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Growing food… without soil

In the United Arab Emirates – a part of the world not known for its verdant fields and abundant vegetation – one business is growing everything from Cos lettuce to dill, basil and coriander without using any soil.

"Hydroponics is a method of growing vegetables in a thin layer of water together with nutrients, so it's a very unique method of growing large volumes in an ethical manner for… mass production," Rudi Azzato, horticulturist and marketing director at Emirates Hydroponics Farms (EHF), told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.


According to a 2010 report from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, the UAE is dependent on imports for 85-90 percent of its food needs.

Azzato said that the company's fully computerized system, which makes use of a high-tech greenhouse, enables them to grow salads year-round, thereby lessening the need for imports that can be costly, in both financial and environmental terms.

In an area dominated by the desert – the highest recorded temperature in the UAE has been reported as being 52.1 degrees centigrade – hydroponics offers another crucial benefit: it re-uses water.

"Hydroponics is recycling water," Azzato said. "The water together with the nutrients… (flows) into the pipe, where the plants will absorb the water with the nutrients. Any excess water will flow back into the tank, where it's filtered and then reused."

EHF's system also negates the need for pesticides, which can be harmful to humans, animals, and wildlife.

"There's no need for pesticide within this greenhouse because we have a two door entrance, meaning that both doors cannot be opened at the same time," Azzato said. "This system prevents insects from entering within our greenhouse," he added.