Startup of the Week: Red Sea Farms in Saudi Arabia aims to provide viable solutions to water scarcity

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Mark Tester, right, highlighted how KAUST provided the perfect environment for researchers to pursue their passion. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Mark Tester highlighted how KAUST provided the perfect environment for researchers to pursue their passion. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Mark Tester highlighted how KAUST provided the perfect environment for researchers to pursue their passion. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Mark Tester highlighted how KAUST provided the perfect environment for researchers to pursue their passion. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Mark Tester highlighted how KAUST provided the perfect environment for researchers to pursue their passion. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 29 October 2019

Startup of the Week: Red Sea Farms in Saudi Arabia aims to provide viable solutions to water scarcity

  • Red Sea Farms use hydroponic farming to grow their crops

Red Sea Farms is a startup from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) that uses agricultural engineering to process seawater and deploy it in an economically sensible way to reduce the huge use of freshwater in agriculture.
It was co-founded more than 18 months ago by professor of plant sciences at KAUST, Mark Tester, who is also the head of the food sector at NEOM, and agricultural engineer Dr. Ryan Lefers.
Lefers explained that the company uses saltwater to cool its greenhouse, which saves a lot of freshwater. “Based on the models we’ve run, we can save up to 90 percent of freshwater by using saltwater in its place. Also, we don’t have to desalinate the water, so we’re saving a lot of energy,” he told Arab News. “Thanks to the work of my co-founder, Prof. Mark Tester, and his group, we have plants that are being developed to grow using saltwater for irrigation,” he said.
Lefers is passionate about making an impact in the world.
“What gets me up in the morning is thinking about how we can solve some of the big problems that the world faces, and a big problem right now is how are we going to feed everyone in light of diminishing resources. One of those is freshwater,” he explained.
He added humans use about 70-80 percent of our freshwater for agriculture, and in Saudi Arabia the figure is higher, despite limited supplies — much has to be generated from seawater. “What I’m really excited about is contributing to somehow breaking food free from its dependency on freshwater.”
Tester said the problem the Middle East faces is a lack of water and its sustainability.


“Sure, we’ve got wonderful farms in places like Tabuk, for example, but it’s not sustainable in the long term because it’s using groundwater which is being extracted at a much higher rate than it is being replenished,” Tester said.
“We need to reduce our use of freshwater in Saudi Arabia and the whole region. By substituting a large fraction of our freshwater consumed for agriculture with sea or other salty water, we can really reduce our freshwater use in this region, and that’s a pretty good contribution.”
Tester highlighted how KAUST provided the perfect environment for researchers to pursue their passion.
“It all starts with research and curiosity, and this is very important. Places like KAUST enable us to do research because we’re interested in understanding the basis, the mechanisms for processes and applying that research,” he said.
“For me, I love understanding — and I must have been a very annoying child, always asking ‘why’ — and KAUST enables us to ask those questions, but in a way that the answers are going to be useful for the Kingdom and the region. That really is fantastic for me.”
He added that Red Sea Farms was a classic type of collaboration between two very different areas of KAUST activities — plant science and of engineering.
“I have huge respect for the engineering done by Ryan because it is going to make a huge impact. One amazing side benefit from our research — which, I must admit, we didn’t predict — is that when you grow tomatoes in this brackish water they taste better. So we’re able to deliver high quality, tasty and more nutritious tomatoes for the Kingdom.”
Red Sea Farms use hydroponic farming to grow their crops.
“What we have is a system where the plants are being physically supported by the clay beads, but the water is coming up and then flooding and draining away.”
He explained that water was pumped from storage tanks into the plants, which then drained back into the tanks.
“I call this type of approach we’re taking ‘beyond organic’. A lot of the organic rules in Europe say: ‘If it’s not in soil then it’s not organic.’ For me, what’s much more important is not to define something as organic or not, but to calculate whether what we are doing —and I say calculate — is sustainable. What we are doing has to be more sustainable for the planet. Because it’s our responsibility to leave the planet in a better condition for our children than when we found it,” said Tester.

 


Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

Nutrition is the most important part when it comes to bodybuilding, then comes type of exercise, and good rest. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

  • Ali Al-Salam, who stopped consuming animal products in 2017, says certain steps must be completed to have an athletic body

JEDDAH: The vegan diet has risen in popularity in Saudi Arabia in recent years and has been a constant topic of debate among Saudis, attracting the interest of many, including athletes.

Ongoing debates about whether the vegan diet is sufficient for normal people, let alone bodybuilders, abound, but one Saudi is answering them physically.
Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.
Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease, but other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.
Speaking to Arab News, 33-year-old Saudi vegan bodybuilder, Ali Al-Salam, who first started his vegan diet three years ago when he was suffering from high blood pressure, highlighted that the consumption of animal products is a deep rooted idea among bodybuilders and athletes.
“We always hear that in order to build muscle, we must consume animal products. In some parts of the world, there are people who can only have a small amount of animal products yet they live their lives healthily and comfortably and are not suffering from malnutrition — on the contrary, they have a lower level of chronic illnesses.”

When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.

Ali Al-Salam, Saudi vegan bodybuilder

He said it also opened his eyes to what goes on in the dairy and meat industry; he began researching in 2016 and decided to become vegan in 2017.
“I was just like every other athlete, I used to consume a high amounts of protein. I remember in the last days before turning vegan, I used to have 10 egg whites and a piece of steak for breakfast to fulfil my protein needs. This made me think, ‘is this the only way to consume protein?’ And from then on, I started researching and got introduced to the vegan diet at a larger scale,” he said.
“When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.”
He explained that bodybuilding does not solely rely on protein, and that there are steps that must be completed in order to reach an athletic body. Nutrition is the most important part, then comes type of exercise, and good rest.
“When we talk about good nutrition, it does not just rely on protein. Yes, it is important, but the amount of calories in general is more important,” he said.
“Let’s say you needed 200 grams of protein, does that mean if you consumed 200 grams of it, you would gain muscle? No. You need all the basic nutrients to reach a certain amount of calories in general,” he added.
He highlighted that as soon as people register for gym memberships, they immediately look for supplements because they think they cannot reach the needed amount of protein.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.

• Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease.

• But other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.

• Vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants.

• Animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.

“I’m talking about non-vegans here too, where their protein intake is already high. Marketing plays a big role here. People link protein to animal products because our society grew up with this idea as well.
“Can a vegan build muscle? Yes, when they eat right, exercise correctly and rest well. The misconception about protein stems from amino acids. People think vegan food lacks amino acids, and only animal products are full of them and that is far from the truth,” he added.
When comparing vegan athletes to regular athletes, he said vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants which helps greatly in recovery, and because “animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.”