Staff Reporter, Gulf Today
Photo used for illustrative purpose.
Recently, following the commencement of the Expo Dubai, CNN published a report titled, ‘Where possibilities are endless: This pavilion makes its own water and energy’. The report focused on Terra, the specialized sustainability pavilion that represents the pinnacle of both energy and water conservation and regeneration.
The pavilion, characterized by a synthesis of state-of-the-art architecture and cutting-edge technology, has the distinction of being one of the world’s newest, most sustainable LEED Platinum-certified buildings. So, what inspired the UAE to commission Terra?
Simply put, it is a classic of “necessity is the mother of invention”. The UAE, along with the greater MENA region, has long-standing water woes. So, as a regional leader in technological advancements, the UAE has been at the forefront of exploring sustainable solutions to address water scarcity. This pursuit has a dual focus: Conservation and regeneration. Within the context of Terra, conservation is achieved by smart systems and regeneration through greywater treatment and rainwater/dew harvesting.
The UAE has promoted such holistic approaches across sectors. However, macro impact hinges on a few key sectors with massive water and energy footprint. The agricultural sector, which accounts for approximately 72% of the total freshwater consumed in the UAE, definitely warrants critical interventions. Even with the massive water footprint, the sector produces just 20% of the UAE’s food, with the remaining 80% coming from imports. This status quo is unsustainable due to the ever-looming possibility of supply-chain disruptions. So, the food-water dichotomy, combined with the need to reconcile plausible solutions with holistic sustainability, became the key talking point at the recently held virtual Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) event, part of the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Security Week.
Building on the Expo momentum, the Agriculture and Food Security Week honoured innovators and innovative “agtech”, besides conducting a series of seminars, lectures, and workshops; including a conference organized in partnership with the World Food Security Forum and the Global Sustainable Agriculture Awards. With the UAE and the greater MENA region battling scarcity on two fronts — food and water — such industry conclaves are of great consequence. And as expected, it gave a platform to innovators who have uniquely positioned themselves at the intersection of food and water security, with solutions built upon the social, economic, and environmental pillars of sustainability.
Notable among the presenters was Chandra Dake, CEO and Founder of Dake Rechsand, a Dubai-based company offering sustainable solutions in water conservation and desert farming. Chandra Dake showcased the company’s innovative and award-winning “Magic” Breathable Sand, its affiliated solutions, and their unique capabilities. In a presentation titled, ‘Impactful desert landscape using Rechsand range’, he talked about transforming deserts into arable lands in the UAE, with the help of his company’s Breathable Sand. A one-time application of this technology results in up to 80 percent water savings compared to conventional farming methods. The Breathable Sand’s unique water retention properties, combined with air permeability, can massively empower sustainable farming and water-wise landscaping in residential and commercial projects within the UAE.
The unique value proposition of Dake Rechsand is its ability to create a visible impact. This is noteworthy, taking into account that sustainability has gathered a sense of immediacy as climate change nears the point of no return. The criticality was reinforced during the COP26, which saw improved participation and concrete measures like net-zero emission pledges from several nations.
Dake Rechsand has demonstrated the potential of its technology through outstanding results achieved at Al Ajban farms, Abu Dhabi — areas that are of great significance to the UAE’s national food security. High dependence on desalination plants, which are energy- and carbon-intensive, had made Al Ajban farms highly unsustainable. The application of Dake Rechsand’s Breathable Sand enabled Al Ajban farms to reduce water requirements by 70-80 percent on average. Concurrently, thanks to Breathable Sand’s air permeability properties that allow effective nutrient supply to the roots, practitioners were also able to grow abundant and high-quality pulses, beans, tomatoes, chillies, mangoes and lemons — all while using little to no fertilizers.
The Breathable Sand technology has already turned more than 2,000 square kilometres of the world’s most arid and hot deserts in China into high-yield rice fields. Within the UAE, the Ministry of Education has promoted the application of Breathable Sand in multiple schools, while the Ras Al Khaimah Municipality has agreed to plant 1,000 trees using the technology in the first phase of a project. Dake Rechsand is also the technology and implementation partner for tree plantation drives launched by Jebel Ali Resorts and Nakheel.
Much like Terra’s conservation and regeneration approach to water security, Dake Rechsand has extrapolated the air permeability and water retention properties of Breathable Sand in the development of its patented “Honey Comb” water harvesting systems. Actionable on roads, streets, paved areas, office yards, schools, parking spaces, and playgrounds, among other common areas, these harvesting systems collect rainwater and surface run-offs and store them inside underground reservoirs. The air permeability function keeps the water fresh for up to seven years without requiring chemical- or electricity-based treatment. When these decentralized harvesting systems are set up as part of smart water networks and “sponge cities”, they can result in a new source of potable water.
Both Breathable Sand and its affiliated harvesting systems are therefore aligned with the conservation-regeneration principle of water security propagated by the UAE. Speaking at the event, Chandra Dake highlighted the transformative opportunity these technologies represent. “The UAE is at the forefront of innovation, sustainability and technology,” Chandra noted. “At Dake Rechsand, we understand that food and water security are the most important aspects of sustainability. Hence, one of our primary goals for this year is to plant 200,000 trees and follow up with another two million trees by 2022.” The UAE’s policy-led efforts, combined with the emergence of actionable solutions like Breathable Sand and end-user awareness of climate change, could enable multi-stakeholder participation, which is paramount to achieving sustainable water and food security.
Meanwhile, the Republic of Chile is holding a `Honey Week’ in the UAE starting December 11, 2021, as part of the Latin American country’s participation at the Expo 2020 Dubai, with a host of companies highlighting their branded honey products throughout the week.
In a statement, Chile Pavilion spokespersons said the activity has been conceived in the backdrop of the increasing acceptance and presence of the country’s honey products in the UAE market, as well as in other parts of the Gulf and Middle Eastern countries.
“Over the last few years, there has been a marked shift in branded Chilean organic honey products foraying into the UAE and other markets in the region. This is a shift from the earlier traditional demand for bulk imports of honey from Chile. It is a welcome development as well since it adds value to our market offers and allows us to showcase the eclectic varieties of honey products Chile has to offer, facilitating a variety of choice for consumers,” said Felipe Repetto, Director General at Chile Pavilion Expo 2020.
In the UAE, some of the honey available is certified Active Patagonia Factor (APF), a scientific technology that guarantees the antibacterial power of honey native to Chilean Patagonia, offering a product that can be considered a superfood with a unique experience.
As part of the `Honey Week,’ Chile pavilion held an on-site sampling session on December 11, 2021, offering visitors to the Expo an opportunity to taste different varieties of honey from the Latin American country. The sampling session also included briefing sessions on the honey production in Chile, phytosanitary controls as well as sharing of a beekeeper’s experience.
“The idea is to present a comprehensive picture of our honey production and to highlight Chilean honey’s natural benefits to a global audience at the Expo 2020 to support honey entrepreneurs looking at higher market penetration,” added Repetto. Chile is known for its varied offer of honeys with different characteristics - from light tones to darker honeys, from milder flavours to those with greater intensity and sweetness and with soft floral aromas, as well as with woody flavours.