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Saudi Arabia: thanks to the "artificial climate" the desert will flourish

Dutch technologies in support of the food sovereignty of the Middle Eastern country

Climate change is man-made. We are not talking about the non-deliberate changes that ignite the current debate, a consequence of global C02 emissions, but about real "synthetic climates" and artificial ones which, on the contrary, could create favorable conditions for cultivation and other human activities. Saudi Arabia, for example, is partnering with a Dutch greenhouse company to make the desert bloom. According to reports from The Economic Times, it would be a total area the size of about 15 football fields, on the outskirts of Neom, a recently founded city on the Red Sea. The medium to long-term goal is to make Saudi Arabia less dependent on imports, an unavoidable choice until now, due to the extremely arid climate.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with the Dutch Van Der Hoeven horticultural project , whose $120 million contract with the Saudi government calls for the construction of two test facilities on the outskirts of Neom, together with their service and operation for several years . “We are building a synthetic climate in places where outdoor cultivation is difficult to achieve,” said Van Der Hoeven managing director Michiel Schoenmaeckers . Food security is a priority for the planners of Neom, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 's $500 billion project to transform a desert expanse the size of Belgium into a high-tech region aiming to house millions.

The urgency for such a project has accelerated as the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine exposed the fragility of supply chains and highlighted the risks to food security in the Middle East. Among the most recent deals, Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund signed a pact with US-based AeroFarms to set up a company in Riyadh to build and operate indoor vertical farms in the country.

In Neom, Saudi Arabia is seeking support from the Netherlands, which has become the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world after the United States despite being one of Europe's smallest nations. Dutch influence has grown through innovative solutions such as advanced greenhouses and vertical farming, with half of the country's entire land area devoted to agricultural production. In addition to meeting the needs of the new city, the goal is ultimately to transform the nascent structures into a regional food hub. Construction began in early 2023, and the plan is for the test facilities to be completed within the next year. “We will increase to hundreds of hectares with different types of greenhouses,” Neom Food CEO Juan Carlos Motamayor said.

Neom needs more than a thousand hectares of greenhouses to reach its goal of producing over 300,000 tons of fruit and vegetables, a goal it is trying to achieve in the next 8-10 years. The Dutch firm, which is combining a number of the latest horticulture technologies including AI-driven cultivation and advanced water filtration systems, aims to start operating the first site as early as August next year .

A new solar and seawater cooling system has been introduced to operate the greenhouse during the extremely hot summer season. The approach will significantly reduce the consumption of water from the local network. At another site, a quarantine greenhouse will be built for the introduction of perennial crops to Neom.

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EFA News - European Food Agency