Dubai World Expo 2020: Développer l'autonomie alimentaire dans le désert



Back from the Dubai World Expo, Professor Haïssam Jijakli, agricultural engineer and head of the Urban Agriculture Research Center for the Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech faculty, looks back on his masterclass "From the desert to the plate" at the Belgian pavilion of the Dubai World Expo.

From November 6 to 12, the "Wallonia-Brussels Week" took place at the Belgian pavilion of the World Expo in Dubai. Among the Belgian and Walloon representatives was Professor Haïssam Jijakli, head of the C-RAU (Research Center in Urban Agriculture), to present his work in the field of soilless agriculture. "Our productions and research converged with the needs of a country like the United Arab Emirates. The constraint of the desert is similar to the lack of fertile land that is encountered in urban agriculture. Almost 95% of the UAE territory is barren. Our innovative production systems have therefore met with a positive response from our local partners", explains Professor Jijakli.

The C-RAU is developing numerous research projects in the field of urban agriculture. The World Expo 2020 was an opportunity to present these technical solutions to an audience concerned with the development of innovative methods of food production. "The United Arab Emirates suffer from a very low level of food autonomy. Nearly 95% of the food is imported. There are real concerns about the fragility of this way of life. It is for this reason that concerned investors are looking into food production methods compatible with this climate. There is also a search for the least environmental impact. It is in this perspective that our presentation focused on the methods of "soilless" agriculture, which use little water and as few chemical inputs as possible and which are particularly relevant in the context of the Emirates", continues Professor Jijakli.

The range of possibilities in soilless agriculture 

The masterclass "From Desert to Plate" showcased the many practical solutions developed within the C-RAU framework. Using the WASABI platform at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, the research center explored rooftop greenhouse cultivation, low-input organic agriculture, aquaponics and agrivoltaics.

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Among these fields, the "Smart Aquaponics" application has met with favorable feedback from Emirati players. Smart Aquaponics is an application that monitors the water parameters of an aquaponics installation, making this information accessible from a phone. Professor Jijakli demonstrated it directly from Dubai to consult his infrastructure online in Gembloux.

A series of other productions resulting from the research were exposed on this occasion:

  • Aromathome, the hydroponic shelf designed as part of the Green Surf spin-off, developed in 2017.
  • The Groof project, a collaboration led by Groupe One, accompanies the development of rooftop greenhouses in urban environments.
  • OptiBiomass, the program to develop a robot for phenotyping plants, grown under controlled conditions. It uses soilless culture to study and monitor the optimal production of plant molecules for the (para)medical sector.

These technical solutions contribute to the development of sustainable agriculture in line with the ecological transition announced in recent years. Since its creation in 2011, the C-RAU has been working on innovative solutions to be applied in food production adapted to cities and peri-urban areas.

Strengthening scientific cooperation 

This trip to the Emirates ended with a visit to the University of Sharjah. In the presence of the Minister-President of the French Community, Mr. Jeholet, the delegation met with university authorities to reflect on new academic cooperation agreements. Through several workshops and dialogues, these rapprochements should facilitate the exchange of students and researchers in the future. "It was also an opportunity for the different members of the delegation to meet and learn more about each other's contributions. It was very enriching", adds Professor Jijakli.

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© Jérôme Van Belle - WBI

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