News - April 19, 2007

Greenhouses planned in the desert

As oil reserves dry up, the Gulf States are going in search of alternative sources of income. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are investing heavily in horticulture. Last month Jo Wijnands of LEI visited both countries together with representatives from the Dutch horticulture sector to assess the possibilities.

In Saudi Arabia and the UAE there is high population growth, growing demand for fresh fruit and vegetables and above all, lots of money. Oil revenues are being used to broaden the economy so that the countries will not have to depend on oil in the future. In addition to shiny new hotels, this is also leading to expansion in horticulture and flower growing.

The plans are ambitious, says Jo Wijnands who works for LEI. There is already a big farm with six hectares of greenhouse space, where tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are being grown.

The burning question is of course whether there is enough water in the desert to grow tomatoes. ‘It is one big sandpit,’ agrees Wijnands. ‘But a lot is possible if the water is used efficiently. Drip irrigation can be done in the greenhouses, with water that is pumped up from the ground. And in the future they will grow plants on rock wool to make it even more efficient.’ Wijnands will be returning to the Gulf States soon.