The University of Arizona

AgTech in Arabia: 'spectacular forgetting' and the technopolitics of greening the desert

Natalie Koch


'AgTech' is the latest discourse about introducing new technologies to agricultural production. Researchers, corporations, and governments around the world are investing heavily in supporting its development. Abu Dhabi, the largest and wealthiest emirate in the UAE, has been among these supporters, recently announcing a massive scheme to support AgTech companies. Given the extreme temperatures and aridity of the Arabian Peninsula, several new start-ups have focused on 'controlled environment' facilities – hydroponics and aeroponics in various kinds of greenhouses. Despite the narrative of novelty touted by these companies, this is not the UAE's first foray with bringing ultra-modern or 'scientific' greenhouses to the Arabian Peninsula – a large University of Arizona project did so in Abu Dhabi from 1969-1974. Yet that project is largely forgotten today, including among today's new AgTech entrepreneurs. This article investigates why this is the case and, more generally, why the systematic failures of high-modernist, spectacular projects like those to green the desert are so routinely forgotten. In analyzing the story linking AgTech in Arabia 50 years ago and today, I show how 'spectacular forgetting' is related to the technopolitics of spectacle, but also rooted in geopolitical discourses and spatial imaginaries particular to each historical moment.

Keywords: spectacle; desert greening; AgTech; agriculture; Arabian Peninsula; United Arab Emirates

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