$100m ADIO investment brings four global AgTech pioneers to Abu Dhabi

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$100m ADIO investment brings four global AgTech pioneers to Abu Dhabi

09 Apr 2020

Four agriculture technology (AgTech) pioneers will build new facilities in Abu Dhabi dedicated to developing next generation agriculture in arid and desert agriculture. The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) has partnered individually with AeroFarms, Madar Farms, RNZ and Responsive Drip Irrigation (RDI) to establish new R&D and production facilities in the emirate, turning sand into farmland, solving complex global agriculture challenges and expanding the profile of local food producers.
ADIO launched a targeted incentive programme in 2019 to accelerate the growth of the emirate’s burgeoning (AgTech) ecosystem and promote innovation that is locally relevant and globally exportable. ADIO will invest AED 367 million (USD 100 million) in total in the four companies to build facilities in Abu Dhabi, each tasked with solving regional and global challenges.

AeroFarms will focus on next-generation genetic phenotyping and organoleptic research while also tackling the challenges of desert agriculture from its new 8,200-sqm R&D centre in Abu Dhabi. The centre will be the largest indoor vertical farm of its kind in the world and will employ a projected 60+ highly skilled engineers, horticulturists and scientists.

Madar Farms, a home-grown UAE AgTech innovator, will build the world’s first commercial-scale indoor tomato farm using only LED lights in KIZAD. The company is also set to scale up the commercialisation of microgreen growing to help provide a consistent and predictable local food supply that responsibly uses the region's natural resources.

RDI is developing an innovative irrigation system to transform water usage in UAE agriculture and conducting research trials to increase crop yields in sandy soils and non-arable land. While locally-based company RNZ will set up a state-of-the-art R&D centre to research, formulate and commercialise ‘agri-input’ solutions that will help to grow more with less.

The competitive ADIO packages of cash and non-cash incentives awarded to the companies include rebates of up to 75% on R&D expenditure upon commercialisation of new solutions developed in Abu Dhabi. The packages are being dispersed as part of ADIO’s AED 1 billion (USD 272 million) AgTech Incentive Programme, established a year ago under the Abu Dhabi Government’s Ghadan 21 Accelerator Programme that is focusing on economic, knowledge and community development across the emirate.

H.E. Mohammed Ali Al Shorafa, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, said: “It is amazing to see the ‘desert-turn-green’ before our eyes. Our long-term goal as the Abu Dhabi Government is to not only support the development of Abu Dhabi’s knowledge-economy, but also to support the development of innovation that will contribute to solving challenges of regional and global importance. Our Ghadan 21 accelerator programme was launched just over a year ago and already, we are seeing tremendous progress. Targeted initiatives, like ADIO’s AgTech Incentive Programme, foster innovation in the emirate to solve regional challenges and create highly skilled jobs.”

To date, ADIO has allocated approximately 40% of the AgTech Incentive Programme funding in the first year of the three-year programme. The programme is open to local and international companies looking to establish and grow a presence in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

H.E. Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi, Director General of ADIO, said: “Four global AgTech innovators are joining our mission to turn sand into farmland. In line with Abu Dhabi’s long-term vision to grow the sector, ADIO partners with companies that have innovation at the core to help ensure long-term success. Each of these companies will add to our already established agriculture ecosystem, and benefit from our plentiful land, natural heat, competitive energy prices and access to research universities and skilled talent.” 

AgTech – designated a priority sector by the Abu Dhabi Government – is pioneering remedies to complex global agriculture problems through innovation and R&D investments. The combination of desert climate, sunlight and land availability makes Abu Dhabi a natural location to develop AgTech applied to desert environments.

There are approximately 24,000 farms currently operating in Abu Dhabi, with many using modern irrigation and hydroponic techniques to grow produce in minimal water. 

AeroFarms, Madar Farms, RNZ and RDI
USA-headquartered AeroFarms is one of the world’s most successful vertical farming companies and has expertise growing more than 800 different types of crops year round without soil or pesticides, while using up to 95% less water. The company will build an 8,200-sqm R&D centre in Abu Dhabi, the largest of its kind in the world, with dedicated high-tech laboratories focusing on advanced organoleptic research and precision phenotyping, advanced speed breeding, machine vision and machine learning, and robotics, automation and drone technology. ADIO’s incentive package for AeroFarms includes rebates on R&D and land costs.

AeroFarms’ R&D centre will also play a key role in Abu Dhabi’s AgTech ecosystem by working with local universities on research projects, utilising local subcontractors and tackling problems of agriculture within desert and arid climates.

David Rosenberg, Co-Founder and CEO of AeroFarms, commented: “We are truly honoured and excited to partner with ADIO and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi to build the world's largest indoor vertical farm of its kind, dedicated exclusively for R&D, to help solve some of the most pressing farming problems in the region and agriculture overall. AeroFarms® has been the global leader for controlled environment agriculture since 2004, and we will utilise this state-of-the art R&D centre to conduct cutting-edge research in plant science, vertical farming and automation, accelerating innovation cycles and commercialising products. Our vision has always been to leverage our expertise in plant biology and build on our successful history of collaborating with government, universities, industry and major international companies. We are proud to be a catalyst to help establish the Emirate of Abu Dhabi as a global hub for AgTech innovation.”

Madar Farms is a UAE-based AgTech company, established in 2017, growing fresh produce using sustainable methods. Madar Farms is set to build world’s first commercial-scale indoor tomato farm using only LED lights in KIZAD, Abu Dhabi’s industrial free zone. The company has an established R&D facility in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi’s sustainable urban community that aims to demonstrate the commercial and technical viability of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) in the challenging climatic conditions of the UAE. This containerised farming solution will quantify production output measured against environmental inputs (water and electricity).

Abdulaziz AlMulla, CEO and Co-Founder of Madar Farms, said: “As a UAE-based AgTech company, it is an honour to be recognised and receive this funding from ADIO. It is a milestone moment for everyone involved at Madar Farms. Since the launch of Madar Farms, we have been providing a holistic approach to sustainability and every day we are working towards achieving this mission in the UAE and across the region.”

“With the use of advanced technology and implementing cutting-edge farming techniques, we are already leading a new agriculture revolution by growing a wide range of high-quality fresh produce every day here in the UAE that people can enjoy. We want to create a lasting change and this significant contribution will not only go a long way in helping Madar Farms, but also establishing Abu Dhabi as a global AgTech leader,” continued AlMulla.

RDI has developed a disruptive irrigation technology that allows plants to self-regulate water and nutrient delivery. This plant-responsive irrigation system is capable of growing plants in the harshest of environments, while using minimal amounts of water. RDI’s Abu Dhabi research trials will work to establish best practices for water conservation and food production in desert climates. RDI’s research and production facility in Abu Dhabi will become the company’s global production and distribution hub for the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia. 
Jan Gould, Co-Founder and CEO of RDI, commented: “We received such a kind welcome and felt truly honoured when RDI won ‘Best Innovation by a Startup’ at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) in Abu Dhabi last year. Without ADIO’s assistance, RDI’s ongoing R&D and global product launch would be hindered. Due to the AgTech incentive programme, the timescale for the entry of RDI’s advanced technology to market will be significantly shortened.”

“RDI’s disruptive technology will forever change the way the world irrigates, not only in the Middle East, but also globally. As a result of Abu Dhabi’s forward thinking and commitment to supporting advanced technologies for the sustainability of the planet, RDI will be able to provide a solution that will impact and benefit countries around the world,” continued Gould.

Established in the UAE, RNZ has been producing customised solutions for farming communities since 2004. The company produces fully customised crop specific blends that improve the productivity and value of crops, and exports to South Asia, East Asia, Africa and the MENA region. RNZ will set up a R&D centre to develop a full range of efficient organic and inorganic agri-input solutions for vertical farms, hydroponics and conventional farms.

Raza Soomar, CEO of RNZ, said: “We feel deeply honoured to partner with ADIO and the Abu Dhabi Government. We are looking forward to exploring new cutting-edge agri-input solutions, and passing on the benefits to UAE and regional farms at large.”