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UAE FoodTech challenge announces winners in $1M global food security competition

Global Food Security; QS Monitor, Red Sea Farms, Has Algae, and SafetyNet Technologies were announced as the winners


Abu DhabiThe FoodTech Challenge, a global search for innovative and commercially viable ag-tech solutions to address the UAE’s food security challenges, announced the competition’s four winners at the awards ceremony held on November 17-18. QS Monitor from the UAE, Red Sea Farms from Saudi Arabia, Has Algae from Australia, and SafetyNet Technologies from the UK shared a prize pool of USD 1m, as well as eligibility to join the UAE-based Catalyst accelerator.

The FoodTech Challenge was created to support the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy, and enhance the country’s self-sufficiency at the national, community, and household levels. Launched in September 2019 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the joint initiative was developed by the UAE Food and Water Security Office and Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi based company mandated to deliver projects to meet the UAE’s vision of knowledge-based development.

Commenting on the outcome of the competition, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of State for Food and Water Security, said: “The FoodTech Challenge helps us deliver our long-term commitment to achieving greater food security in the UAE. These types of cross-border collaborations are key to enhancing a certain degree of self-sufficiency and improving our efforts toward sustainability. Throughout the competition, we have seen several new and promising ideas emerge which can contribute towards tackling global food security challenges. As the winners embark on the next phase of their journey, we are excited to see their solutions implemented and scaled in the UAE.”

Rima Al Mokarrab, Chairman of Tamkeen, said: “Seeking solutions to the world’s greatest challenges through innovation and technology defines the UAE’s forward-looking approach to development and diversification.  I am delighted that the FoodTech Challenge has generated such compelling entrants, and its winners are set to help drive the UAE’s food security and sustainability for years to come.”

In total, the FoodTech Challenge received more than 400 proposals from over 60 countries across the globe. Each entry was evaluated by an expert panel of judges against a set of key criteria including use of technology, sustainability, commercial viability and applicability to the UAE.

Twelve finalists were then selected to take part in a mentorship programme, which paired them with one of the FoodTech Challenge’s expert judges, who coached the finalists as they prepared for a final round of assessment by the panel of industry experts at the awards ceremony.

The winning solutions are:

QS Monitor: QS Monitor has developed a monitoring platform that supports efforts to ensure food sold in the UAE meets all necessary safety standards. At present around 12-17% of food coming into Dubai from 172 countries each year is rejected by customs for not meeting the necessary standards – part of an estimated USD 4 billion in food waste each year that QS Monitor’s system could help reduce. By providing guidance, resources, and information to exporters looking to sell to the UAE, QS Monitor also encourages the diversification of food sources, increasing imports from around the world.

Red Sea Farms: Red Sea Farms has developed a greenhouse system that uses saltwater as the primary input, providing a solution that can reduce freshwater use in crops by up to 90% thereby helping to tackle water scarcity in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Alongside developing unique climate-controlled cooling techniques using seawater, Red Sea Farms has also successfully grown saltwater-tolerant crops including tomatoes and strawberries through a combination of grafting and hybridisation techniques.

Has Algae: Has Algae is the leading producer in food-grade microalgae and the first to incorporate microalgae into everyday foods – from kinds of pasta to yoghurt, ice creams to bread. Has Algae is committed to raising awareness about this novel food source, and showing the world how it can be easily integrated into daily consumer diets through collaborations with food scientists and celebrity chefs. Algae has the potential to transform the food production process as it can be grown in a carbon-neutral environment,  grows 10 times faster than most plants and can be grown in seawater, benefiting countries such as the UAE.

SafetyNet Technologies: SafetyNet Technologies has developed a polarised LED lighting solution that helps fishermen catch the right fish and avoid bycatch. By increasing selectivity, fisherman can increase their profits and revenues, reduce their sorting times and fuel costs, ensure they are complying with landing regulations, and safeguard against the unwanted capture of species. The application of SafetyNet Technologies’ solution in the UAE can help the country tackle food wastage by reducing bycatch and tackling the issue of overfishing.

The virtual awards ceremony involved a series of curated workshop sessions led by start-up industry experts, Catalyst, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO). The event also provided access to leading voices from the global ag-tech ecosystem with Q&A sessions hosted with Penny McBride, Vice-Chairwoman of Farmtech Society, and David Rosenberg, CEO and Co-Founder of AeroFarms.

The event also included two-panel discussions on the topics, “Food Security in a Post-Pandemic World” and “Farming the Desert: Enabling Food Production in the UAE.” Esteemed panellists included Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, the UAE Minister of State for Food and Water Security; Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Dr Rami Zurayk, Professor and Director of the Food Security Program at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut; Danielle Nierenberg, Co-Founder and President of FoodTank; Abdulaziz Al Mulla, Co-Founder and CEO of Madar Farms; Omar Al Jundi, CEO of Badia Farms; and Salvatore Lavallo, Head of FDI for Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO).

The FoodTech Challenge is supported by Accenture, Al Dahra, Catalyst, Masdar and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office.

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