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Horticulture in Gulf States thirsty for water knowledge

The agricultural sector in the Gulf States, and particularly in Saudi Arabia, is in transition. Many agricultural activities are still executed in a non-sustainable way, including excessive water use. The use of groundwater for irrigation is leading to depletion of underground water resources.

Government policy
The government’s food security policy is aimed at more efficient water use, crop diversification and reduction of food waste.

Sustainable agriculture is still relatively new in the Gulf States. The government in Saudi Arabia, for example, only started considering it at the end of the last century. A whopping 85% of all fresh water is used by the agricultural sector, so there is high demand for knowledge about water-efficient farming methods.

One example of cooperation between the Gulf States and other countries is the introduction of Dutch high-tech greenhouse systems. Wageningen UR designed the Estidamah Project in Riyadh and the Bani Yas Greenhouses in Abu Dhabi. Both greenhouse systems were built by Dutch greenhouse builders. So-called pad and fan greenhouses have proven popular in the Gulf region.

Closed greenhouse systems
Closed greenhouse systems can reduce water usage to 5%. In addition, these systems lead to a substantial production increase (see Fig. 1), mainly due to the high light intensity in the region, provided that the high temperatures can be controlled. Despite the high investment and high energy consumption, closed greenhouse systems can make an important contribution to the modernization of the agricultural sector in the Gulf States.

Fig. 1 Financial advantage of tomatoes from closed greenhouses (red) versus those from pad and fan greenhouses (black)

Food chain losses
Post-harvest losses are high in the Gulf States (Fig. 2), especially in date, tomato and cucumber cultivation. The problem often occurs in transport, a situation of which the authorities are increasingly aware. The losses affect food security and – very important in the Gulf States – precious water is also lost.

Fig. 2 Estimated food loss rates from producer to retail in Saudi Arabia

The Dutch Ministry of Economy’s agricultural team for the Gulf States has been identifying bottlenecks in the agro-logistics chains and submitting proposals for optimization for several years.The resulting inventory of agro-logistics bottlenecks in Saudi Arabia is important for both the Saudi government and the private sector. It serves as a starting point to offer solutions to the Saudi government and becomes involved in the implementation of measures.

Source: Agroberichten Buitenland
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