The green shoots of sustainable farming

26 JUN 2019

Famous around the world for the dynamic, high-tech cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and vast deserts like the Rub’al Khali, sustainable agriculture is not a subject one readily associates with the UAE.

But in true forward-thinking fashion, the country is turning a long-standing problem on its head. Spurred by a rising population, growing consumption, an arid climate, a lack of water and arable land, and an annual food import bill estimated to hit USD8.4 billion by 2020 (around 85% of food is currently imported), the Emirates are now rethinking traditional farming methods.

Thanks to government initiatives like the Protected Agriculture Project, the world-renowned International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture at Dubai’s Zayed University, and a wealth of determined entrepreneurs, sustainable agriculture is taking root. Farmers are switching from desalinated to wastewater irrigation, and experimenting with salt-resistant crops like quinoa. Health-conscious consumers can now grow microgreens in their kitchens. Dubai will host the world’s largest ‘vertical farm’, using hydroponics to supply 2,700kg of greens daily to Emirates Airlines passengers at 35,000 feet.

Hydroponics is an exciting technology in a country with one of the world’s highest per capita water consumption rates, where agriculture uses the lion’s share. Vertical farms grows crops in controlled conditions indoors, using artificial light and nutrient solutions in place of soil. Such farms use up to 90% less water than traditional farming, with yields many times higher. Growing food locally cuts transport costs and related carbon emissions. Pilot vertical and home farming projects in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi are testing the latest technologies in the field, helping define guidelines for implementation across the country.

Having lived in the Emirates on and off for over 20 years, I have seen first-hand how enthusiastically the country is now embracing the sustainability agenda, including the latest agricultural innovations. It is part of what makes me proud to work here. The culture and values of Abu Dhabi – a combination of international influences, and a strong commitment to local heritage and sustainability – influenced Lombard Odier’s decision to open a branch in the capital earlier this year, our second location in the UAE. And like the dynamic UAE capital, with its world-renowned Sustainability Week, Lombard Odier is also leading the pack in sustainability. In March, we became the first global wealth and asset manager to achieve B Corp certification, one of the world’s most advanced corporate sustainability ratings.

Our investments in sustainable agriculture have spanned water management projects in 15 countries, and agricultural water efficiency projects in China’s Qinghai province. At this year’s Venice Biennale, our ‘LO Generations Summit’ brought together the next generation of thought leaders and entrepreneurs, to discuss how to build a more sustainable future. One of them was David Rosenberg, a World Economic Forum ‘Young Global Leader,’ serial entrepreneur, and the chief executive of Aerofarms, a US vertical farming specialist named one of Fast Company’s ‘2019’s Most Innovative Companies’.

For us, sustainability is a philosophy, which we are embedding into all our investment decisions, and all our clients’ portfolios. To do this we use a ‘three-pillar’ approach to analyse investments – one that assesses the sustainability of financial models, business practices and business models (those engaging with structural ‘megatrends’ like natural resources, climate change, demographics and inequality). Sustainable agriculture is a good example of engagement with these trends, and with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal No 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Of course, the Islamic world has long recognised the importance of responsible investing, and Shariah principles dovetail well with a holistic, sustainable investment approach. Our own Shariah discretionary mandate was certified as “Shariah compliant” by the Shariah Supervisory Board of Amanie Advisors in 2018. In recent years, Islamic finance has been an important driver of sustainable agriculture projects across the Middle East and beyond. This looks set to continue amid powerful green ambitions from national governments, and rising interest from private sources of capital.

By 2030, the UAE could be generating a quarter of its energy from ‘clean’ sources such as solar power; a quarter of Dubai’s transport could be autonomous . Perhaps by this time, smart vertical farms will be growing the bulk of fresh produce consumed across the region, using robotics, automation and intelligent light control systems. At Lombard Odier, we are proud to see sustainable agriculture flourishing in the desert, and proud to be strengthening our own roots in this dynamic economy.

By Christophe Lalandre / Senior Executive Officer, Lombard Odier, ADGM Branch


20 AUG 2019

The future of healthcare

Globally and in the region, the healthcare sector is being transformed by a number of dynamic trends, including digitalization, personalization and internationalization. It’s truly one of the most exciting times to be a caregiver, as new technologies enable us to offer care to more patients wherever they are and whenever they need it. 

It is important to understand, however, that the full benefit of these innovations can only be delivered by focusing on the human factors that underwrite them, and – like all industries – that healthcare has a responsibility to deploy new technologies in a sustainable manner. 

Transforming Healthcare Delivery through Digitalization 

Digital platforms will play a much greater role in the future, supporting the work of primary care physicians and family practices. In terms of speed of response, telemedicine is already helping patients in Abu Dhabi, ensuring they are able to consult experienced physicians from home, and book appointments as required. 

These platforms are being supported by online systems that aggregate and analyze medical data earlier and more effectively. A great example of this is the online IT system we deploy at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi to help detect heart problems. The system collects data from pacemakers and other implantable cardiac devices from anywhere in the UAE and sends alerts to doctors when it detects that patients could be experiencing rhythmic disturbances of the heart. The data is aggregated to track patterns over time and accessed by doctors using their mobile devices.

When combined with new technologies, such as blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the possibilities are almost limitless.  AI is already being used to detect diseases, like cancer, more accurately and at earlier stages. For example, the use of AI in the review of mammograms is delivering results 30 times faster and with 99% accuracy, reducing the need for unnecessary biopsies, according to the American Cancer Society. If applied to reviewing data from consumer wearables, AI could provide a vital overview of population health, enabling doctors to address community health issues at an earlier, more treatable stage. 

Even in the field of surgery, new technologies are having a transformational impact. Robotics enable surgeons to enter any part of the body through tiny incisions, reducing the invasiveness of the surgery and subsequently the recovery time that patients need. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is at the forefront of robotic surgery, particularly in cardiac care. The most exciting potential future application of robotic surgery would be the opportunity to perform operations at a distance. Patients could receive the support of a world-class surgeon in a different hospital or even a different country.

Applying a ‘Team of Teams’ Approach 

Delivering the full benefits of these new innovations will require healthcare organizations to rethink their traditional methods of organization. Healthcare is traditionally siloed into departments, which creates limiting barriers for the potential to share knowledge and collaborate. We need to move towards a model where care is delivered through the coordinated efforts of diverse professionals with complementary qualifications, enabled by technology.

This is the most important differentiator for Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, where our model of care is organized around a ‘team of teams’ approach. Every patient who comes to the hospital is cared for by a team of providers, enabling us to address the most complex issues.

Building Sustainability into an Innovation Strategy 

As a leader in the healthcare industry, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi understands that climate change is a risk to the health of our communities, as well as to our organization. As a result, sustainability has to be at the heart of every innovation strategy. This means that it is essential for any new initiatives to be assessed from an environmental, social and economic impact perspective – as well as for the potential health benefits. 

Of course, new technologies also enable us to manage our environmental impact. At Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, we deploy a greenhouse gas tool to quantify and exhaustively log the exact amounts of greenhouse gas emissions the hospital produces, as part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions. We have also started a food waste dehydration program that converts food waste into an organic byproduct, which is used to produce compost for the hospital’s landscapes and gardens.

By coupling new models of care with new technologies, healthcare organizations will be able to offer greater personalization in treatment plans and delivery. In addition, they will be able to tap into an international network of experts, ensuring that patient cases are reviewed by leading specialists in their field, no matter where they are in the world.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is already deploying an integrated, international healthcare network to ensure that our patients have access to 57,000 of the most sophisticated and connected medical minds in the world. Working together, we believe the healthcare industry of the future will be able to tackle even the most challenging issues of our time. 

By Dr. Rakesh Suri / CEO, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi


28 JUL 2019

Will fighting climate change curtail freedom?

The Middle East is facing challenges with access to water, food shortages, and energy security. Every nation faces energy security challenges, but for Middle Eastern nations, environmental considerations make it a more pressing issue. Fortunately, the responsible resolution of the region’s energy security dilemma can significantly alleviate regional shortages of water and food. The region has long been known for its abundant fossil fuel resources, but utilizing those resources for regional energy needs presents challenges. Moreover, as the world transitions to cleaner renewable sources of energy, demand for fossil fuels is expected to wane; despite this, the Middle East is seeing tremendous opportunities to remain a top global energy provider. By working with countries in the Middle East to address current and future energy demands efficiently, cleanly and cost-effectively, Highview Power is determined to play a pivotal role in resolving challenges that transcend industries and impact every person’s life.

Around the world, more and more companies, cities, nations, and regions are committing to transitioning the energy market to one powered by 100 percent renewable energy, and we at Highview Power have made it our mission to facilitate making that vision a reality. Critical to our mission is the strategic deployment of renewable energy assets to regions where they are best suited. For theMiddle East, solar energy is the most appropriate renewable energy source, but it is not without challenges.

The biggest technological hurdle to the complete transition to renewable energy on a global scale is the inherent intermittency of these energy sources. However, when paired with solar, Highview Power’s cryogenic energy storage technology is truly unleashing the power of renewable energies by effectively resolving the intermittency issue and enabling the storage—and later use—of solar energy collected in excess of immediate demand. This proven breakthrough in long-duration energy storage, with the capability to store weeks’ worth of energy instead of mere hours, will have a tremendous impact across industries, regions, and on our future.

For Middle Eastern nations, solar intermittency has not been as significant an issue as the storage of the abundant solar energy collected. Due to increased solar deployments, vast undeveloped sectors in the region, and the fact that the Middle East enjoys more uninterrupted sunshine than nearly any other region on the planet, solar energy is poised to meet an ever larger share of Middle Eastern energy demands. Harnessing that power requires storage capabilities well beyond what is offered by any other existing technology. Highview Power has developed and optimized an energy storage system that is not only bringing about a 100 percent renewable future, but also doing so sustainably, reliably and at grid-scale.

Highview Power’s innovative cryogenic energy storage technology provides clean, long-duration energy storage using liquid air as the storage medium. The system charges by collecting ambient air, which is cleaned, compressed and liquefied by cooling it to -196°C. The charging process compresses 700L of ambient air into 1L of liquid air, which is safely stored in an insulated tank. When power is needed, the liquid air is compressed again and heated, resulting in its expansion back to its original volume. The pressure created in the recovery stage is used to drive a turbine that generates electricity. 
The cryogenic process that Highview Power developed is the only long-duration energy storage system available today that offers multiple gigawatt hours of storage without geographic limitations. It is clean, scalable, deployable at the point of demand, and has the lowest levelized cost of energy for long-duration applications. 

Strategic deployment of energy storage facilities and solar PV systems, especially in areas with disparate population densities, demands flexibility in those assets. Highview Power resolved these scalability concerns through our development of the cryogenic energy storage system. The scalability of the technology makes the system well suited to Middle Eastern nations as it can service both urban centers and remote rural areas effectively. Further, Highview Power’s unique and flexible facility design incorporates proven components from mature industries; the innovation of the technology is in the organization of those components, which provides both reliability and the ability to scale up to multiple gigawatt hours, without limitation. 

With the varied distribution of urban and rural areas in the Middle East – along with regional geographic obstacles – a new paradigm in energy deployment is critical now more than ever. Cryogenic energy storage is deployable where energy is needed most with no geographical constraints. Even with the heterogeneous population density of the Middle East, supplying clean and reliable power where, when, and how it is needed most has never been more achievable. 

For example, several Middle Eastern countries have large percentages of their populations living in rural areas. These same countries generally have significant geographical obstacles that cryogenic energy storage overcomes, delivering clean, reliable energy in locations that best support the integrity of the grid at large. Likewise, deploying this technology in populated urban centers, where grid support and improved security are critical concerns, can achieve all these goals while promoting a healthy environment. Paired with solar PV, cryogenic energy storage has zero emissions and uses only benign materials. Conversely, fossil fuel energy plants consume tremendous amounts of water to cool plant machinery – water resources that many countries can ill-afford to squander.

Evolving the energy resources of Middle Eastern countries not only provides energy security but can also alleviate food and water shortages. Due to the predominately-arid climate of the region and the scarcity of freshwater resources, Middle Eastern nations rely heavily on water desalinization. Unfortunately, nearly half the cost of operating desalinization plants in the Middle East comes from using fossil fuel-based power. The pairing of solar PV with cryogenic energy storage can provide critical support to regional desalinization plants, helping to reduce the cost and expand the availability of water. 

Food shortages in the Middle East – along with the rising cost of food – is primarily the result of water scarcity and desertification. Utilizing cryogenic energy storage to support and reduce the cost of operating desalinization plants can help lift the burden of water scarcity. More abundant freshwater enables more widespread food cultivation, thereby easing the advancement of desertification and reducing the cost of food by curtailing food imports. 

With Highview Power’s cryogenic energy storage technology, a world powered by 100 percent renewables is closer than many believe. In recent years, solar deployments in the Middle East have experienced tremendous growth. Paired with our clean, reliable, long-duration energy storage technology, we can further accelerate the transition to renewable energy. By enabling giga-scale solar power access, cryogenic energy storage can help transcend industries and impact lives in meaningful ways. Long-duration energy storage is the key to the energy transition already underway and Highview Power is playing a pivotal role in it. 

By Dr. Javier Cavada / President and CEO of Highview Power


26 JUN 2019

Food security depends on water security – and we need to act now

The world is running out of clean, fresh water to feed - and nourish - a growing global population, ensure sustainable development, and maintain the health of our planet. There is not enough water - as currently managed - to adequately sustain the world’s population and end hunger and malnutrition. Therefore, better water management is crucial to global food and nutrition security.

Obviously, irrigation is key to increasing food production and farm income and improves resilience against weather variability. But water also affects food security and nutrition through other pathways. More precise irrigation management increases not just the volume but also the diversity of food that can be produced, including dry season crops and micronutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. Improvements in the proximity and cleanliness of water sources and technologies for water extraction supports women’s empowerment and well-being, saving time and improving health. Effective management of multiple uses of water and wastewater reduces exposure to fecal contamination and the risk of infectious diseases. 

To contribute decisively to ending hunger, water management, policies and investments must overcome daunting challenges. Rising global population, incomes, and urbanization are driving strong and diversified growth in food and water demand—and intensified competition for water within agriculture and across agricultural, domestic, and industrial uses. The global population is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, with by far the largest growth occurring in Africa and South Asia, where food security problems are the most severe. Meanwhile, rising incomes and urbanization will increase demand for meat and more nutritious diets- and therefore more water for livestock feed, and the need for more precise water management for fruits and vegetables.

Rapid urbanization also boosts water demand for household and industry, creating competition with irrigation in important water-scarce agricultural regions. That competition can turn into outright conflict, disrupting local livelihoods and triggering migration and transborder disputes.

Developing new sources of water to alleviate competition is difficult: the cost of developing water for irrigation and other uses is increasing, as the more accessible sources have already been utilized.
Even projected increases in global production of cereals of 37% between 2010 and 2050, meat by 66%, and fruits and vegetables by 85%, progress on hunger and nutrition will be too slow, Water scarcity could compound this problem, further jeopardizing production growth and continued progress on hunger and nutrition.

Climate change presents another serious challenge. Climate impacts across the entire water cycle could substantially slow progress on water management, agricultural production, and food and nutrition. Increased variability in rainfall and streamflow, reduced rainfall in many dry regions, and thirstier crops due to higher temperatures will all require new policies and management to create more predictable and precise supplies of water. Sea level rise will lead to inundation and salt water intrusion in existing irrigated and rainfed areas, putting further pressure on the land base.

Intensive groundwater pumping for irrigation has depleted aquifers in many arid and semiarid agricultural regions, leading to saltwater intrusion and declining water tables. India’s Green Revolution, for example, relied on irrigation to greatly improve productivity, but it also massively reduced groundwater reserves.

Finally, water pollution in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors damages health and nutrition and reduces food production, constraining agricultural and economic development, especially in densely populated regions where water is already scarce and wastewater treatment is poor.

These global water security challenges are immense—as are the risks of inaction. But they can be overcome. If this vital resource is properly managed, it will be possible to meet both the food and water needs of current generations and begin building a sustainable, nourishing food system for the future.

The broad strategies outlined below can guide the design of regional and local priorities and begin to move the world toward greater food and nutrition security.

  • Water rights. The establishment of secure water rights is fundamental to improving water management. This means ensuring recognition of existing formal and informal rights and gender equity, to empower farmers and provide a framework for water management that is more effective and equitable. When small farmers have secure water rights, they know that they can retain access while investing in farm improvement, new crop varieties, and improved irrigation technology and crop management – all of which can change water use patterns. Physical controls on water usage, including rationing or quotas through enforcement of water rights, can maintain or reduce basin-wide water use after new technologies are introduced.
  • Incentives encouraging efficient water use. These include water brokering to water user associations (WUAs); paying farmers for reduced water use; and payment for environmental services to integrated soil and water management or upper watershed management that improves downstream water quality.
  • Reducing high subsidies for water, energy, and fertilizer use. These general support programs have caused overuse of these resources and environmental degradation. Cutting them can encourage the adoption of conservation incentives and practices, as well as the uptake of new technologies. The money governments save should be invested in increased agricultural and water research and development to boost productivity growth; in compensatory income support to small farmers; and in carefully targeted smart subsidies to achieve specific water management goals such as initial adoption of efficient technologies. Thanks to rapidly increasing access to information and communication technologies, smart cards or phones can be used for the efficient transfer of compensatory funds to small farmers.
  • Reform education and extension systems. These should be overhauled to increase gender-sensitive farmer knowledge, disseminate information, and improve adoption of appropriate existing and new water technologies. Radio, TV, social media, mobile phones, and other advanced information and communication technologies can be used to reach farmers quickly and directly. Decentralized, demand-driven, and participatory extension services with increased participation by the private sector, NGOs, WUAs and producer organizations can engage farmers in programs whose goals coincide with their own.
  • Better data collection and mapping. Public-private partnerships are needed to develop satellite-based remote sensing and ground sensors to map groundwater and measure water availability and use; integrated information processing and dissemination of this information can inform real-time water and crop management decisions. In addition, increased public and private investments in infrastructure – including rural roads, cold chains, and water recycling and re-use – would reduce postharvest losses of food and water and increase farmer incomes.
  • Expand small-scale irrigation. Although some potential still exists for large-scale irrigation, the emphasis should be on selective investment in farmer-led small-scale irrigation, particularly in Africa south of the Sahara. This will require targeted access to credit, weather insurance, and smart subsidies during the initial adoption stage.
  • Reduce international trade and macroeconomic distortions. Addressing this problem will become more urgent as climate change increases the reliance of many developing countries on food imports. As water scarcity worsens and climate variability increases, imports of food (and the virtual water embodied in that food) will be crucial in water-scarce areas to ensure food security and to facilitate short-term term imports to address food shortages caused by weather-induced production shortfalls.
  • Promote balanced diets for health and sustainability. This should include encouraging more responsible water use through collective action across government and business. Schools can be a platform for early nutrition education, fostering healthy eating behaviors in school meals; corporations can convey positive health messages and promote healthier sourcing and products; and health and nutrition campaigns can improve diets and nutrition by carefully targeting populations, communication activities and channels, message content and presentation.

These policy reforms and investments will be difficult to implement and take time, political commitment, and money. Prevailing policies have strong constituencies that can be resistant to change. But overcoming these challenges will only get harder the longer they go unaddressed. The time to act on fundamental reform of water policies for food and nutrition security is now.
Mark Rosegrant is Research Fellow Emeritus with IFPRI's Director General's Office

By Mark Rosgrant / International Food Policy Research Institute