We know Dubai is famous for gold, but what if we tell you gold ‘grows’ in the country now! Well, not quite literally, but saffron, also called ‘Red Gold’, is now produced in Sharjah as UAE’s first saffron harvest. Saffron gets its name ‘Red Gold’ owing to its scarcity and massive demand, as well as the special conditions it requires to grow and harvest.
The vertical fields of “Red Gold” are produced without the use of water, soil or fertilizers. The brain behind this project is an agricultural technology firm, VeggiTech. The firm has cultivated about 150,000 crocus sativa bulbs, brought in from the Netherlands, in Al Zubair’s vertical farms.
Each of these flowers produce three tiny stigmas from which saffron is extracted. The first crop grown in the UAE in this fashion is expected to yield 5.5 kilograms of saffron. It takes about nine to ten months for the saffron to reach maturity before it is ready for harvest. The laboratories are equipped with a special air-handling unit to create the right environmental condition for growth. This will ensure the right amount of carbon dioxide, light, temperature, and humidity are available to the crops.
The cost of the spice is then determined depending on the quality and the grade. A rough estimate of $850 to $3100 per kilogram has been evaluated for saffron cultivated in this manner.
Vertical farming is a relatively new technique used in the UAE to combat water scarcity and extreme climatic conditions. In this process, tightly controlled soil is used along with artificial LED lights to stimulate growth. Farms that use this method can produce 10 times more yield than those that follow the traditional farming methods. The technique is particularly working well in the UAE due to the harsh growing conditions.
Ghazal Shafiee, quality manager at VeggiTech told The National that, “Saffron is a sensitive crop to grow and not everyone has the knowledge required to cultivate it. Using this system, we have much less area required for the entire production. Usually, land water and herbicides are used, but by vertical farming, a smaller area is needed with greater production and quality,” she added.
Besides, the UAE is one of the top five buyers of Iranian bulk saffron. Therefore, growing spice domestically makes the country less reliant on imports. VeggiTech also uses a similar method to cultivate 50 other types of crops at four farms in the UAE.