Hydroponics: A Solution to Growing in the Arab World
By: Waverly Nohr/ Arab America contributing writer
One defining characteristic of the Middle East is the climate. High speed winds, gut wrenching temperatures make the conditions harsh and unable to support many forms of plant life. And what comes from plants? Food! From fruits to vegetables, even nuts and legumes, many food starts from just a seed in the ground. The Middle East has previously been unable to grow a lot of produce that is found in produce sections of neighborhood grocery stores. This has caused a history of high import prices as well as a detrimental effect on the environment as a result of mass shipping of produce regularly. Hydroponics is a growing technique that is and can entirely change what it means to eat locally and affect the world in a major way. As the Middle East and North Africa have shown potential to be tapped by the hydroponics industry, the main players have been Argus Control Systems, Koninklijke Philips NV, Greentech Agro LLC and many more. Many companies want a piece in this revolution, as it could change life and health as we know it.
What is hydroponics?
As the world advances, there have been more efforts to buy into sustainable practices such as hydroponics. If you don’t know exactly what hydroponics, General Hydroponics explains it as this, “Hydroponics means “working water” (hydro means water and ponos means labor). Many different civilizations have utilized hydroponic growing techniques throughout history. As noted in Hydroponic Food Production by Howard M. Resh: “The hanging gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs of Mexico and those of the Chinese are examples of ‘Hydroponic’ culture. Egyptian hieroglyphic records dating back several hundred years B.C. describe the growing of plants in water.” While hydroponics is an ancient method of growing plants, giant strides have been made over the years in this innovative area of agriculture.”
How did the Egyptians do it?
According to carbon.org,“The ponds were also used to raise fish, and the garden owner would fish in his own garden. The ponds were also used to grow lotus flowers that were a part of the Egyptian diet. The water used for the garden was fertilized by the fish, so this form of agriculture is a very ancient example of aquaculture water being used to raise food.” It was customary to have ponds in the backyard of your house and symbiotically raise tilapia and lotus flowers.
How will this method help in terms of sustainability?
According to Pop Sop, “Hydroponic plant cultivation is widely considered more sustainable than regular farming as it uses around 90% less water. Secondly, hydroponic farming yields more vegetables and herbs in a shorter time. Thirdly, its carbon footprint is minimal as the greens are grown locally.” It may seem confusing that as the plants are growing in water, they somehow use less water than traditional farming, however, less water is being used because of the decreased evaporation as well as the process that keeps the water in the continuous loop of the hydroponics system. Additionally, it is undeniable that hydroponics takes up less space than traditional farming. The hydroponics environment is one where humidity, temperature, and light are all controlled so this is a viable option in any season or harsh environment such as the deserts in the Middle East.
What does the progress look like so far?
According to Farrelly and Mitchell, “Hydroponic farming is also very appropriate given water scarcity issues. Meanwhile making use of land in and around urban centres means low food miles and a guarantee of fresh produce to the consumer. Adoption of hydroponics has been significant in the UAE, where over 200 farms now exist. Thanks to these farms, locally grown produce accounted for 20% of total fruit and vegetable sales in the UAE in 2018.” Hydroponics in times like COVID-19, when exporting and business in general was slowed, proved to be beneficial because of the locality.
What is the future of hydroponics?
Don’t believe it? Let’s look at the projected growth of the hydroponics market from Market Data Forecast, “The Middle East and Africa Hydroponics Market is estimated to reach USD 91.35 million by 2026 from a market value of USD 39.65 million in 2021 at a CAGR of 15.5%.” As a step towards self-sufficiency, the MENA regions can add hydroponics to their portfolio. For those that are interested in the topic more, watch the video down below!
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