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  • Hugo Walker

UAE’s FoodTech Challenge offers $2m for innovations in sustainable food production



The UAE FoodTech Challenge is offering a $2m prize to agri-tech startups developing sustainable food production solutions. The challenge, which is in its second edition, was launched at EXPO2020 Dubai and is open to start-ups around the world. Applications are encouraged from early-stage startups, including university teams and solo entrepreneurs. Alongside the $2m investment, the winner will also receive mentorship and opportunities to grow the company in the UAE. The top ten will pitch their ideas in an award ceremony this November.


The aim of the FoodTech Challenge is to combat the UAE’s food insecurity, in line with broader national aims for greater food self-sufficiency. Currently, the UAE is reliant on food imports, with up to 90 per cent of its food coming in from abroad. Due to the volatility of the pandemic, climate change and supply chains, the UAE aims to foster more stable and climate-appropriate food production.


This food import dependency is largely to do with the UAE’s arid climate - one that is not conducive to traditional agricultural farming. As such, the FoodTech Challenge will be looking at elements such as soil restoration, fresh-water input reduction and alternative foods. Previous winners include Australian startup Has Algae, which creates algae-based food that is rich in protein and Omega 3, and that can be grown completely in seawater, and Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Farms, which grows crops in greenhouses in a way that reduces freshwater inputs by up to 90%.


Mariam Almheiri, the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, commented: “The importance of food security has never been more pertinent, with supply chain challenges and climate change disrupting the world as we know it.


The pressure is on for us to rethink food for the future, to rethink resilient agricultural practices, and to leverage the best of technological advancements in doing so. The FoodTech Challenge brings us closer to finding some of those solutions, acknowledging the critical role that innovation has to play in addressing our shared challenges”.


Tamkeen LLC, a company that works to enrich the social, cultural and educational prospects of the UAE through partnerships with local and international organisations, is working alongside the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment to host the FoodTech Challenge. Rima Al Mokarrab, Chair of Tamkeen LLC, said: “Responding to the UAE’s long-term and far-reaching food security ambitions requires bold approaches that foster creative ideas, newfound models and extensive coordination with the global agri-tech ecosystem.


The FoodTech Challenge brings together a powerful consortium of multi-sector partners who drive progress – supporting sustainable, technology-driven, commercially viable solutions to thrive here in the UAE.”