20-hectare Ultra-Clima greenhouse

Growing tomatoes on residual gas in Kazakhstan

In Kazakhstan, construction of a 20-hectare Ultra-Clima greenhouse was recently kicked off. "This year the first five hectares will be built, with a plant nursery next to it," says Dirk Aleven of FoodVentures. "We will reach 20 hectares in the coming years." Dirk just returned from Aktobe, where he saw the first trucks with building materials arrive.

Energy from natural gas
The energy for the greenhouse will be generated with gas that is left over from the production of oil. The government has been looking for ways to use that gas locally, because it can’t be transported very far. Horticulture is a great way to use this waste product, so currently two combined heat and power installations are being built to convert the gas into heat and electricity for the greenhouse.

Focus on local cultivation
In Kazakhstan the focus is increasingly shifting to local cultivation. Until now, trucks from Western Europe and Turkey have been driving to and from the Netherlands to supply the country with fruit and vegetables. However, Kazakhstan is also very suitable for growing vegetables locally. It is cold but also very sunny and the gas is cheap. Horticulture has been on the rise for three years now. And aside from producing for the local market, there are also opportunities for vegetables to neighboring countries such as Russia.

The desire for local cultivation is there, but some challenges remain. "There is a lot of focus on technology, with greenhouses being sold with a promise of how much they will yield. But these greenhouses aren’t capable of really good harvests because there is a lack of cultivation knowledge to make them a success."

A great adventure
Dirk is able to speak from experience, as FoodVentures already set up projects in Ukraine and Georgia. "We also manage an eight-hectare farm in Aktobe, where two Dutch growers, Dick de Jong and Mikel Honders, are working on transferring their knowledge.

Dirk Aleven and Dick de Jong posing in 2015 with lettuce from a hydroponic greenhouse in Georgia

"It’s a great adventure, and nothing is self-evident. You have to ask questions about everything you buy." Dirk did learn some lessons from his previous experiences. "What has gone a lot better in Georgia than in Ukraine is that we did not start too big. It is important to first train a team before scaling up, because then your organization and your customers can rely on the quality you offer. The lay-out for the entire 20 hectares is already finished, however, so we know what we are working towards."

This is what it will look like after a few years

There is also a plan for recruiting workers. "We start out with a strong Dutch presence, and then we will promote ourselves at the local agricultural university near the city." Dirk expects that after three months he can determine which employees are suitable for working in the greenhouse. They will then receive increased pay and further training to increase their cultivation knowledge. "Ultimately, the goal is to do more with fewer, well-educated and well-paid employees."

"The funding requires a completely different approach. In the Netherlands we are used to using long-term capital, but abroad they often aren’t even familiar with horticulture, and long-term funding in most cases is limited to five to seven years. For horticulture this is not a very long period, so we are working with a fund that enables us to start with a large equity capital."
Tasty tomatoes
The greenhouse will be built by KUBO and will be capable of producing 16,000 tons of tomatoes annually. "With Rijk Zwaan, we are looking at which varieties we are going to grow. Right now only Merlice is available, which doesn't rank highest in terms of flavor. Our goal is to grow a tasty vine tomato. If the horticulture sector continues to develop, attention will also be paid to the taste, quality and food safety of the products. Together with Rijk Zwaan and Kazakh supermarkets we are looking at which products we will offer."

For more information:
Dirk Aleven

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