Is this the future of farming and agriculture?

An exhibition in Masdar City is showcasing how technology can be used to address food security at home.

As the global population continues to grow, so does the need to produce more to meet increasing demand for food.

The United Nations estimated that the world’s population could reach 9.7 billion by 2050, with food demand expected to jump from around 59 percent to 98 percent by 2050.

But worsening climate change – which is resulting in rising sea levels, higher temperatures, long droughts and extreme weather conditions – is already putting enormous pressure on our planet to efficiently provide sustenance in the short and long haul.

Green revolution

Unfortunately, climate change’s present impact on our environment has made some aspects of traditional farming impractical.

Because of this, scientists have increasingly turned to modern technology to address the agricultural challenges we face today.

It’s exactly this that has inspired the yearlong exhibition organised by Masdar City and agri-tech specialists Madar Farms, in an effort to demonstrate sustainable home farming solutions to the public.

Bustani – which means ‘garden’ in Arabic – is a smart showcase in Masdar City that features innovative solutions to encourage people to cultivate and grow their own food at home to help provide sustainable solutions and manage food security.

“In 50 years we won’t be able to produce food in the same way because of the changes in the ecosystem,” begins Tatiana Shahir, head of education at Madar Farms.

“That’s why there’s this global shift towards new solutions that will allow us to produce the right food at scale, and get it to people locally without having to fly it all around the world.”

At Bustani, these new solutions include concepts centred on food production, water and waste management and recycling.

Some of the prototypes include a smart chicken coop that utilises solar panels and sensors, a customised beehive with an integrated honey dispenser and a smart appliance capable of growing plants and herbs without sunlight.

It’s all about smart systems, so most of the models come with an app, enabling users to monitor and care for the plants at all times.

Advancing technology has made it possible to incorporate changes and start-up companies in the agrarian sector are applying these innovations to modernise and simplify the process.

The UAE, for one, stands to benefit from home farming solutions given the country’s agricultural challenges.

Currently, the UAE imports 90 percent of its food supply, making the concept of self sufficient farming ideal, if not a necessity.

Just last year, the UAE government launched its National Food Security Strategy to boost the country’s future domestic supply as well as develop foreign partnerships to diversify food sources.

“Where we are geographically is very interesting. On the one hand the challenges are more extreme because we have a lack of arable land and we don’t have fresh water supply,” Tatiana notes.

“But the mentality of the UAE and GCC governments is very pro-innovative solutions and that’s a very exciting intersection of ‘Okay, we have these challenges but let’s look around the world and see what we can use here’ – so that makes it quite exciting.”

Cream of the crop

There’s plenty to see and learn at the exhibition. Here are some of our favourite models…

Plant Cube

This smart appliance is the size of a dishwasher and allows you to grow herbs, leafy greens and micro greens with a high nutrient content. It uses a soilless method and relies on a water-based solution rich in nutrients. Its advanced light technology allows it to grow plans without sunlight.

The Hive

Breed, feed and prepare food-quality insects at home. This device incubates mealworms that can later be harvested and turned into food as an alternative and more sustainable protein source.

Farmbot

Ideal for those with spacious backyards, this robot home gardener can be pre-set to seed, water, weed and check soil moisture levels. The machine technically does all the dirty work so you can simply harvest the plants when they’re ready.

Aerosprings

This easy-to-assemble vertical tower gardening system can be used outdoors in natural light or indoors with lights. Ideal for leafy greens like lettuce and kale as well as tomato, cucumber and eggplant, it uses a soilless growing method and relies on nutrient-rich water pumped from the reservoir at the bottom of the tower.

Need to know

Bustani Smart Home Farming Exhibition is open Sunday to Thursday from 8am to 5pm at the Eco-Villa in Masdar City. There are also community workshops being hosted in the venue for those who want to learn more about Madar Farms. For more information, visit: madarfarms.co/bustani

WORDS Ferdinand Godinez

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