Startup Spotlight: Dubai-Based Agritech Startup Alesca Life Technologies Is On A Mission To Ensure Sustainable Farming Practices In The UAE
Alesca develops precision farming solutions and turnkey indoor vertical farms to improve the productivity, efficiency, and predictability of food production by up to 10 times.
With arid lands and low rainfall characterizing a large majority of the UAE's terrain, the country's agricultural sector has had to find innovative and sustainable ways to increase food production over the years. The UAE has been noted to import around 85% of its food, with the value of food imports reaching AED17.98 billion in the first quarter of 2020- a statistic that also highlights its dependence on other countries in this regard.
What all of this indicates is the UAE's need for farming techniques that can enable more local produce, and thereby ensure an efficient food supply chain in the country. One solution could be vertical farming, a farming technique that grows crops in vertically stacked surfaces, as opposed to the traditional method of growing crops on a vast open field. Vertical farming also ensures that there is minimal to no usage of pesticides or fertilizers, and it is carried out in indoor locations like green-houses- an alternative that is particularly helpful for farming in challenging environmental conditions like that of the UAE.
Launched in 2013, Dubai-based Alesca Life Technologies (which also has offices located in Tokyo and Beijing) is an agritech company that specializes in vertical farming. "Alesca develops precision farming solutions and turnkey indoor vertical farms to improve the productivity, efficiency, and predictability of food production by up to 10 times," says co-founder and CEO Stuart Oda. According to Oda, one of the key issues his startup is aiming to solve is a lack of standardization in the food supply chain.
A vertical farming unit at Alesca Life.
"Food production is highly disconnected from end consumers and lacks operational standardization, and this is leading to major logistical, environmental, safety, and accessibility issues," he explains. "Alesca's precision farming solutions significantly increase the yield and operational consistency of farms by automating all critical on-farm functions, and our indoor vertical farms are capable of producing highly nutritious and highly profitable fresh produce and horticultural products year-round in any location to address food security issues."
There is already an increasing focus on sustainable industry practices in the UAE, with initiatives such as the UAE Vision 2021 and the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 setting a 50% target for clean energy in the nation. In light of this, it is also important to highlight Alesca Life Technologies' contribution to reducing pollution and waste. "Alesca's indoor vertical farms use 90-99% less water, fertilizer, and land compared to conventional farms and do not require any chemical pesticides or GMO seeds," explains Oda.
"All of the agricultural inputs and environmental conditions are controlled in the indoor vertical farm to ensure the best quality product is grown every crop cycle." Currently, Alesca Life Technologies has indoor farm installations located across China, Singapore, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. These installations range from small cabinet-style micro-farms that cater to hotel groups, to large container farms that are used for multinational companies and residential real estate developers. "Agricultural technology is one of the most multi-disciplinary industries, and we have team members that have expertise in everything from hardware and software development to plant science and farm operations," adds Oda.
Looking toward the future, Oda says that his startup is on track to announce a few important launches soon. "Our team will be launching mega-scale indoor farms for government and corporate customers across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe over the next 12 months to enable hyper-local, pesticide-free food production in regions that face challenges with food security," he says. Wait and watch!
'TREP TALK: Stuart Oda, co-founder and CEO, Alesca Life Technologies
What have been the biggest challenges and benefits you've seen in doing business in Dubai?
"Alesca's formal engagement in the UAE and GCC region started in 2016 through our selection into the inaugural cohort of the Dubai Future Accelerator (DFA) program. The support and introductions we received from the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) during the program were instrumental in our early success, and we're proud to be the first global DFA company that established an onshore joint venture in Dubai. We've actively engaged with the DFF and DFA community over the years, and they've helped amplify our message in the region and connect us to key strategic partnerships.
Being based in the Emirates has been helpful from a business development perspective. We've had countless government and corporate partners from the Middle East, Europe, and Africa visit our operations in Dubai, and we've been able to establish critical manufacturing partnerships to serve our customers in the GCC region. Having a strong local presence in the Emirates has helped us convince our customers and partners that Alesca is committed to the region for the long-term."
You and your startup are a part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accelerator program- how would you describe your experience through it?
"Alesca joined the MBRIF program looking to launch pilot projects with government ministries and corporate partners in the agriculture and food security sectors and real estate development, food retail/processing, and hotel/hospitality industries. The MBRIF program has a deep network across the GCC region and made critical introductions to support our regional business development efforts. We're looking forward to continuing our engagement with the MBRIF team in the post care program to finalize pilot project agreements with their government and corporate partners."