Paula Dsouza takes a deep dive into the inner workings and sustainable structure of the largest vertical farm in the world – Bustanica in Dubai.
Technology often seeks to have no bounds. It pushes reality into the realm of imagination, and somehow brings that imagination to life. Bustanica, now considered the world’s largest vertical farm, is one such example. This exquisite three-level facility, backed by an enormous investment of 40 million USD, is the first vertical farm for Emirates Crop One. Bustanica, which is the Arabic word for garden or orchard, is located near the Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central. A joint venture between Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC) and Crop One, Bustanica is approximately 330,000 sq ft, and is said to produce about 1,000,000 kilograms of leafy greens every year.
The EKFC is one of the largest catering operations in the world. They cater to over a hundred different airlines and VIP events, while simultaneously providing additional services like laundry and the production of airport lounge food and beverages.
With its headquarters located in Massachusetts, USA, Crop One Holdings Inc. is a global leader in technology-driven indoor vertical farming, and has been in operation for over 6 years. Their goal is to bring fresh produce to environments that lack agricultural space.
Technological employment-wise, this vertical farm makes use of Artificial Intelligence along with Machine Learning. Moreover, they have an incredibly talented team of specialists that include engineers, horticulturists, agronomy experts and plant scientists. Therefore, unique technology contributes to the efficiency at which production is carried out, allowing for this facility to grow up to a million plants in one go, and ultimately produce around 3,000 kgs of greens a day. It also aids the reduction of food waste whilst maximizing space, along with eliminating the risk of contamination by pests. Most importantly, this operation is run by employing the use of hydroponics, which massively contributes to its sustainability.
What then is hydroponics and how does it claim to surpass a variety of barriers? It is essentially the process of growing and cultivating plants in any kind of material without making use of soil. Nutrients can be injected into the liquid or a solvent that the plant is growing out of to ensure optimal benefits. Hydroponic farming thus becomes ideal for cities lacking windows or agricultural spaces such as the UAE’s downtown Dubai. Moreover, since the plants are cultivated in a controlled environment, there is a drastic fall in the amount of water that gets wasted in comparison to traditional methods of cultivation. Not only can plants now grow faster, larger and healthier, but with hydroponics, absolutely no weeding is required.
Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said: “Dubai remains committed to maintaining the highest levels of food security with one of the world’s most comprehensive plans to address this vital issue. Under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, we will continue launching new initiatives that apply modern farming techniques to accelerate self-sufficiency in fresh food produce and support sustainability, which is a top priority for us.”
He added, “The Dubai Food Security Committee constantly reviews current opportunities and challenges within the national food security strategy framework. Our plans for enhancing self-sufficiency in the agricultural sector by supporting the use of technologies and applied research in food processing and agriculture are focused on meeting the current and future needs of Dubai’s citizens and residents.”
Consequently, the main goal has become tackling food scarcity and the new method of vertical farming is meant to do exactly that. With the help of this facility, locally grown produce will be fresh and freely available. To go the extra mile, Bustanica pushes beyond possibility when it comes to its utilisation of water. It is understood that they waste 95% less water as compared to traditional farming. Since they have a controlled environment, the perspiration released by the plants doesn’t simply go to waste, but is captured and recycled through treatment facilities and is then reincorporated for the plants to make use of once again. Therefore, sustainability whilst maintaining self-sufficiency in food production, is what Bustanica advocates.
Chief Executive Officer of Crop One, Craig Ratajczyk, says, “It is our mission to cultivate a sustainable future to meet global demand for fresh, local food, and this first large format farm is the manifestation of that commitment. This new facility serves as a model for what is possible around the globe.”
Thanks to this gigantic vertical farm effort, travellers flying Emirates or other airlines can enjoy these freshly cut, safe and nutrient-filled greens during their flights. It is also believed that supermarkets in Dubai will soon be able to sell the cultivars grown at Bustanica. A huge benefit to consumers, who would then see the massive drop in the time between food production and food consumption. Furthermore, Bustanica is said to be working on fruit and vegetable cultivation in the near future. All in all, great things to look forward to!
Thus, if Bustanica, as a sustainably charged vertical farming facility, has anything to prove, it is that innovation and technology truly know no bounds.