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Using technology to farm in climate-vulnerable areas

featured image Kurtz runs a farm in the desert. The co-founder and CEO of Pure Harvest Smart Farms is outside Abu Dhabi, where temperatures regularly hit him 113°F. His team takes advantage of the challenging environment to try out new crops and techniques that could transform agriculture in climate-challenged regions. Pure Harvest also uses less water in one of the world’s driest regions, Dubai, to deliver produce to supermarkets and restaurants across Dubai and the region.

Kurtz founded Pure Harvest Smart Farms in 2017 with co-founders Mahmoud Adi and Robert Kupstas. Passionate about food insecurity, they spent his first year researching high-tech food production systems around the world, looking for the perfect location for their first farm.

Sky Kurtz at Pure Harvest Smart Farms

TIME’s Natalie Nacache

Kurtz’s farm in the United Arab Emirates “started with just a PowerPoint, a pile of dirt, and a promise of what we would do,” says Kurtz. But Pure Harvest quickly proved that it was built on more than promises. The founder’s research and innovation led to the development of a unique Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) system. This is a combination of high-tech greenhouses and vertical farms that provide a stable climate all year round. The first harvest of tomatoes took place in August 2018 and was harvested in October. The company’s original farm is now a research and development facility, and Pure Harvest has expanded his UAE facility to his 16-hectare growing area. Also in Saudi Arabia he operates a 6-hectare farm and in Kuwait he is developing a 6-hectare farm.

We currently produce 14 types of leafy vegetables. 2 types of strawberries have been developed, and he has 7 more. About 30 varieties of tomatoes, where it all started. Due to limited availability of local seasonal produce, the UAE typically imports much of its food by air, which is costly both economically and environmentally. And while more expensive than locally grown seasonal produce, the company says its fruits and vegetables are typically up to 60% cheaper than air-freight imports of comparable quality. “I think we’ve fundamentally changed the belief system that the locals are worse,” Kurtz said.

Their vision is aligned with the broader goal of making Dubai more self-sufficient, using research and development to address the impact climate change is already having on the food industry in the Gulf region and further afield. We are focused not only on growing for the premium market, but also on developing affordable solutions that help democratize access to fresh produce.

Kurtz hopes the company’s data-driven technology will become a model for other regions experiencing climate stress. “We believe that local-to-local solutions can be developed where they are most needed, and he has tested its capabilities in one of the harshest environments in the world,” he says.

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