Meet Our Finalists: Pure Harvest Smart Farms

31 August 2020

Pure Harvest Farms is a greenhouse system that allows year-round production of affordable, quality fresh fruits and vegetables. They are 1 of our 12 Finalist Teams who will compete in the upcoming FoodTech Challenge Awards Ceremony. Read more about them below. What makes your team excited about your idea and food technology?: We are excited by the opportunity to contribute towards solving one of the major food security challenges in The Middle East region and globally. The UN projects that the global human population is set to reach 10B by 2050, requiring us collectively to produce 70% more food. With climate change making it more difficult to grow food using traditional open-field methods of farming, technology-driven solutions are needed to meet the challenge of feeding 10B human mouths. In addition, consumer preferences are shifting towards more organic, locally grown products which, along with urbanization, are making it more difficult to deliver food supplies to populations. This sheer challenge presents us with an exciting opportunity to drive change, through innovative food-tech enabled solutions. What is the biggest source of motivation for your team to work on this project?: We as a team are motivated by the prospect of making a significant impact on solving major regional food supply challenges. Since our team began working in the agribusiness sector, we have been approached by senior political leadership from around the region. The opportunity to not only deliver a tangible food product to grateful local consumers but also to advise governments on food security strategy is greatly fulfilling. Could you tell us something unique about your team that makes you a strong contender to be in the Top 4 winners?: Our team has managed to successfully design and deploy an IoT- enabled growing system which is the first to demonstrate year-round production of fresh fruits and vegetables in the UAE. Compared to other more traditional startups in the software or internet sectors, we have collectively overcome huge challenges in constructing an asset-intensive, hardware technology for food production in the Middle East. This has included not only design and engineering work, but also construction, operations, sales, and fundraising (we raised the largest agro-tech seed round in the Middle East history). Lastly, if you are selected as one of the four winners, how does your team plan to use the prize money? Our team will use the prize proceeds to fund much-needed research & development activities on our farm. Among the priorities we are working on include the design of a new automatic roof washer, desert-friendly artificial LED lighting systems, and also a pilot commercial farm to produce algae for Omega-3 fatty acids production.

August 2020 Newsletter

1 August 2020

What does it take to build a vertical farm? How about a food waste monitoring system? What kind of expertise does your team need to possess? These are some of the questions we asked our finalists to learn more about their teams and their creative business ideas.

July 2020 Newsletter

1 July 2020

Our Finalist Teams are hard at work refining their pitch presentations with their mentors in preparation for the final Awards Ceremony. One of our Finalist Teams, Red Sea Farms, hosted a virtual meeting with Dr. Merle Jensen, one of our mentors, to discuss his feedback about their business case. Many thanks to Dr. Merle and all our mentors who continue to support the FoodTech Challenge and provide valuable insights and advice to our finalists. Our mentors are local and global experts in agriculture and food technology in industry, academia, and policy circles. You can find out more about their profiles here.

June 2020 Newsletter

1 June 2020

Congratulations to our Finalists, who were selected from over 400+ submissions from all over the world! Our Finalists are hard at work refining their business cases to compete for their share of the $1m prize pool and eligibility to the Catalyst Accelerator Program.

Meet Our Judges: Feroz Sanaulla

29 April 2020

We spoke with Feroz Sanaulla, Senior Strategic Advisor at Roland Berger, to talk about his thoughts about food technology trends in the UAE and abroad. What is your favorite memory related to food? From street food in Delhi and Bangkok, sushi and okonomiyaki in Kyoto, winery food tours in Napa Valley, and pub food in Dublin, my travels have taken me to many places. I continue to enjoy the nuances of regional foods and like to go to small dives over large established restaurants. Going to corner dives is not just for satiating an appetite but also for enjoying many strange and enlightening conversations. I normally avoid popular restaurants. Food security is more important than ever given the disruptions to the global supply chain caused by COVID-19. What are the best policy practices that the UAE should implement to boost its food security during this time? Food reserves are an important insurance against disruptions. I would suggest the UAE to analyze the total food production in smallholding farms and gauge the amount of pilferage and waste. With this, it would be good to have centralized storage facilities and a marketplace to get the food to market quickly and efficiently. UAE could also look at canning facilities for long term storage of food. For example, I am helping a major regional agri-business develop a UAE-based canned mushroom facility. Surveys have shown that youth are increasingly disengaged from food and agriculture work. How do we renew youth engagement in this area? It is important to have youth spend time outdoors and see food production for themselves. There should be more pick and purchase farms where youth can pick their own fruits like strawberries, blueberries and bring them home. This would have the youth understand the farm to plate process and get them involved in food production. The government can also sponsor farm work programs where students can get extra credit for having worked on a farm for 2-3 months. What are books, papers, and/or articles that you are reading about food security that you would recommend? My current favorite book is Full Planet, Empty Plates by Lester Brown. He takes an environmentalist view on food production and security. His focus is not just about yield management but also about the conservation of resources.

April 2020 Newsletter

1 April 2020

The world has changed drastically in a few short months. Global disruptions caused by the coronavirus has impacted almost all aspects of living, and The FoodTech Challenge is no exception. Still, our resilience as a global community is strong, and the purpose behind our work has never become more urgent. We are inspired by the promise of your ideas, and we look forward to working with our finalists to develop these solutions further.

March 2020 Newsletter

1 March 2020

In light of ongoing COVID-19 developments and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of participants, judges, partners, attendees, and staff, the FoodTech Challenge will be postponing the Final Awards Ceremony to 14-16 September 2020*. The decision follows careful consultation with our partners and UAE public health authorities. Now more than ever, food security is an urgent issue that requires a swift global response. We in the FoodTech Challenge Team understand this urgency and are hard at work in achieving a more food-secure world with you. We have evaluated your competition submissions and have selected the Top 10 finalists, which will be announced in our channels soon.

February 2020 Newsletter

29 February 2020

We are thrilled to announce that we have received over 400 submissions to the FoodTech Challenge! Coming from over 60 countries; our applicants are students, entrepreneurs, and scientists with incredible and innovative ideas to enhance the UAE’s food security. Our expert panel of judges are currently evaluating submissions and we will notify the finalist teams by mid-March.

January 2020 Newsletter, Part 2

31 January 2020

Thirteen days are left before the submission deadline, and we are excited to read about your innovative food and agtech solutions. Please make sure to carefully review the eligibility criteria, submission requirements, and competition Terms & Conditions again before you click submit. To help you ace the process, we have developed a simple animation to walk you through the requirements. Check it out and remember, the final deadline is 13 February 2020.

Meet Our Judges: Stuart Oda

27 January 2020

We are proud to announce that we have partnered with an incredible panel of experts to judge The FoodTech Challenge submissions. Our panel is comprised of local and international experts on agriculture from academia, private sector, and policy circles. We spoke with Stuart Oda, Co-Founder and CEO of Alesca Life, to talk about his thoughts about food technology trends in the UAE and abroad. What is your favorite memory related to food? All my favorite food memories are related to family and travel. My most recent incredibly food experience was eating a fresh fig for the first time in Venice, Italy with my wife. All of the figs I had eaten until then were dried or preserved, and I remember being amazed by the vibrant color and flavor of the fresh fruit. What makes you excited about food technology? I’m excited that food technology has the potential to improve environmental, economic, and social outcomes across the world. Not only will the development and maturity of food tech make the agricultural industry more sustainable, but it also has the opportunity to improve farm productivity and profitability and modernize dated notions about what it means to produce food. One of the most valuable tool for future farmers will undoubtedly be a smartphone. In your opinion, what key technologies have promising applications for UAE food security challenges? Controlled environment agriculture and precision farming technology both hold incredible promise for application in the UAE to address challenges related to food and nutritional security. In terms of scalability, other promising technologies include products and processes to extend food shelf life and services to upcycle food waste. Surveys have shown that youth are increasingly disengaged from food and agriculture work. How do we renew youth engagement in this area? In order to inspire the youth and our next generation of food producers and agritech engineers, Alesca Life has launched several initiatives, the most successful (and fun) of which has been our urban indoor farming experiential tours. We’ve welcomed thousands of participants to learn about the basics of indoor farming and plant seeds, transplant saplings, and harvest vegetables just like our professional grow operators. By showcasing how technologically advanced and beautiful farming can be and giving each participant the opportunity to plant a seed and build a relationship with the food that they eat, we’ve been able to engage and educate the youth and even convert picky eaters into vegetable lovers. One of the only compliments that I can remember in the 6 years since founding Alesca Life was during one of these experiential tours. After completing the program with friends and classmates, one of the students said to my team, “When I grow up, I want to be an urban farmer.” What are books, papers, and/or articles that you’re reading about food security that you would recommend? Food security is an incredibly multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted topic, and I try to stay up-to-date on the latest tech and trends by engaging frequently with various civil society, government, and non-governmental organizations. It’s incredible to learn about the simple, elegant, and hyper affordable initiatives being deployed across emerging market countries as well as the super high tech solutions being launched in more developed geographies. There are a lot of opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas, and it’s always exciting to think about a future in which products, services, and processes to improve the agricultural industry can be shared and implemented faster, better, and cheaper.

Sustainability in Agtech

19 January 2020

At the heart of The FoodTech Challenge is the UAE’s commitment to cultivating sustainability in the country’s relationship with food. Water and energy are food’s main ingredients; without it, food production will suffer. This is what the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls the water, energy, and food (WEF) nexus, and sustaining all three within this nexus is important in establishing long-term food security. Strong submissions in The FoodTech Challenge, therefore, make improved use of natural resources that protect the WEF nexus. The technology and commercial plan behind your idea will drive the overall sustainability of your project. Let’s revisit the example of aeroponic farms from our previous agtips on technology. These farms use sensors, IoT, and AI technology to accelerate growth. Together, these technologies determine optimal amounts of water, nutrients, and energy for their plants to grow in speed and abundance. Meanwhile, from a commercial perspective, these farms can improve sustainability by finding sources for water, nutrients, and energy that are renewable and local. Installing technology can limit reliance on electricity typically drawn from non-renewable gas power plants. Finding local suppliers of equipment and fertilizers can limit the carbon footprint that transportation has on the environment. In other words, these farms leverage technology and business strategies to sustain the planet while generating profits for the company. You can demonstrate sustainability in your project in a similar way. International organizations have developed many indicators to assess sustainability of food security projects. FAO has published a paper that explains the WEF nexus further, breaks down the components of a nexus assessment, and offers six case studies to illustrate the framework in action. We invite you to explore how these indicators and case studies can apply in enhancing sustainability in your FoodTech Challenge submission.

January 2020 Newsletter, Part 1

15 January 2020

The FoodTech Challenge team would like to wish all of you a very happy 2020. We look forward to working with you in the coming year, to help bring your innovative food security solutions to fruition. It was hugely rewarding to see the wide variety of high-quality submissions we received in time for the Early Bird deadline on Dec 17th. Submissions were received from around the globe, including MENA, South Asia, Latin America, Europe, and North America. It is clear from these submissions that we can anticipate a highly competitive final competition in April 2020, where we eventually select our final four winners.