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UAE: “Hydroponic farming is not yet deployed at a meaningful scale”

“While hydroponic farming is extremely relevant to the water-poor Middle East, and incentives for agriculture such as energy and water subsidies have been put in place, the technology has not been deployed at a meaningful scale yet,” Alexander Kappes, founder of Greener Crop states.

Greener Crop was founded in September last year with the goal of enabling hydroponic farming in the Middle East and Africa. Alexander was working at an investment office prior to Greener Crop which brought his attention to the long-existing problem: the country is too dependent on food imports. “We wanted to enable local sustainable farming here as well.” Greener Crop offers farm management solutions, removing entry barriers.

The company offers four key solutions for existing or aspiring farmers: development of crop strategy, input management, physical farm management, and crop marketing. From Container farms to greenhouses and indoor vertical farms, Greener Crop supports their clients from finding the right supplier and setup, to selling the crops in the market. “It’s a great solution if you’re looking for an experienced partner to get your farm up and running, whether it’s short or long term,” says Alexander.

Alexander Kappes

There has been a strong push from local governments to develop alternative farming methods. The government in the UAE has invested over $200 million to support the development of growing facilities. This is a highly valuable approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that even a $40m indoor vertical farm can only contribute 0.03% of the local annual fruit & vegetable consumption. Farming is a highly democratized industry and requires not only a handful of a large farm but thousands of small and medium-sized farms that enable a country to be self-sufficient,” Alexander claims.

Removing barriers
Whether farmers want to expand or convert their farm into a hydroponic farm or an outsider investor, Greener Crop is here to help. The company connects farmers to suppliers and manufacturers, they can either run the farm, handle the supply chain and in some cases, handle the sales. “Clients no longer have to figure out everything on their own – we are here to support them with the operations and even sale of their crops. In many cases, clients are self-consumers such as hotels and restaurants,” Alexander explains.

The company sits together with their clients, comes up with a plan, ticks off the boxes, and starts setting things up, given the customer budget. Based on the expected yield, an approximate selling price per kg can be provided to clients. “We can always predict with a certain degree of accuracy. In this way, we can sketch revenue, utility costs, including labor, etc., which eventually leaves us to the expected profits. After the preliminary proposal is given, we reach out to potential suppliers as we understand what they offer in terms of yield, cycles, crop analyses, costs, and input.”

Green Crop has the ability to run a farm completely independently, however, the client can decide how hands-on they want the company to be. Clients can set foot on the farm at any time. “We can also operate certain parts of the operation such as maintenance for instance. Our benefit is that we come in, with trained staff, they do the work and go out. 

Finding a suitable market
Alexander says, “The difficulty is not in selling all of the produce, but whether you are able to sell it at the right price. The smaller the farm, the higher the production costs. Being able to sell something at the price where it covers all costs is the main goal.” The challenge this therefore to gauge the available client-base for your produce, as well as the competition and their prices. Similarly, a thorough crop strategy must account for seasonal price fluctuations and ensure that we seed to harvest at the right time.

Often, the biggest challenge, according to Alexander, for smaller individual farmers is sourcing the right seeds and nutrients. Finding suppliers of quality products is often a challenge, and in most cases, they require you to buy large quantities that exceed the farms' annual consumption. “There are large differences in quality between suppliers and often when farmers choose the most affordable solution, this results in high costs for maintenance and replacements. For many new manufacturers, hydroponic farming looks like an easy enough industry to get into, but they underestimate the complexity of fine-tuning an indoor farm for efficient farming, and it’s often the farmers that pay the price for this,” Alexander notes.

Greener Crop started operations in the UAE and is now expanding into Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with the rest of the Middle East and all of Africa in their sights. Alexander adds: “As the region in the world most under threat from water stress and shortages, conventional farming is often not a sustainable option. It is for that reason that we chose to focus on enabling hydroponic farming in this area.”

For more information:
Alexander Kappes, Founder and CEO
Greener Crop