UAE University (UAEU) and Agthia, one of Abu Dhabi's large food and beverage (F&B) companies, are in talks to form a research and development (R&D) partnership.
A general agreement was originally established by the two entities in 2008. However, talks of a new agreement could see staff and student researchers collaborate in the company's flour and animal feed department.
"We are in talks to take our original agreement to the next level using it to carry out applied research;" said Dr Galeb Al Hadrami, Dean of the faculty of food and agriculture at UAEU. "We haven't made any formal agreements yet as we are still at the talking stages."
The potential agreement could initially make available a Dh150,000 research grant to UAEU faculty and students to carry out mutually beneficial applied research.
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"The basis for the agreement is to use the university's facilities to carry out the testing needed to support our development," said Dr Fadi Al Assad, Group Director of R&D and quality at Agthia. "In return they carry out their applied research and develop their local talent through student internships and training programmes."
He added that such collaborations between academia and industry are a necessary "win-win".
"As it is now most academics can't apply their good research in the industry because there is no interaction between the two parties," said Dr Al Assad. "So they are not really using the knowledge they develop but instead sitting on papers while nobody benefits from the information."
Al Assad said although such industry and academic research collaborations are systematic in the developed world. The UAE has yet to wholeheartedly embrace this concept — at least in the F&B industry.
Despite Agthia's eight years of growing success Dr Al Assad believes such agreements are crucial to growing the company further.
"R&D is at the heart of a company's growth potential because without it there will be no development of new products to grow the business," he said. "If a company does not have R&D collaborations it can't compete with multinationals because most of them invest five per cent of net sales into R&D."
Agthia (meaning nutrition in Arabic) is a 51 per cent General Holding Corporation, which makes it an Abu Dhabi Government F&B entity. The company has three main departments: water and beverages, flour and animal feed and processed fruits and vegetables. Each department sees the production and distribution of its respective product in various GCC markets.
Agthia has one of the biggest factories in the UAE for manufacturing, mixing and storing animal feed. This area of the company's operations will be the focal point of the potential R&D agreement said Dr Al Assad.
"We want to reap the benefits of using the by-products of local agricultural resources instead of wasting them," he said. "Dates are the biggest agricultural crop available in the UAE so we want to optimise our animal feed recipes using it's by products such as the date pits and date leaves; things that nobody uses, which just get thrown away."
He added that such research is already going on at UAEU's faculty of food and agriculture.
Benefits of collaborating
Recent research conducted at UAE University's faculty of food and agriculture has found date pits to have a significant antibiotic affect on livestock such as poultry. Such findings could help replace the regular administration of antibiotics in animal feed, resulting in a more organic rearing method to improve the quality of produce.
Since dates are the UAE's largest agricultural crop the pits are in abundant supply as the industry annually generates approximately 50,000 tonnes of by-products. Regular and increased antibiotic administration to livestock in animal feed can encourage resistance to certain bacteria strains. This essentially requires an increased antibiotic dosage, which can pose a health risk to people as they will be consuming food laced with the medications.