14 Nov 2020

“Biggest challenge for horticulture in the Middle-East? To increase yields using less water”

The world population is increasing rapidly, which is also notable in the Middle East and North Africa, regions visited by Gert-Jan Krook, Area Manager at Rijk Zwaan, on a regular basis. As a result, the demand for fresh vegetables in densely populated cities like Cairo, Bagdad, Riyad and Dubai goes up as well. In the meantime, fresh water is increasingly scarce. How to grow more vegetables while using less water?

Fresh water: a big challenge

One of the main reasons behind the limited availability of fresh water in the Middle East and North Africa are the changing climate conditions. Summers are becoming hotter, rainfall is less regular and predictable, deserts are advancing and many areas suffer from soil salinization. While in order to grow (more) vegetables, one needs sufficient fresh water of sufficient quality. No further explanation needed: a big challenge to deal with.

Looking for solutions

All over the region, people search for solutions, Gert-Jan says. “Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are interested in the expertise and techniques Dutch companies have gained and developed over the years. Greenhouse building companies, suppliers of substrates and climate systems, all are part of the solution. As a breeding company, we also share our knowledge with growers throughout the region.”

Growing differently

“We provide advice in the switch to other cultivation methods, allowing growers to grow more efficient and sustainable. For example by growing lettuce hydroponically – in which Rijk Zwaan has a leading position in the Middle East and North Africa as it comes to providing the right varieties – you are able to recirculate the water you use. And by switching to protected cultivation in crops like tomato, cucumber and pepper, moisture is better retained. Moreover, the water needs to be of sufficient quality. Water makes up 90% of the entire plant. Quality fresh water is crucial for both crop yields and shelf life of the vegetables.”

Which variety fits?

When growing vegetables in a different way, you need varieties that are suitable for these methods. “Our varieties are tested extensively to see how they perform under these conditions. We also take the changing climate conditions into account, and the challenges that come along. Which varieties do cope better with heath, and which are more tolerant to salt? Like other disciplines, also breeding is part of the solution.”

Desalinizing by sunlight

Another inspiring initiative in the region-wide quest for solutions is the Sahara Forest Project. Rijk Zwaan supplies the vegetable seeds for this project. “By using sunlight, sea water is desalinized and turned into fresh water, which is used for the irrigation of vegetable crops”, Gert-Jan explains. “At this moment, the technique is not ready for application on larger scale, but in the long run, this might a part of the puzzle as well. In the end, our challenge is to provide consumers in these regions with enough, affordable and healthy vegetables. That is our shared and ultimate objective.”

Interested in the solutions we provide? See https://www.rijkzwaan.com/solutions

Want to know more about the Sahara Forest Project? Check out these movies

Gert-Jan Krook