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How Saudi Arabia exported tomatoes to Europe for the first time

In February 2024, fresh produce from Saudi Arabia was exported to Europe for the first time. The event was so unique that it was featured on television news. How did Saudi Arabia, with its harsh climate and heavy reliance on imports to cover its local market's needs, manage to export tomatoes to Europe? The answer lies in high-tech greenhouses and vertical farming, and the company behind this feat is Dava Agricultural Co.

Wissam Abdel Samad, Dava's Chief Commercial Officer, tells the story: "In 2017, the idea of an agricultural production project emerged and was motivated by the country's need for a continuous supply of agricultural produce throughout the year, in the pursuit of food security. Implementation began in 2019, and Dava was born. The project covers an area of more than 107 hectares, consisting of greenhouses and vertical farming using cutting-edge technologies. We aim to reach a daily production capacity of 165 tonnes by 2024."

Wissam continued: "With the support of Allah, powerful capabilities, and long experience, the project has established itself as a major player in the agricultural sector and in investment activities. With successful operations and the achievement of our year-round production target, we could move on to the next stage and take on the next challenge: selling all our production at a good price, especially during the winter season. You must know that in the winter, Saudi Arabia is self-sufficient in fresh produce thanks to open-field production, and prices on the local market are at their lowest. So we asked a rather peculiar question: why not export?"

Opening up new markets that offer better prices during the winter was the best way of selling off surplus production, and the choice of the market was also quite evident, according to Wissam. "The European market offers good prices at this time of year and, above all, easier logistics. The Netherlands is the biggest distribution center for fresh produce in Europe. So we've taken action. With the support of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Saudi Export and Saudi Cargo, under the leadership of our CEO, Mr Faisal Al Batal, and with the cooperation of the whole team, from workers to management."

The efforts of Wissam and his teams have paid off this month, says the exporter. "In collaboration with the Dutch company Lehmann & Troost, we exported our first experimental shipment, weighing around 5 tonnes, which was flown out on 12/02/2024. The results were very positive, as the product was classified as premium and matched the most important varieties in demand on the European market. The second shipment of 10 tonnes will be made on 27 February 2024. It is planned that 12 tonnes per day of fresh vegetables will be exported to the European market in 2025 for a period of 4 months, making a total of 1,500 tonnes for the year 2025."

Dava currently produces and markets vine tomatoes, beef tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, herbs, strawberries, and mushrooms. Wissam describes his operations: "Our vegetables are harvested daily and delivered with the utmost freshness, thanks to our refrigerated trucks and innovative packaging options that enhance the flavor and appeal of our exceptional produce. Our green plants thrive in the hot desert environment all year round in areas that were once considered barren by some. Our advanced techniques include climate control systems, efficient irrigation systems, energy and water-saving devices, and automated harvesting systems. Automatic control and robots contribute to operational excellence, improving efficiency. We work with the world's leading seed companies, and our team is professional and internationally experienced. We guarantee food safety through strict programs, including cleanliness, sterilization, environmental monitoring, and staff training. Our products are healthy, free from pesticide residues, and excellent in terms of taste, appearance, and aroma."

With exports now an integral part of Dava's business model, the company is announcing other crops, adds Wissam, "We have several projects in the pipeline: cultivation systems in nurseries to capitalize on leafy greens during non-vegetable seedling exploitation periods, a strawberry farm (semi close + mechanical cooling with CO2 glass GH), agricultural rooms for mushroom production (vertical close system), additional vegetable farming in glass greenhouses with advanced hydroponic agriculture technology, utilizing the SemiClose system with CO2, a farm dedicated to the production of blue, red, and blackberries."The exporter concludes: "We are also in the process of creating a sister company for Vegetables and Fruits Distribution. This will include a sorting, packaging, and distribution center, which will also be made available to contracted farmers, significantly increasing Saudi Arabia's export abilities. Under the same company, we will also import fruit and vegetables from all over the world and distribute them to markets in the Kingdom.

For more information:
Wissam Abdel Samad
DAVA Agricultural Co
Tel.: +966 551081155
Email: [email protected]