A local farm in Qatar has developed a sophisticated hydroponics system, capable of producing various types of vegetables and fruits, in a bid to help the country achieve food security.
Speaking to Gulf Times, Agrico managing director Nasser Ahmed al-Khalaf said they had made a lot of modifications in hydroponics farming to produce an all-organic fresh produce in order to meet the growing demand in Qatar.
Agrico, a private local Qatari agricultural development company established in 2011 with the aim of helping Qatar achieve food security, operates a 120,000sqm (12 hectares) organic farm in Al Khor. Its first production was in May 2012.
“Asians or Westerners did not develop a system that would be suitable for this area, especially Qatar,” he said. “What we did was to develop our own system, which would be suitable for our environment.”
The local farm owner noted that vegetable-exporting countries in Asia, Europe and the US have the technology and know-how but these are inapplicable in the Gulf.
Al-Khalaf explained that regions with proper winter, such as Europe, especially the northern parts, only have heating systems.
For Qatar's conditions, he said, they have developed a cooling system that can reduce temperature inside the greenhouse to 16C, depending on the type of vegetables and fruits grown.
Some varieties need temperatures of around "16C, 18C or 20C during a certain time of the day" for the plant to have the right texture, size and taste, among other features.
“Our vegetables can last for a month on the shelves without changing,” he said, adding that they can produce an average of 6 tonnes daily during the summer, which is 30% lower than the winter production. The farm plans to produce more in the near future.
With this technology, he said, "Qatar has become one of the largest producers of organic vegetables in the world using what he described as a promising and one-of-its-kind hydroponics technology".
“As long as you are providing the right temperature, right humidity, right amount of light (sun radiation), right fertiliser and right amount of water, you can grow anything,” al-Khalaf added. “I guarantee that all types of vegetables can be grown, I have tried this myself and we have been successful in this.”
Agrico has started growing five types of fruits, including papaya and lemon (experimental stage). It expects the plants to bear fruits in a year or two.
As Agrico products continue to be supplied to more than 150 supermarkets and small outlets in Qatar, he said “there will be a lot of surprises soon”.
“We are going to produce root crops, fresh leaves and herbs such as coriander, parsley, green onion, basil and mint, among others,” he said, adding that producing iceberg lettuce, carrots, potatoes and white onion, in the next few months.
While Qatar currently imports various types of fresh vegetable and fruits from European, Asian and American countries, he expressed confidence that the country would soon achieve self-sufficiency.
The cooling system is also suitable for livestock, poultry and fish
Apart from vegetables and fruits, local farm owner Nasser Ahmed al-Khalaf said the cooling system they have developed is also suitable for livestock, poultry and fish farming.
“It is an integrated system, we take advantage of the vegetable greenhouses and in between we cool an empty wasted area using the cold air that comes out from the greenhouse,” he added.
Al-Khalaf explained that they harness this cold air, which comes out of the greenhouse, for testing an area of his farm to grow fruits. This can bring down the temperature from 45C, for example, to 27C on an open field.
The entire system - from temperature and humidity to solar radiation and water irrigation - has to be monitored "round-the-clock, seven days a week", according to the farm owner.
“Even if I am abroad, I get a warning from my mobile phone if any abnormality happens,” he noted.
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