Home » Green Thumbs, Global Goals: Revolutionizing Food in the GCC with a Dash of Estonian Ingenuity

Green Thumbs, Global Goals: Revolutionizing Food in the GCC with a Dash of Estonian Ingenuity

by Madaline Dunn

In a world where avocados and lettuce travel more than most of us did pre-pandemic, it’s time to ponder: Is our salad’s air mileage racking up more points than our frequent flyer cards? If we peel back the layers of our global food supply chain, we can see a confusing dance of logistics that, while impressive, is certainly not sustainable.

The UAE, a globally admired country of innovation, imports 90% of its food. An impressive number, but also a bit like hosting a potluck where everyone brings a dish from a different continent. These globe-trotting groceries are not just burning fuel but also losing their nutrients and freshness faster than is ideal.

Other GCC countries are unwittingly adding to the food waste conundrum, with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia tossing 132 and 105 kg of food per person annually. The rest of the GCC are not far behind at 95 kg. This is the equivalent of each person eating away more than their body weight every year. Meanwhile, in Sub-Saharan Africa, food waste per capita barely fills a grocery bag, averaging 5-10 kg.

This isn’t just a tale of a few ‘too-ugly-to-sell’ veggies. Globally, this wastage translates into a daily loss of 400 to 500 calories per person in developing countries and a whopping 1,500 in developed ones. It’s like cooking a feast and then accidentally dropping it on the floor – daily. And cooking those feasts heats up the planet also. The average of 50% of food that goes to waste globally emits greenhouse gasses to the extent that if ranked as a country, it would be the third largest polluter.

The food wastage drama has three main villains: inefficient production, supply chain wastage, and domestic food waste. In the UAE, the cost of this is a blockbuster, with $3.5 billion vanishing into thin air (or rather, landfills) annually due to food waste.

The good news is that this story also has its heroes: hydroponics, aeroponics, and vertical farming innovation. GCC countries are rolling up their sleeves, for example, with Saudi Arabia investing $665 million in local tech-enabled agriculture, the UAE and the U.S. joining forces in the ambitious Agriculture Innovation Mission, and all major cities in the region turbocharging their multimillion-dollar farming tech innovations and initiatives.

High-tech farms are eye-catching but only address part of the problem. They’re great for bringing more food production closer and requiring significantly less water, but not necessarily the best at addressing food waste and nutrient loss at the grocery store, hospitality services, or consumer end. They’re generally just one step closer. But not close enough. The UAE is making great strides in successfully aligning the booming hospitality and food and beverage sector with its food security agenda. Unveiling a roadmap to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030, this marks a significant step towards achieving food security, sustainable consumption, and a circular economy. The ‘Ne’ma Food Loss and Waste Reduction Roadmap’ was announced during the fourth National Dialogue on Food Security, organised by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) in collaboration with Ne’ma, the National Food Loss and Waste Initiative in November 2023, ahead of the COP28 climate summit held in Dubai in December 2023.

Corporate and government initiatives aside, we can also talk about the long-forgotten tradition of growing food at home, the underdog of this tale who could – if promoted with as much enthusiasm as the top-billed heroes of the food sustainability story – have a more efficient impact on the woes around our food. While we can’t all be green-thumbed and it’s not conceivable that every indoor living space can start hosting a mini-farm, solutions such as ours, the Click & Grow’s smart indoor garden, for example, can help the consumer as a gardening equivalent of a training tool. These compact systems, requiring minimal space and effort, use 95% less water than traditional farming and can be as easy as making instant coffee. And since it’s table-to-fork, no food is wasted and no nutrients are lost.

Growing food at home isn’t just about playing farm. Or cleaning the farm from wastage. It’s about revolutionizing our relationship with what’s on our plate and becoming more self-sufficient. Imagine plucking fresh basil for your pasta or harvesting lettuce for your sandwich, all from your own home. It’s fresher, more nutritious, and, let’s face it, quite the conversation starter. The more food is grown where we live, the more we’ll start appreciating that magical nature’s gift, and, hopefully, the more we’ll change our habits around food all around.

We can all honestly dream of a future where food doesn’t need a passport and frequent flyer miles to reach us – and one where it’s not as expensive or meticulous to produce as it is with high-tech vertical farms. Our kitchens are not just spaces for cooking but for growing. This dream is perfectly possible, and on a global scale, we can look at countries such as Estonia, – a digital innovator and the birthplace of Click & Grow, but also a beacon of organic farming.

It is ranked as the second biggest organic food producer in Europe while also renowned for having the planet’s second cleanest food. Here, it’s not uncommon to find families tending to their own patches of land, eagerly growing some of their vegetables during the summer season, and continuing this indoors when the weather isn’t favorable. Estonian dinner tables, restaurants, and even food products for export are a testament to this lifestyle, where fresh and locally grown are of the highest value, and modern twists on traditional recipes are found in every bite.

In this new age of agriculture, any home, or even a school, restaurant or hospital can be a small food producer, a tiny but mighty player in a food revolution that’s not just green, less wasteful but truly grassroots and self-sufficient. Let’s turn our spaces into havens of freshness, nutrition, and sustainability, one indoor garden at a time. Because, at the end of the day, the shortest journey our food should take is from our windowsill to our plate.

By Martin Laidla, Click & Grow.

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