Impact story

Conserving water across the globe with greenhouses

Wageningen’s horticultural expertise is applied in several regions around the world for sustainable food production. Adjusting greenhouse technology to local circumstances increases production and reduces water use.

In Saudi Arabia, there is an extensive research centre called Estidamah, the Arabic word for sustainability. In the laboratories and the related greenhouse, in which tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers are grown, researchers study options to reduce the use of water and pesticides. Estidamah was designed mainly by scientists from Wageningen University & Research. WUR researchers remain involved in training and supporting local staff now that construction is completed.

95% less water

Horticultural specialist Jouke Campen was involved in designing and constructing Estidamah and other research centres in the Middle East and tropical regions. According to Campen, much has been achieved in Saudi Arabia. While commercial greenhouses require some 400 litres of water to produce a kilogramme of tomatoes, similar research greenhouses use only 80 litres per kilogramme. This result is achieved through precision, computer-driven watering. This not only reduces water usage but also increases production per square metre. High-tech greenhouses equipped with air conditioning use as little as 5% of the water used in traditional greenhouses.

Wageningen greenhouse experts work across the globe. They contribute to designing research centres in Saudi Arabia and countries such as Australia, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates. In Mexico, they developed a computing model to improve the use of water and fertilisers. In Jordan, they helped growers switch to a more modern growing method which reduced the use of water and increased the yield per square meter by between 30 and 40 per cent.

Local solutions

Wageningen researchers focus on all aspects of the growing process, including local natural enemies that might combat pest insects and different plant varieties such as heat-resistant tomato plants. Moreover, local farmers must be convinced of the advantages of a new approach. Researchers use webinars and specially designed demonstration businesses to share their expertise with farmers and their staff. Jouke Campen sees that the faith of horticulturists in Saudi Arabia in the new developments is gradually increasing.

Dutch greenhouses and growing methods cannot simply be copied in the Gulf region, as it is hot and dry there year-round. Wageningen experts thus always take local circumstances into account. They are world-renowned for their expertise in food safety, food security and sustainability. They help achieve sustainable food production in an increasing number of countries.