Abu Dhabi agtech programme deploys further $41m

Among the businesses to receive backing is Nanoracks, a frequent user of the International Space Station that is building a research center in the emirate to explore harsh climate food production.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Office deployed a further AED152 million ($41 million; €34.5 million) from its three-year incentives program launched last year to support the establishment of an agtech ecosystem in Abu Dhabi.

ADIO struck partnerships with greenhouse grower Pure Harvest, chemical-free e-grocery platform FreshToHome, and space farming researcher Nanoracks. The capital outlay is structured as a series of financial and non-financial incentives to support their growth in the emirate, director general Tariq Bin Hendi confirmed to Agri Investor.

The AED1 billion Agtech Incentive Programme is part of a wider AED50 billion package, Ghadan 21, being deployed by the Abu Dhabi government to support its economy. The agtech arm of the initiative deployed AED367 million in April, supporting four businesses with focuses ranging from vertical farming, irrigation and inputs production.

“We want to help innovators accelerate the development of agriculture solutions for arid and desert climate conditions,” Bin Hendi told Agri Investor in an email. “More specifically, helping them to create innovations that are locally relevant and globally exportable. We are technology-agnostic and want to support as many promising technologies as possible that will help to secure the future of food globally.”

The investment into Abu Dhabi-based Pure Harvest – which attracted a similar $100 million cash and incentives investment from Kuwait’s Wafra in April – represents the third indoor farming business to be supported by ADIO’s program to date.

Vertical farmers Madar Farms and Aero Farms were among the first four businesses to be supported, with the latter now building an 8,200-square-meter vertical farming research and development center in Abu Dhabi as part of the package it received.

“Indoor farming is a key driver behind the expansion of local food supply and producers, with the technology leveraging Abu Dhabi’s advanced desalination capabilities, inexpensive energy sources and reliable infrastructure to offer a resource-efficient solution,” Bin Hendi said.

ADIO will work with the trio to develop production solutions that can applied in other regions with similar climates, he added.

Nanoracks is the largest commercial user of the International Space Station, according to ADIO, and committed to building its StarLab Space Farming Centre in Abu Dhabi – an agtech space research facility – prior to the backing it has now received from the investment office. ADIO hopes there will be applications for advancements in space food production techniques to be applied to harsh climates on earth.

“Nanoracks will begin with research and development of microorganisms, extremophiles and microbes before moving to seeds,” Bin Hendi said. “In terms of crops, the focus in space research has been on variants of rice, wheat, rapeseed and sesame. While Nanoracks’ first emphasis is on microorganisms and seeds, it is also looking to accelerate innovation in accompanying technologies that can create higher yields via more sophisticated desert greenhouses.”

The company expects it will deliver its first applicable results in roughly three years, he added.

E-grocery platform FreshToHome delivers a range fresh produce and animal protein products purchased directly from growers and producers, putting it in a position to control and manage a ‘free-from’ supply chain.

“FreshToHome will be bringing its expertise in aquaculture, contract farming for marine and freshwater fish species and precision agriculture to Abu Dhabi,” said Bin Hendi. “It will also invest in innovative fish farming technologies and cold chain that can improve quality and access to food, not just in Abu Dhabi, but in our region and beyond.”