The story of Robinson Agri
NFT cultivation system can boost lettuce production in Lebanon
The use of a hydroponic channel system with nutrient film technique (NFT) -a thin layer streaming water with nutrients- to produce lollo rossa, lollo bionda, little gem and batavia lettuce is completely new for Lebanese growers. With Rijk Zwaan’s help, Robinson Agri -a supplier to the horticultural sector based in Byblos, Lebanon, and Rijk Zwaan’s exclusive distributor in the country since 2000- recently introduced this concept. The first five projects with growers are already under way, explains Director Nadine El Khoury.
More lettuce types thanks to ‘new cuisine’
“This region is a very big sales market for fresh produce. Lebanese consumers eat a lot of salads, with any meal of the day. The most popular lettuce type is traditionally cos. But since 2007 we’ve seen a growing demand for all kinds of lettuce types, including other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. This is due to the rise of the ‘new cuisine’ and fast-food chains."
Demos in trial locations
“NFT enables us to respond to that rising demand. Two years ago our agricultural engineers joined some Rijk Zwaan employees on an NFT study trip to Malaysia. They came back filled with such enthusiasm that we set up demos at two of our trial locations last year. The specialists from Rijk Zwaan helped us, not only with the choice of the right lettuce varieties but also with technical issues such as fertilisation. It’s thanks to their expertise that we’ve been able to launch NFT here.”
Higher yield, longer shelf life
“The system costs are considerably higher, of course, but that’s outweighed by the benefits. For example, the lettuce yield with NFT is four to five times higher. In terms of other advantages, this method is more hygienic and reduces water consumption – not only during crop production, but also when cleaning the lettuce ready for sale. On top of that, the production process can be automated which saves labour costs. And, further down the chain, the product has a longer shelf life because the lettuce plants are harvested and sold with their roots still attached. In other words, NFT delivers a good return on investment.”
Seminar for growers
In May 2017, we organised an NFT seminar for growers, academics, investors and NGOs. In view of the importance of the NFT technique both economically and environmentally, the American aid agency USAID is currently providing small grants for potential clients to encourage the adoption of this technique. We have started five pilot projects. I firmly believe that the concept contributes to both a higher yield and export growth for lettuce types – providing that the political situation in our region remains stable, of course.”