Making horticulture in the Middle East more sustainable

Two research centres in the Middle East are planning to lift greenhouse horticulture to a higher sustainability level. It will make a substantial contribution to one of the main problems in the region, namely water shortage. Modern greenhouses are a hundred times more efficient with water than traditional ones. The greenhouse horticulture experts from Wageningen Plant Research are providing knowledge related to the establishment of the centres and will continue to be involved in the training and research programmes once open.

Last year saw the opening of the research centre in Abu Dhabi, recently followed by Estimadah (Arab for sustainability) in Saudi Arabia. “In both cases the governments came to Wageningen Plant Research via the agricultural attaché,” says Jouke Campen, expert in sustainable greenhouse cultivation. “Years ago we presented a plan in Saudi Arabia to tackle problems with water and crop protection. In support we proposed a research centre such as our facilities in Bleiswijk and, five years later, the step was taken to actually go ahead.”

99% water savings
Campen and his colleagues worked with Saudi companies and universities to determine what should be on the research agenda. Based on the results, Wageningen developed the design of the greenhouse and laboratory facilities and integrated them in a tender document. The Dutch greenhouse builder Bom Group eventually built the centre in Riyadh.

“In addition to a large office and laboratories, it offers nearly one hectare of greenhouses at all levels of technology,” Campen continues. “From a low-tech plastic greenhouse with cultivation in the soil, via the mid-tech level of a glass greenhouse with pad-fan cooling, to a high-tech closed greenhouse where the climate can be fully controlled via air conditioning, air treatment and water recirculation. The latter greenhouse saves huge amounts of water but takes a lot of energy to cool. The first results from a similar project in Abu Dhabi are excellent. In a plastic greenhouse cucumber cultivation takes 350 litres of water per kilo of product, in the high-tech green glasshouse it is 2.7 litres/kg, which is over 100 times less.”

Expert supervision
As neither country has a greenhouse horticulture tradition, the cultivation
expertise and management & research skills need to be developed. Scientists from Abu Dhabi visited Bleiswijk for intensive additional training. In Saudi Arabia the technical systems are currently being tested, and the horticultural employees and management staff are being taught how to use them. Once everything is technically operational, experts from Wageningen will supervise the research, both onsite and online, while also involving Saudi university students. There will be permanent representation from Wageningen. Campen: “The next big step is the economic results, which will determine investor interest in this high-tech solution. In addition the research into low and mid-tech greenhouses stimulates greater sustainability within existing horticulture.”

Source: WUR

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