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Corona gives boost to Dutch greenhouse builder in China

The construction of a 17.5 hectare greenhouse near the Chinese city of Shanghai is in full swing. The delivery of the first phase is expected in spring. The greenhouse is a cooperation between Dutch company FoodVentures and Chinese real estate developer Evergrande.

FoodVentures CEO Dirk Aleven: "Corona has given a boost to the demand for greenhouse projects in China and the Far East". Although construction was halted briefly due to the corona lockdown, 200 people are now working in shifts to make up for the delay.

The way things are looking now, the first cucumbers and lettuce will be produced in the spring of 2021. After the summer of 2021, the complete area will be taken into production.

Dutch expats train Chinese growers
The construction of the greenhouse, on the edge of China's largest city with 23 million inhabitants, takes place under supervision of KUBO. Operator FoodVentures is preparing the entire operation and the Dutch team of growers. The cultivation activities in China are being coordinated by Mikel Honders, son of a tomato grower.

Aleven: "In the long term, it is the intention that the Chinese managers take over these cultivation tasks." It is part of the business model of FoodVentures, which uses Dutch knowledge to cooperate with investors in the East. Aleven: "Compare it with the hotel industry. The investor remains the owner of the real estate. FoodVentures is the Hilton team of horticulture and responsible for the entire operation." Construction of their first greenhouse in Ukraine was followed by Georgia, Kazakhstan and now China.

Forerunner green cities
Aleven: "China is of different proportions. Developments in the field of greenhouse horticulture are happening incredibly fast. I would not be surprised if China will be the forerunner in the field of green cities with large production centers on the edge of the city close to the people."

According to Aleven, corona boosted this development. "Corona has been a wake-up call and has convinced people they should not be so dependent on long export chains, and so they want to keep the production close to home."

Attention for food safety because of corona
In contrast with the former Soviet states where FoodVentures is active, China has no vegetable shortage. "China has sufficient vegetables, but the population and particularly the rapidly growing middle class place more demands on food safety. Vegetables come from the open field, from small farmers who sell using cooperatives or traders. This makes the origin untraceable."

Also this development has accelerated due to corona. It is generally assumed that the coronavirus has its origin on an open market in China where all kinds of vegetables, fruit and (wild) animals are being sold. The traceability of these products is often difficult.

Open markets outlawed
Aleven tells how China is doing everything to put an end to these open markets. "They are trying to professionalize the sales chain and to use retail."

Also this development is perfectly suited to FoodVentures. Greenhouse vegetables meet the high, standardized requirements of supermarkets. "Because of the size of our production, we can directly supply retail."

The demand for locally produced, safe food, has also exploded the number requests with FoodVentures from the Middle East. Aleven: "In the past, you used to buy land in Africa and Ukraine, but nowadays, people want it closer to home. Also in these countries they do not want to be dependent anymore on import for food safety."

100 million euros worth of greenhouses
FoodVentures, however, does not intend to act on the Arabic requests. Aleven: "For now, we are focusing on China. It is booming here. We have the intention to, together with our partner Evergrande, build 100 hectares and more of greenhouses." With the Chinese greenhouse, FoodVentures controls 100 million euro of greenhouses.

The greenhouse in Kazakhstan. Dirk regularly share updates, such as 'Domino Day' this summer when sowing 100,000 seeds

FoodVentures Kazakhstan
In Kazakhstan, where FoodVentures also controls a greenhouse project, the first tomatoes have been harvested on an area of five hectares. Under the supervision of Dutch grower Dick de Jong, five hectares of the greenhouse will be commissioned next month.

Aleven: "Kazakhstan has a large shortage of fresh vegetables, particularly year-round. We mostly supply to Kazakhstan and north-east Russia (Siberia). This region is up to 80 percent dependent on vegetable import during winter."

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