mimics what a fruit picker in the field does. The machine uses AI to determine which of the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked, leaving unripe fruit in place on the vine. We are closely following such developments as part of the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy and will be assessing how the rapid technological changes that form part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be best incorporated to ensure food security for all.

By H.E Mariam bint Mohammed Al Mheiri / Minister of State for Food Security

25 FEB 2019

Building sustainable transport solutions for a green economy

In the UAE’s Greenhouse Gas inventory, the Ministry of Energy recognized transportation as the 2nd largest contributor to the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for over 22% of total emissions in 2013. Of global greenhouse emissions, 26% is constituted by transportation, with almost 90% of vehicles relying on oil to run. As the UAE makes the shift to a green economy, it becomes imperative for us to address the challenges of this sector, and the opportunities it presents in green alternatives.
 
The UAE is one of the largest automotive markets in the Middle East, second only to Saudi Arabia. Given the pace of economic development in the country, accelerated infrastructure development, and evolving trends in the logistics industry, these numbers are set to rise. According to TechSci Research’s report, “UAE Commercial Vehicles Market Forecast & Opportunities, 2021”, the UAE’s commercial vehicle market is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 7%, between 2016 and 2021.

As a pioneer for sustainable quality of life, Bee’ah was inclined to address the environmental impact of this sector, and the threat it poses to the quality of air in the UAE. Apart from being an active proponent for a green economy, our unique position as one of few companies to deploy an Air Quality Monitoring Network in the UAE, has alerted us to the environmental and health implications of transport development.

Starting the movement for change from within the organization, we implemented an advanced fleet management system, and began an active transition to eco-friendly vehicles. Through route optimization, RFID tagging of bins, and monitoring of real-time data, we have significantly reduced our carbon footprint.

However, to support the UAE’s vision for a green economy, sustainable mobility must become the norm and not the exception. To facilitate this widespread adoption, we partnered with Crescent Enterprises to launch a sustainable mobility venture, ION, in 2018.

ION is pioneering accessible and sustainable transport solutions, with the aim of creating a zero-emissions transport infrastructure in the MENA region and beyond. From electric bikes to buses, trucks, and even charging stations, we are transforming multi-modal, inter-urban, transport networks across the Middle East. To serve individual commuters, ION has deployed Tesla cars through popular ride-hailing platform, Careem.
 
We have also been supporting entities in reducing their environmental impact, serving as the official transport partner for events such as the Sharjah FDI Forum and the World Future Energy Summit.

Through ION, we have set a precedent for private sector participation in the sustainability drive, and there are possibilities for so much more. With the UAE’s mindset of exploration and pioneering for sustainable living, this is the ideal market for the future of mobility. Clean technologies can not only protect the environment, but also create jobs and trigger economic growth.

Leveraging industry knowledge, we can establish a framework for sustainable transport and implement carbon-neutral transport solutions, of measurable impact for businesses and governments. As the UAE aims to reduce 15% of carbon emissions by 2020, sustainable transportation will shape this low-carbon economy of the future, putting sustainability at the heart of our economic leadership.

By HE Khaled Al Huraimel / Group CEO, Bee’ah

25 FEB 2019

Will China be the superpower in a world transformed by renewable energy?

Having led the International Renewable Energy Agency over the last eight years with a privileged insider view of the energy transition, I have become convinced that a new geopolitical reality is taking shape. The result will be a map of energy geopolitics which will look fundamentally different to the one that has dominated the last hundred years.

Where coal powered industrialisation in the nineteenth century, and oil drove nations’ alliance-making in the twentieth, a quiet revolution of renewables will transform the politics of the twenty-first century.

The untold story of renewables is that they’re transforming the global energy system at a speed no one predicted. In recent years, technological advances and falling costs have made renewables genuinely commercially competitive. Price trends suggest that by 2020, the average price of electricity generated by solar and wind sources will be at the lower end of fossil fuel prices.

The other critical factors in this quiet revolution have been agreement on the imperative to counter climate change, leading to ambitious renewable energy targets; action by investors; and a global public opinion increasingly supportive of renewables.

At present, around 80 percent of the world’s people live in countries that are net energy importers. In future, energy production will be dispersed. Renewable sources - such as hydropower, bioenergy, solar, geothermal and wind - are available in some form in most countries. Where the location of fossil fuel stocks was random and unequal, access to renewable energy will be far more evenly spread.

In a renewable energy economy, most countries will be able to achieve higher levels of energy independence: they will have greater energy security and more freedom to decide their own strategic priorities. In a world where over a billion people still don’t have access to electricity, the life-changing benefits of this potential new energy security cannot be underestimated.

Nimble players have already seized the opportunity not only to secure their own future energy supplies but to become new energy leaders. China has put itself in pole position to be the world’s renewable energy superpower. It is the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles, and accounted for over 45% of global investment in renewable energy in 2017. In Europe, Germany generated 40% of its electricity through renewable sources in 2018.

Of course, shifts in energy production won’t single-handedly up-end international relations. But "energy statecraft" will no longer have the same potency.

In years to come, fossil-fuel exporters will see a decline in their global reach and influence unless they can reinvent their economies for the New Energy Age. Over the last 50 years, some countries have used their position as the world’s largest oil and gas exporters to exert political leverage in their near neighbourhood and beyond. Energy choke points, such as the Strait of Hormuz leading out of the Gulf, have been vulnerable to terrorism, piracy, and bilateral flare-ups. As recently as November 2018, the US has flexed its muscles over the global oil supply with sanctions on Iran, albeit with limited short-term success.

The global leaders in the New Energy Era may surprise us. Diverse countries have already made impressive transitions. Countries such as Denmark already generate more than half their electricity from renewables; Costa Rica’s electricity was generated entirely from renewables for 300 days in 2017; the power systems of Germany and Portugal were able to run entirely on renewables for several days last year.

New geographies of energy trade could also emerge. Shipping routes will become less important; those countries with the best connectivity, networks and ‘grid infrastructure’ (power lines, storage facilities, virtual interconnections) will hold the strategic advantage in controlling energy supply routes. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to connect Asia, Africa and Europe through infrastructure, is significant in this regard. Countries may also seek to integrate their grids with those of neighbouring countries; for example, in the proposed Asia Super Grid.

But energy transformation is not without risks that could reverberate through international politics. The decline of the conventional energy system will generate stresses – like social tensions, unemployment in some conventional energy industries, and financial risks - which need to be managed effectively. Demand for the minerals essential for renewable technologies, such as cobalt and lithium, may drive tension or conflict: more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt supply originates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example.

Still, the benefits of the New Energy Age will outweigh the challenges. With the demise of energy statecraft, the contours of foreign policy will shift, and the global distribution of power will change.

Policy makers need to act now to seize the opportunity of renewables and anticipate the challenges that the future holds. The New Energy Age will help shape a very different world, and every country has the potential to benefit.

By Adnan Amin / Director-General of IRENA

08 JAN 2019

Transforming the global food system through digital technology

Food security is without doubt one of humankind’s most pressing concerns and the issue is one that is felt particularly keenly in the UAE. Although considered food secure - primarily because it enjoys a high degree of economic and political stability - the UAE still faces significant challenges. These stem from its arid climate, its shrinking groundwater levels and the volatility of the wider region.

Added to these geographic and geopolitical stressors is the country’s spectacular growth. As its population has expanded exponentially, increasing from around 300,000 in 1971 - the year the UAE was founded - to above nine-and-a-half million today, the need to provide for its residents has increased correspondingly.

My responsibility as UAE Minister of State for Food Security is to ensure that the UAE continues to enjoy an adequate food supply for its citizens as it develops and to elevate its current position of 31st on the global ranking for food security to the top 10 by 2021. In order to achieve this, we are championing trade facilitation and enabling technology-based production and supply of food.

The initiatives to support the strategic goals are anchored in diversification of supply, alternative supply sources, technology-enabled enhancement of local production, international trade links, amongst others. Thus a major part of my mandate is involved in incorporating Agricultural Technology - also known as ‘AgTech’- into the country’s food security agenda. This agenda is enshrined in the UAE’s recent launch of its National Food Security Strategy.

Variously defined as ‘transforming the global food system through digital technology’ and ‘smart farmers getting smarter using digital technology,’ AgTech encompasses advanced agricultural methods that differ distinctly from the traditional ways of farming practiced for millennia. Increasingly seen as a solution to the UAE’s food security issues, the office of Food Security is now placing a strong focus on adopting AgTech into the UAE’s agricultural sector as part of a concerted effort to considerably reduce the 90% of food that the country currently imports.

The Ag-tech Government Accelerator Project, with its two components, is one such initiative. The first component is the promotion of the use of ‘controlled-environment agriculture’ (CEA), which is a technology-based approach toward food production that utilises high efficient technologies to properly manage agriculture inputs and maximise output. It involves agricultural industry entrepreneurs working alongside government bodies to provide tangible solutions to promote CEA, primarily through implementing an enabling business environment that is conducive to innovation.

The second component of the Project is aquaculture, which is the controlled-condition farming of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants, algae and other organisms in freshwater and saltwater. With agriculture in general being the world’s thirstiest industry, accounting for approximately 72% of total freshwater consumption, aquaculture represents one of the best uses of what is the region’s most precious resource. To this end, the UAE has established a vibrant aquaculture sector with an investment of more than AED 100 million to develop hatcheries and fish farms. 

Vertical farming is another AgTech component that the office of Food Security is promoting and one that has been identified as offering a solution to the UAE’s food security issue. The concept sees plants grown in vertically stacked layers in an indoor environment where environmental factors can be controlled. Vertical farms typically use artificial light, humidity regulation, temperature control and minimum use of pesticides, enabling the production of vegetables in large quantities all year round without the need for soil, sunlight and chemicals.

The commercial applications of vertical farming are already being realised in the UAE, with the opening of the Gulf region’s first-of-its-kind facility, which commenced operations in December 2017. Located in the Al Quoz industrial area of Dubai, the 8,500 square feet farm produces 18 varieties of micro-greens, including rocket, kale, radish, red cabbage, basils and mustard.

Remote-controlled drones have become an accepted presence in the skies above the UAE, with the ubiquitous flying machines used by the authorities to - among other things - monitor traffic and deliver post. Now they are providing benefits for the country’s agricultural sector, with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being used to map farming areas across the country. Announced in June 2017, the pilot project sees UAVs being used to create a highly accurate agricultural database that supports decision-making and forward-planning by enabling the best use of resources and determining the optimum areas for crop growth.

Perhaps the most prevalent form of AgTech being incorporated in the UAE’s agricultural sector is sensors, with their adoption resulting in increased yields in both large-scale agricultural projects and smaller organic farms. Sensor-equipped gyroscopes, accelerators and GPS monitors are being employed to enhance crop production by making the most of land and water use - ‘precision irrigation’ that is highly effective in reducing water waste. A good example is an organic farm in Sharjah which relies heavily on sensors to determine the salinity and mineral content of the soil to ensure optimum crop growth with minimal use of water.

 Another prime example is a household-name Japanese electronics manufacturer that is creating a farm in Dubai to grow Japanese strawberries, with the facility incorporating light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for controlled lighting, air distillation technology and other appliances to check room temperature and humidity.

Aquaculture, vertical farming, drone use and sensors are just four of the technologies that are being utilised in the UAE to maximise crop production while ensuring good husbandry of resources. This is just the start of what will be an expanding role of AgTech in the country’s agricultural sector and the Office of Food Security is currently evaluating how emerging areas of technology, such as robotics, can play a part.

Automation combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an extremely exciting field that we are currently assessing. One company in the United States has produced a robot that mimics what a fruit picker in the field does. The machine uses AI to determine which of the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked, leaving unripe fruit in place on the vine. We are closely following such developments as part of the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy and will be assessing how the rapid technological changes that form part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be best incorporated to ensure food security for all.

By H.E Mariam bint Mohammed Al Mheiri / Minister of State for Food Security