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“Our core philosophy is to bring food production close to where it’s being consumed,” Dirk Aleven, CEO of FoodVentures.

10-hectare tomato greenhouse inaugurated in Kazakhstan

FoodVentures is preparing its third expansion after it recently inaugurated its greenhouse project out of Kazakhstan. The CEA infrastructure has been constructed in the Aktobe region and spans over 10 hectares, with a realized output of 8,000 tons of produce this year, 2022. "Our core philosophy is to bring food production close to where it's being consumed," says Dirk Aleven, CEO of FoodVentures.

Dirk explains that this project was built from scratch, and FoodVentures owns 51% of it. "We started with literally nothing here. The first thing to secure was the land, and we got these 57 hectares. Then, we started building phase by phase." The greenhouse complex is divided into 5 hectares dedicated to lit cultivation, 5 hectares to non-lit cultivation, and an additional 1 hectare of the nursery. "On top of that, we have two co-generators on-site producing 4.2 megawatts per hour each," he points out.

Cheap energy 
The energy was one of the main reasons why FoodVentures decided to set up their cultivation in Kazakhstan. "This country has excessive gas, so it is 70% cheaper than elsewhere. Mainly, we use that gas that would otherwise get flared. So, we are transforming that to supply heating and electricity to the cultivation."

Reliable and even cheap energy supply is crucial when running data-driven cultivation. "The greenhouse is semi-closed, with our sensors and automated systems that truly make it data-driven," Dirk points out. "We have one excellent FoodVentures head grower on site, who is constantly supported by our Expertise Center, which works closely with the supplier, KUBO, in this case. The support is 24/7, constantly watching what's going on in the greenhouse. In this way, the head grower can make the necessary adjustments, and nothing is left to chance."

For lit cultivation, Dirk and FoodVentures are using HPS for two reasons. "First of all, energy prices are not an issue, so we can run HPS without worrying about that. However, we mainly went for that because the heat they produced is not wasted at all here. It's -25 outside now, so we literally use 100% of the heat emitted by the HPS. In our greenhouse in Georgia, for instance, we run LEDs – we were actually one of the first doing that in the CIS – because we definitely don't need excessive heat." All that together ensures that FoodVentures can produce around 82kg of tomatoes per sqm in their Kazakhstan greenhouse.

In a country where tomato supply is unreliable, and quality is widely lacking, FoodVentures is now poised to tackle that demand with local production. "The import mainly comes from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and the supply is very unreliable. Sometimes there's a lot, sometimes there's nothing. On top of that, the quality leaves a lot to be desired, and pesticides are widely used. With our new greenhouse, we can finally provide quality tomatoes to the local communities at an affordable price. In doing that, we are also cutting down on emissions, as transportation is greatly reduced." The cultivation will not only benefit Kazakhstan's food security but will also contribute to the economy in the region. "We are the biggest taxpayer, and we are proud to contribute. We make sure that the jobs at our locations are permanent. We don't resort to seasonal workers at all. The people that started with us are still with us for years."

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