Hydroponic farming boosts prospects of sustainable agriculture in Saudi Arabia

The Middle East is the world’s most water-stressed region, and the Arabian Peninsula in particular must make good use of smart ways maximizing its resources, main. (Supplied)
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The Middle East is the world’s most water-stressed region, and the Arabian Peninsula in particular must make good use of smart ways maximizing its resources, main. (Supplied)
Ryan Lefers (left) and Mark Tester co-founded the Red Sea Farms, one of Saudi Arabia’s most promising startups. (Supplied)
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Ryan Lefers (left) and Mark Tester co-founded the Red Sea Farms, one of Saudi Arabia’s most promising startups. (Supplied)
Hydroponic farming boosts prospects of sustainable agriculture in Saudi Arabia
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Updated 19 January 2022

Hydroponic farming boosts prospects of sustainable agriculture in Saudi Arabia

Hydroponic farming boosts prospects of sustainable agriculture in Saudi Arabia
  • Setup allows minute control over conditions like temperature, pH balance and exposure to nutrients and water
  • Method using recycled water is ideal for Saudi Arabia, one of the most water-stressed countries

JEDDAH: Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil and with limited amounts of water. As a farming method it has a number of benefits: It helps to develop fibrous roots for improved nutrient absorption, reduces the risk of roots rotting and promotes the rapid maturity of plants.

By using innovative design that requires minimal space, hydroponics gardens can grow fruit, vegetables and flowers in half the time of traditional agriculture, using 90 percent less water.




Saudi Arabia, which covers 80 percent of the peninsula, will use sustainable agricultural techniques, such as hydroponics, to cut water waste by 50 percent by 2030, above. (Supplied)

Historical records reveal that the first recorded uses of hydroponic systems were in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs, and gardens in ancient China.

In modern times, a NASA-sponsored experiment on the Mir space station in 1997 used aeroponics to grow bean seedlings in zero gravity, raising the prospect of sustainable agriculture in space. Aeroponics is a form of hydroponics in which the plants are fed using a mist sprayed onto their roots, rather than being suspended in water.

In recent years, the popularity of hydroponics has gained momentum, as existing farmers and people without any experience in traditional farming seek to take advantage of advances in technology and the potential benefits they can bring.

Low rainfall, limited availability of freshwater from rivers and lakes, and dwindling, non-renewable groundwater reserves mean that the Middle East is the most water-stressed region on earth. Meanwhile, regional demand for water is soaring — and likely to continue to rise given population growth and economic development — resulting in some of the highest per-capita water consumption rates in the world.

Across most of the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most arid regions on earth, there is precious little rainfall and much of what there is runs off into desert sand or quickly evaporates. An area covering more than 1,000,000 square miles contains almost no perennial rivers or streams, and its southern section is covered by one of the largest deserts in the world.

Saudi Arabia occupies about 80 percent of the Arabian Peninsula and is one of its driest countries. Water resources are scarce and climate conditions severe. The conditions cause groundwater salinization, which is a common problem affecting the Kingdom’s agricultural sector.

Last October the representative from Saudi Arabia, as part of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) of the 76th session at the UN General Assembly that the Kingdom was taking steps to build sustainable agriculture, improve consumption patterns to reduce waste by 50 percent by 2030, encourage innovation, and empower women and young people working in the agriculture sector.

INNUMBER

70 percent increase in food production will be required by 2050 to meet caloric needs of a global population of 9.8 billion.

68 percent of that projected 9.8 billion global population will live in urban areas by 2050.

With an eye on future food challenges, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture is exploring the option of localized vertical-farming technologies, and has allocated $27 million to develop them.

The challenges the Kingdom’s policymakers face are no different from those confronting their counterparts in many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa: How to prevent the situation from getting worse and, more precisely, how to equip farmers to resolve the problems they face.

According to agricultural scientists, substantial investment in adaptation will be required to help maintain current farming yields, and achieve increases in production and food quality to meet demand. Vertical farming facilities that use hydroponics is one possible solution to the challenges, especially in countries with arid and semi-arid climates.




UAE's Al-Badia Farms in Dubai uses an indoor vertical farm with innovative hydroponic technology to grow fruits and vegetables all year round. (Karim Sahib / AFP)

In recent years, several agribusinesses in Saudi Arabia have started using hydroponics systems, after conducting intensive research, collecting data and devising suitable mechanisms, with the aim of keeping pace with the Kingdom’s soaring population and food requirements.

A key feature of hydroponics is the use of recycled water, which comes with its own challenges. Although water recycling is a relatively simple process, the costs involved, from initial investment to annual maintenance, are not trivial because the resultant quality of the water must be high enough for growing plants, according to Turki Alduhayan, the CEO of Green Mast, an agribusiness in Riyadh.




Water recycling is a key feature of hydroponics, although the process also comes with its own challenges. (Supplied)​​​​

“We send our water samples on a weekly basis to labs in Holland and the analysis report provides us with the water properties absorbed by the plants,” he told Arab News.

“This way we can control the water consumption and we save a lot, but ensuring high water quality is no easy feat. We are recycling water and saving money but it requires a lot of following up and evaluation to stay consistent.”

Alduhayan said he has learned what works through trial and error, having had to make decisions and comparisons, ranging from the type of soil to use in greenhouses to testing a plant’s endurance and its ability to survive in a hydroponics farm. He said he once tested a particular variety of tomato plant that yielded fruit for up to nine months and grew to a height of 14 meters.

Based on his experiences, Alduhayan said that hydroponic systems are an attractive option for many farmers in Saudi Arabia for a number of reasons.

FASTFACT

The first recorded uses of hydroponics date back to the hanging gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs, and gardens in ancient China.

Delivering produce from farm to table is easier said than done, he explained, when one considers the logistical and transportation challenges involved in ensuring shipments remain at a suitable temperature, stay fresh and are delivered to suppliers on time.

“This is one of the biggest obstacles and challenges facing hydroponic companies,” Alduhayan said. “Saudi Arabia is the size of Europe and it is expensive to transport produce to areas that are very far from the place of origin. There’s more to the business than just growing crops and produce. Even so, Saudi Arabia has come a long way in just a few years.




The Middle East is the world’s most water-stressed region, and the Arabian Peninsula in particular must make good use of smart ways maximizing its resources, main. (Supplied)

“MEWA has shown its support for hydroponic farming in the Kingdom but there needs to be more strict regulations to ensure that the proper protocols are followed through. Further support from the ministry, buyers and transportation service providers can, and will, help farmers in the long run. In the three years since I started my business, my costs are a fraction of when I first started.

“You can rest assured that if you buy cherry tomatoes, for instance, from a hydroponics farm they will stay fresh longer than you would normally expect of such a fruit.”

Red Sea Farms is another Saudi company that uses an environmentally sustainable saltwater-based agriculture system. This technology enables farmers to grow food and cool greenhouses using saltwater in larger quantities, and better levels of quality, than traditional farming systems, and to supply produce for a much longer growing season.




Red Sea Farms co-founder Mark Tester says the company uses an environmentally sustainable saltwater-based agriculture system. (Supplied)

Mark Tester, co-founder of Red Sea Farms and the associate director of the Center of Desert Agriculture at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, said that while hydroponics systems are not suitable for bulk commodity crops such as wheat, they can provide a rapid return on investment for a wide variety of other crops.

“From the perspective of the government, greenhouses provide a golden opportunity to maximize the value from the (ultimately unsustainable) groundwater being extracted, giving the best return possible for this valuable resource,” he told Arab News.

“With Red Sea Farms’ technologies, the environmental footprint of production is reduced even further, which is good for the environment considering the reduced water usage and carbon-dioxide emissions, lower costs and higher income for the farmer.”

Another proven benefit of hydroponics farming is that it eliminates the need for large-scale use of pesticides and herbicides.




Tomatoes from a hydroponics farm are said to stay fresh longer than those produced using the traditional method of farming. (Supplied)

“Because hydroponics in greenhouses enable good control of both air and water, it also provides the chance to minimize exposure of plants to pests and diseases, thus enabling us to minimize the use of pesticides,” Tester said. “This saves the farmers money, is better for the environment and means healthier food for consumers. Everyone wins.

“The benefits of innovative farming systems become increasingly valued and increasingly valuable, even in places with ideal conditions for agriculture such as in Western Europe.

“The use of greenhouses is massively expanding. So even in the south of the Kingdom there is clearly a very important role for greenhouses to play in agriculture and the healthy, sustainable production of our food.”

As more agribusinesses in Saudi Arabia embrace modern, innovative methods, the appeal of hydroponics is expected to rapidly grow thanks to the many advantages it offers.

More broadly, growing crops using hydroponics and greenhouses is increasingly looking like a smart bet, especially for future generations in countries with arid and semi-arid climates, which are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, land degradation and extreme weather events.


Japanese delegation completes training program in Saudi Arabia

Japanese delegation completes training program in Saudi Arabia
Updated 24 May 2022

Japanese delegation completes training program in Saudi Arabia

Japanese delegation completes training program in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: A number of young Japanese diplomats completed a training program organized by Prince Saud Al-Faisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies and Jouf University.

The program was part of an initiative aimed at strengthening bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Japan and included field visits, educational lectures, and tours in Riyadh and Jouf.

The Japanese diplomats visited a large number of public and private agencies including the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Shoura Council, King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy and Planning, the Ministry of Culture, the headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh, King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, Princess Noura bint Abdul Rahman University and the headquarters of Arab News.

They also attended lectures on the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and its most important achievements since its launching.

The diplomats learned about Saudi Arabia’s energy sector and its future prospects, as well as the Kingdom’s efforts in combatting terrorism, and combatting financing extremism.

Jouf University organized lectures on pre-Islamic Arabic literature, and organized a distinguished touristic program to present the civilizational heritage of the region.

At the end of the training program, the Japanese delegation praised the economic, social and cultural achievements of Vision 2030, which has opened new horizons for economic diversification and income diversity, and rendered the Saudi economy a role model to achieve the objectives of sustainable development.

They also praised the beauty of the Jouf region and the touristic, archeological and historical landmarks that it includes.

The program organized by Prince Saud Al-Faisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies to train Japanese diplomats was launched in 2015 based on a joint statement by Japan and Saudi Arabia on the occasion of the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Japan in 2014.

This story was originally published on Arab News Japan


Saudi deputy defense minister, US central command chief discuss defense coordination

Saudi deputy defense minister, US central command chief discuss defense coordination
Updated 24 May 2022

Saudi deputy defense minister, US central command chief discuss defense coordination

Saudi deputy defense minister, US central command chief discuss defense coordination
  • Prince Khalid visited the Central Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida, as part of the official visit to the US of his delegation, which began last Tuesday

RIYADH: Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister, on Monday met the commander of the US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, to discuss developments in the Middle East.

“We discussed our joint defense coordination, addressing regional challenges, and stressed the need to work together on preserving regional and global stability,” Prince Khalid said on Twitter.

Prince Khalid visited the Central Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida, as part of the official visit to the US of his delegation, which began last Tuesday.

The CentCom’s area of responsibility covers the Middle East, including Egypt in Africa, and Central Asia and parts of South Asia.

On Sunday, Prince Khalid met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington during which they affirmed their countries’ common vision to confront Iran’s destabilizing policies in the region.

They also discussed the latest developments in Yemen, with Prince Khalid reaffirming Saudi Arabia’s aspirations for the Yemenis “to reach a comprehensive political solution that would move Yemen to peace and development.”

He said the UN and world organizations need “to put pressure on Houthi militias to open Taiz roads, deposit the revenues of Hodeidah port and engage seriously in peace efforts to move Yemen to security, stability, construction and prosperity.”
 


Saudi leaders congratulate new Australian PM on being sworn in

Saudi leaders congratulate new Australian PM on being sworn in
Updated 24 May 2022

Saudi leaders congratulate new Australian PM on being sworn in

Saudi leaders congratulate new Australian PM on being sworn in
  • Australia’s new prime minister was sworn in Monday and flew to Tokyo for a summit with US President Joe Biden

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman congratulated Anthony Albanese on his being sworn in as the new prime minister of Australia, the Saudi Press Agency reported early Tuesday.

In a cable, the king wished the prime minister success and the Australian people further progress and prosperity.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also sent a similar cable to Albanese.

Australia’s new prime minister was sworn in Monday and flew to Tokyo for a summit with US President Joe Biden while vote counting continued to determine whether he will control a majority in a Parliament that is demanding tougher action on climate change.

“I want to lead a government that has the same sentiment of optimism and hope that I think defines the Australian people,” Albanese said in his hometown of Sydney before flying to the national capital Canberra to be sworn in.

Albanese and Malaysian-born Penny Wong, Australia’s first foreign minister to be born overseas, were sworn into office by Governor-General David Hurley before the pair flew to Tokyo for a security summit on Tuesday with Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We will return (from Japan) on Wednesday and set about implementing our agenda, our agenda that received the endorsement of the Australian people,” Albanese said, highlighting items such as climate change, affordable child care and strengthening Medicare.

(With AP)


Saudi FM visits Misk Youth Council pavilion, Saudi Cafe at Davos

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attends events on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. (SPA)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attends events on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. (SPA)
Updated 24 May 2022

Saudi FM visits Misk Youth Council pavilion, Saudi Cafe at Davos

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attends events on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. (SPA)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited the Youth Council pavilion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, the official Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.
Prince Faisal also the Saudi Tourism Authority booth, during his participation in the World Economic Forum (Davos), in Switzerland.
The foreign minister was briefed on the youth dialogue sessions, with the aim of developing young people and enabling them to find creative solutions that seek to address future challenges facing the world.
He also toured the “Saudi Cafe” managed by the Saudi Tourism Authority, represented by the national tourism promotion of “Spirit of Saudi Arabia,” where Saudi coffee is served.
The initiative also includes presenting integrated information about tourism in the Kingdom, to raise awareness about the Kingdom as a tourist destination, for the participants in the Davos forum.


Who’s Who: Turki Al-Thonayan, CEO of the National Security Services Co.

Turki Al-Thonayan
Turki Al-Thonayan
Updated 23 May 2022

Who’s Who: Turki Al-Thonayan, CEO of the National Security Services Co.

Turki Al-Thonayan

Turki Matooq Al-Thonayan was appointed CEO of the National Security Services Co., or SAFE, which is owned by the Public Investment Fund.

Al-Thonayan has more than 25 years of extensive security experience, starting in 1996 with Saudi Aramco, where he eventually became manager of its northern area industrial security operations in 2018.

He later worked at BATIC, overseeing investment and logistics, held the position of CEO at AMNCO, and was appointed to the board of directors of AMNCO Facilities Management.

Prior to AMNCO, Al-Thonayan also served as a part-time board member of Smart Cities Solutions Co.

Al-Thonayan began his extensive career as a part-time lecturer at the Arab Open University. He then ventured to Saudi Aramco where he climbed the executive ladder, starting as a system analyst for the computer security administration.

He then dedicated over 16 years to the company to reach the position of offshore security operations superintendent.

Al-Thonayan’s security experience is diversified across corporate security services, computer security administration, residential area security operations, industrial and maritime infrastructure facilities protection, and security support system and identification systems.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in information and computer science, and later a master’s in the same field, both from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. He has been certified as a port security officer, information systems risk analyst, ethical hacker, fraud examiner, hacking forensic investigator and an SAP consultant, in addition to his membership of many international organizations related to security.

With SAFE, Al-Thonayan is working to uplift the security services industry, maximize integration among security elements, support national security initiatives, offer best-in-class security solutions and combine world-class technology with the expertise of well-trained and distinguished security personnel.