Students at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) have successfully implemented vertical farming for the first time within the context of the harsh climate of the United Arab Emirates.
The project, which was prepared by two junior biotechnology students, Najath Abdulkareem and Nada Anwar, was one of several submitted by the university as part of the UAE’s second annual Innovation Week, an initiative mandated by the prime minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Dr. Abdul Gafoor Puthiyaveetil, chair of the university’s biotechnology program, supervised the two students. Discussing the significance of the research, Dr. Abdul Gafoor stated, “With the rapidly increasing population of the planet, we expect the earth’s population to reach 8.5 billion by 2050. Food production is more important than ever. The students have adapted the idea of vertical farming as an innovative method of dealing with this ever-increasing demand.”
Vertical farming allows plants to be grown indoors, using a tiered platform, with a combination of sunlight and LED lights. Dr. Abdul Gafoor was quick to list off the advantages of such a system, explaining, “As all the growth takes place indoors, this strategy of self-sustainability does not require the use of herbicides and pesticides, effectively making this a source of healthier food for individual homes.”
Demonstrating their project during the innovation exhibition at Ras Al Khaimah’s Exhibition Center, Najath and Nada showed how the tiered platform minimizes the space required to grow herbs and vegetables, while maximizing efficient water-use; once the top layer is watered, the water filters down to lower levels. It was also pointed out that the controlled indoor environment led to quicker growth.
The students went on to emphasize the low-cost nature of the project, commenting, “We bought all of these plastic containers at our local supermarket. Then it is just a case of assembling the pieces and buying soil and seeds.”
Najath and Nada have successfully grown the likes of basil, parsley, rosemary and mint within their own homes. It is hoped that further research could lead to this system becoming popular among individual households, as well as being implemented for large-scale food production.