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Barely Scratched the Surface in the MENA AgTech

Barely Scratched the Surface in the MENA AgTech

HortiDaily.com Publication dated Fri 23 October 2020, of this author, Jan Jacob Mekes‘ article titled “We have barely scratched the surface in the MENA AgTech sector” could well be a fair description of yet another operation of ‘greening the desert‘.

“Badia Farms is the first commercial vertical farm to launch in the GCC. We officially started operations in the heart of Dubai in 2016, but the seeds were planted further back. My background is in engineering and banking. I first took the entrepreneurial leap in Saudi Arabia in the hospitality sector by opening multiple unique restaurant concepts.” That’s how Omar Al Jundi, Founder & CEO of Badia Farms, one of the speakers at the upcoming Agritecture Xchange, introduces himself.

Mesmerized by hydroponics

When he decided to enter his next venture, he says “I knew it had to be both challenging and able to add value and make a difference to our society and communities. When I was introduced to the concept of hydroponics, I was mesmerized with this new technique of growing where we don’t require any soil, we can recycle 90% of the water, and it can be grown in a fully closed environment, without even sunlight!  Years before we launched I learned as much from experts, conferences, courses, and by working in a high-tech greenhouse facility in Holland.”

Sustainability

Food security is one of the main issues in the MENA region, and the development of sustainable farming is crucial. “We have seen this first hand during the early days of the Covid pandemic,” Omar says. “Produce supply chains were halted, and many countries (especially in MENA) had to reassess their long-term plans and fast-track their commitment to AgTech models such as vertical farming.”

The choice to go vertical

Vertical farming and AgTech is needed in the GCC. Why? Omar explains: “Over-dependence on imported produce and the simple fact that traditional framing does not work in our arid desert climate. I want to tackle an issue that will make a difference to society while preserving our natural resources such as water. Badia products are pesticide and herbicide-free. Since our crops are grown naturally in sterile, soil-free mediums, along with the controlled environment, it removes the need for harmful additives. We can also harvest fresh produce all year round. Our harvest yields 4-8 times the amount of crops in the same space compared to conventional soil farming. As a former restaurateur, it has been amazing to be able to work with the top chefs and restaurants in the UAE and be able to supply them with fresh, better than organic flavourful products that wouldn’t be available to them otherwise. The journey from food to table is much shorter.”

Barely Scratched the Surface in the MENA AgTech
Optimal growth conditions

In this vertical farming environment, Badia Farms is able to control every aspect of the ecosystem to ensure optimal growth conditions are provided for each crop. “For example, our facilities utilize LEDs, artificial lighting to replace the sunlight, we control and monitor all environmental inputs (humidity, temperature, CO2), and we use computer linked dosing units to schedule the irrigation and feed formulas,” Omar points out. “Lastly, our hydroponic growing methods use 90% less water compared to open field growing, and since we recirculate our water there’s no wastage.”

Support needed

There were also some challenges along the way to achieving this, as AgTech and modern farming are still very new to the region. “The biggest challenge is there aren’t off the shelf solutions that we can purchase and implement immediately,” Omar says. “In the case of vertical farming, which is still at an infancy stage globally, we had to design our own grow system to form our IP and ensure we have a commercial operation that will yield high-quality products and profits to ensure we stay in business. We surely need a lot more support from the government and private sectors for this industry to see the light. For example, the government can support the industry by introducing cost-effective initiatives that reduce the operational cost that will ensure the viability of the projects. Educating the public and consumers on the benefits of modern farming and vertical farming is very important to ensure the continuity of this new industry. We are seeing more regional and global VC’s and investment funds interested in the AgTech sector in our region, but they haven’t made the big investments yet!”

Barely Scratched the Surface in the MENA AgTech
Opportunities in the Middle East

Asked what advice Omar would give to people looking into breaking into the UAE food/ag market, he says: “What’s great right now is that we have barely scratched the surface in the MENA AgTech sector, so there are so many opportunities, which has been propelled by the pandemic. The UAE is an open economy, I suggest whoever is interested to enter the market to come and meet with the different governmental entities, to meet with distributors, understand the market dynamics, pricing, etc. Come and do the work themselves vs hiring a consultant to do the job. The journey won’t be easy. But even with the advent of technology farming is still what it was hundreds of years ago: to grow something needs constant attention, passion, and patience.”

Barely Scratched the Surface in the MENA AgTech
E-commerce platform

Badia Farms has a lot in store for the future, like increasing their product offering, expanding their facility in the UAE, and growing their team. “We are also excited about the launch of our own e-commerce platform! The crop will be harvested only once a customer places an order and will reach them within a couple of hours. We are also raising our next round of funding. So a lot is going on”, Omar concludes.

Omar Al Jundi will be one of the speakers during the upcoming Agritecture Xchange. When registering, you can use the code ‘HDaily10’ to get 10% off tickets.

For more information:
Badia Farms www.badiafarms.com

Most Important Source of Sulfur to the Environment

Most Important Source of Sulfur to the Environment

Fossil Fuels Replaced by Agriculture As Largest Human Source of Sulfur to the Environment

By SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY, AUGUST 25, 2020

Historically, coal-fired power plants were the largest source of reactive sulfur, a component of acid rain, to the biosphere. A new study recently publishing Aug. 10 in the journal Nature Geoscience shows that fertilizer and pesticide applications to croplands are now the most important source of sulfur to the environment.

There are multiple forms of sulfur inputs used in agricultural systems, including elemental sulfur and sulfate, among others. Credit: Illustration by K. M. Driscoll

Acid rain gained attention in the 1960s and 1970s when scientists linked degradation of forest and aquatic ecosystems across the northeastern US and Europe to fossil fuel emissions from industrial centers often hundreds of kilometers away. This research prompted the Clean Air Act and its Amendments, which regulated air pollution, driving sulfur levels in atmospheric deposition down to low levels today.

“It seemed like the sulfur story was over,” said Eve-Lyn Hinckley, assistant professor of environmental studies at University of Colorado, Boulder, and lead author of the study. “But our analysis shows that sulfur applications to croplands in the US and elsewhere are often ten times higher than the peak sulfur load in acid rain. No one has looked comprehensively at the environmental and human health consequences of these additions.”

Sulfur is a naturally occurring element that exists primarily in stable, geologic forms and is an important plant nutrient. Through mining activities, including fossil fuel extraction as well as synthesis of fertilizers and pesticides, sulfur is brought into air, land, and water systems. It can react quickly, and, as decades of research on acid rain showed, affect ecosystem health and the cycling of toxic metals that pose a danger to wildlife and people.

“Although sulfur is applied to agricultural lands to improve the production and health of crops, it can have detrimental effects to agricultural soils and downstream waters, similar to what occurred in remote forest landscapes under acid rain,” indicates Charles Driscoll, a professor at Syracuse University and co-author of the study.

The researchers examined trends in sulfur applications across multiple important crops in the US, including corn in the Midwest, sugarcane in Florida, and wine grapes in California. Their models of surface water sulfate export demonstrate that while areas like New England show declining trends in response to recovery from historic atmospheric deposition, sulfate export from agricultural areas is increasing.

Driscoll says an example of the impacts of agricultural applications of sulfur is the enhanced formation of methylmercury in waters draining agricultural lands, such as the Everglades Agricultural Area in Florida. Methylmercury is a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in food chains leading to high concentrations in fish and increasing exposure of mercury to humans and wildlife that consume these fish.

The researchers predict that increasing trends will continue in many croplands around the world, including places like China and India that are still working to regulate fossil fuel emissions.

To date, much research has focused on understanding and regulating nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, which can cause eutrophication, fish kills, and harmful algal blooms downstream of agricultural areas.

Hinckley and Driscoll believe it is time for the research community to apply lessons learned while investigating the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers to studying the implications of high sulfur use in agriculture. This research must seek not only to document its environmental and human health effects, but also to collaborate with farmers to investigate how to optimize sulfur use.

“Sulfur in agriculture is not going away,” said Hinckley, “Yet there is an opportunity to bring science and practice together to create viable solutions that protect long-term environmental, economic, and human health goals.”

Reference: “A shift in sulfur-cycle manipulation from atmospheric emissions to agricultural additions” by Eve-Lyn S. Hinckley, John T. Crawford, Habibollah Fakhraei and Charles T. Driscoll, 10 August 2020, Nature Geoscience.
DOI: 10.1038/s41561-020-0620-3

Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale, and Syracuse University participated in this study.

Shortages and transboundary water conflicts

Shortages and transboundary water conflicts

Water shortages and transboundary water conflicts are fuelling conflicts across Africa and the Middle East. Add to that rapid urbanisation, and it’s a potentially explosive mix.

Water wars will increasingly fuel African and Middle East conflicts

By Clive Lipchin and Hussein Solomon• 21 August 2020

Shortages and transboundary water conflicts
Through dialogue and creative thinking the myriad challenges brought on by water scarcity can be resolved, say the writers. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

The planet is heating up fast. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East and Africa where the impacts on water security and food security can exacerbate the conflict dynamics already extant in both regions.

Between 80 and 100 million of the MENA’s (Middle East and North Africa) citizens will suffer from water stress by 2025. According to researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute who had assembled data from 1986 to 2005 and compiled over two dozen models, even under the best-case scenarios, temperatures are set to rise by 4°C across the MENA region by 2050. In 2016, the MENA region recorded its highest temperature of 54°C at Mitribah in Kuwait and Basra in Iraq saw temperatures soar to 53.9°C.

As in the Middle East, temperature increases in Africa are expected to far exceed the global norms. Hotter nights and recurrent heatwaves are expected to be the norm for those residing within 15 degrees of the Equator. In West Africa, little precipitation combined with increased evaporation has resulted in lower crop yields. In southern Africa, too, a similar phenomenon is at play with Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa looking into the abyss of an arid future. Drought and desertification in the Sahel has resulted in the United Nations labelling it as one of the most environmentally degraded regions on the planet.

This looming environmental catastrophe is made worse by massive population growth and urbanisation. In the MENA region there was a 400% growth in urbanisation between 1970 and 2010 and the pace of urbanisation between 2010 and 2050 is expected to be 200%. To put it into perspective, while 56% of the total population of 357 million MENA citizens lived in cities in 2010, by 2050, 68% of the region’s 646 million residents will live in cities.

A similar dynamic is occurring on the African continent which is expected to double its 1.1 billion population by 2050. Urbanisation is at play here too. By 2025, there will be 100 African cities with a population of more than one million inhabitants.

Given the myriad failures of governments across Africa and the Middle East to appropriately plan for this new normal, tensions have intensified within states and across regions around access to scarce water resources.

Many analysts have noted how the Syrian civil war has its roots in the environment – specifically the severe 2006-2010 drought. This compelled 1.5 million farmers to leave their land and migrate to the city. In the process, not only was food insecurity increased, but also greater political friction and social instability. In a similar fashion, the various insurgencies and recruitment into terrorist organisations in the Sahel has its roots in access to water resources and arable land.

At a regional level, it is access to water, where one starkly witnesses the political and geo-strategic dimension of environmental challenges. This is specifically true under transboundary conditions where water resources cross political borders. The transboundary nature of water makes its management inherently a political one. As the climate crisis exacerbates both Africa’s and the MENA’s water insecurity political dialogue on water is essential.

Israel and South Africa are both arid countries that are challenged by water scarcity in the face of growing demand. Most of the water for both countries is transboundary as well. South Africa’s water vulnerability is best known internationally during the 2018 water crisis in Cape Town, but the country has always been in one way or another water insecure.

Israel too faces many water challenges, specifically in the transboundary arena in terms of the continuing Israel-Palestinian conflict. The two countries can nevertheless learn from one another to improve their resilience to water vulnerability under climate change and political uncertainty.

Israel can learn from South Africa on how to innovatively solve for what many believe are intractable political complexities and South Africa can gain from Israel’s adoption of non-conventional water supplies such as desalination and wastewater reuse.

Now more than ever, there is a need for far-sighted leadership who could provide the necessary strategic thinking to mitigate the impact of climate change on scarce water resources. Inclusive and effective water governance at a domestic level is imperative while international protocols for shared river basins need to be completed at a regional level. Leveraging technology to ensure maximum use of existing water resources is also imperative.

Water is a fundamental human right and the most basic of natural resources. Through dialogue and creative thinking the myriad challenges brought on by water scarcity can be resolved. DM

Hussein Solomon is a Senior Professor: Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State. Clive Lipchin is the Director, Centre for Transboundary Water at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. On 3 September 2020 they will be hosting a joint webinar on Transboundary Water management in Southern Africa and the Middle East with experts in both regions.  To register for the seminar, click here

An Ambition Built on Sand?

An Ambition Built on Sand?

We all heard of Egypt pressing on with its new capital in the desert but is this the Pandora box? Or is it just another one? In any case, here is Nathan Toronto wondering An Ambition Built on Sand? in Carnegie Middle East Center of 17 August 2020.


Egypt has long sought to expand habitation and agriculture into the desert, but the obstacles are great.

Two of Egypt’s most daunting strategic challenges are population growth and the scarcity of arable land. Almost all of Egypt’s 100 million people call the Nile Valley home, and all of Egypt’s agricultural production occurs along the ribbon of the Nile and its Delta.

Severe overcrowding, a massive housing deficit, loss of arable soil to incessant urbanization, dense vehicle traffic, and worsening air pollution are among the many consequences. With 95 per cent of the country’s territory untouched, it is no surprise that for decades Egyptian leaders have sought to expand urban areas and agriculture into the desert.

Horizontal expansion is extremely costly, but every president since 1954 has pressed forward nonetheless, as a recent report by Carnegie’s Yezid Sayigh on Egypt’s military economy details.

If the effort were to succeed, it could prove a boon for Egypt’s economic and human development. New farmland and cities could reduce the country’s reliance on importing much of its food and bring it closer to fulfilling the aspirations of various social sectors for upward mobility. But, as this video asks, is it a realizable dream worth the massive investment of scarce funds, or just a costly mirage?

More on: 

I tried to go zero-waste in 2019

I tried to go zero-waste in 2019

A Civilisation Hell bent on Destroying Itself seems to be what is pushing today’s people to try anything within their reach. For instance, Deepti Kannapan starts in his article dated August 5 by stating: I tried to go zero-waste in 2019 before adding ‘I bought my groceries bulk or package-free whenever I could, carried my own silverware to the work cafeteria, and stopped ordering food delivered to my house.’ Here is that article.


What Can One Person Do to Protect The Environment?

Three things: Innovate, call their Representative, and organize boycotts

Every time I went to a big-chain coffee store I made sure to pointedly ask for my coffee “for here, in a mug” while making eye contact with the cashier and miming holding a mug. Even with all this emphasis, about every one time in twenty I got handed a disposable coffee cup. At this point I’d be torn: that cup is going in the trash no matter what I did; but I dislike the experience of drinking from a disposable coffee cup. I usually ended up asking the barista to pour it into a mug for me.

Eventually, I told my regular barista that I’d quit disposable coffee cups as a new year’s resolution (which it was not). He changed the order and thanked me for making that resolution.

Most people reacted similarly when I told them what I was doing: with admiration, and then backing away by saying they could never do it themselves. Overall, not an encouraging reaction, because I’m not having much impact by myself. I’m just one person out of billions.

Innovate in your household.

My zero-waste experiment in 2019 resulted in a lot of frustration, but that frustration was useful. I deeply understood the difficulties of eschewing disposable cups.

Using this knowledge, I’ve been experimenting with methods to store my reusable cups and workflows for washing and replacing them. I’m hoping to find or develop a cup that’s fun to drink out of, easy to wash, store, and keep dry.

Innovations like this aren’t particularly high-tech or difficult to do, but that is how progress often happens. According to Eric Von Hippel, a professor who studies innovation at MIT,

Every field we look at in terms of the basic innovations, about half were done by users. And it’s fantastic. Companies very seldom mention the user-developed roots of their innovations.

If you’re frustrated by a problem, you’re uniquely qualified to figure out a solution, whether that’s a trash sorting system, a modified water bottle, or durable clothing.

People modifying products to make them do what they want is how we got the mountain bike. Companies often incorporate the modifications users want, as Von Hippel describes.

And then as a lot of people begin to do it, they say, “Aha! Not only is there a proven innovation, but there’s a signal of general demand.” And that’s the point at which you begin to define what a mountain bike should look like.

Participate in the political process.

Innovating helps create the technologies and processes that push the envelope beyond what we already have. Now the question is, will people use them?

They will if you regulate industries and compel them to adapt with the improvements in the state of the art.

Politics is an area where at first glance, it can seem like an individual voter has no influence. I found the idea of getting involved overwhelming. The 2018 election was the first time I participated beyond voting — I canvassed voters, phone banked, and called my Representatives, as often as I felt up to it, and eased my way into greater engagement.

And the results showed me how momentum can build.

Start small. Sign up for a mailing list of an organization like the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, or any group that resonates with you, and keep aware of environment-related bills that are coming up in your state or country.

Then, after a while, when you feel brave enough, call your Member of Congress or whoever represents you win your government, and tell them how you’d like them to vote on it.

Organize boycotts.

I put this last because this is where most people assume you have to start. I am in favor of boycotts, but only when there is enough leverage to give them a chance of success.

Boycotts tend to work by tarnishing a company’s brand. They work best when the company has a good reputation that is sliding, and that it wants to restore. Boycotts don’t need to significantly impact the company’s revenue to succeed.

Most importantly, they need to be well-organized, focused, and strategic. So just buying what you approve of and not buying what you don’t will not have much of an impact.

Zephyr Teachout, an author and associate professor of law at Fordham Law School, wrote in a recent Atlantic article:

[…] we have somehow inculcated a belief that if someone fails to boycott a company, she lacks standing to object to political behavior or to petition Congress for change. People feel guilty about not boycotting, and that guilt gets in the way of full-throated political protest.

There’s no need to feel guilty about the products you buy. You can’t boycott every flawed product in the world at once; you wouldn’t be able to live.

It’s a good idea to learn to plan an effective boycott. It starts with choosing the right target — a company that is sensitive to criticism. Done right, boycotts can succeed.

Think big.

My avoidance of disposable coffee cups probably didn’t cause the coffee shop to order fewer of them. It probably didn’t cause the overall market for disposable cups to decrease, or fewer cups to be manufactured.

That’s okay because my experiment got me thinking bigger — about the possible products we haven’t yet invented, the legislation we need, and the markets and industries as a whole.

It got me thinking about where we have the most leverage. That’s where we are going to act.

Here’s the workbook I use for researching and selecting sustainable products.Sustainability Experiments

Tools and processes as building blocks to a better supply chain

F

WRITTEN BY

Deepti Kannapan

The Levant and North Africa: on the verge of . . . .

The Levant and North Africa: on the verge of . . . .

An Analysis dated 7 August 2020 by Dr Tankut Oztas is concerned by The Levant and North Africa with a challenging statement like: on the verge of economic malaise?
The pandemic-induced crisis is expected to exacerbate poverty, deepen inequality and constrain households’ access to basic needs, including health service.

ANALYSIS – The Levant and North Africa: on the verge of economic malaise?

ISTANBUL:  The spread of COVID-19 undoubtedly has had a catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable communities of the world. According to a recent World Bank report, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is ranked as second-lowest among all regions in the overall Global Health Security Index, and it comes last in terms of both epidemiology workforce and emergency preparedness and response planning. Without an effective and coordinated set of policies to achieve a swift economic recovery, the region is highly likely to suffer from greater political instabilities and become a breeding ground for terror groups.

The COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated these pre-existing vulnerabilities and risks in the widely-mismanaged economies of the MENA, where medical systems are under-resourced and much-needed infrastructure either destroyed or lacking.

A range of harsh anti-COVID-19 measures such as self-isolation, social distancing, and lockdowns, including total curfews and international travel restrictions have been implemented by governments to control the spread of the virus and protect lives.

These preventive measures, however, led economies across the region to experience severe supply and demand shocks. The most recent regional economic outlook reports published by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast that regional economies would most likely experience a sharp economic fallout by –4.2 per cent and 4.7 per cent in 2020, respectively.

Still, the real socio-political and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the MENA remains highly uncertain and will strictly depend on the duration of the outbreak and the effectiveness of the policy responses developed by each nation.

The current predictions, however, suggest that all critical macroeconomic indicators such as fiscal and current account balances, foreign reserves, and the inflow of foreign direct investment will be distressed as a result of the crisis. The pandemic-induced crisis is expected to exacerbate poverty, deepen inequality and constrain households’ access to basic needs, including health services.

The economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic effectively forced almost all countries in the region to request financial assistance from the IMF or other financial institutions to strengthen their economic position and prevent the possibility of a prolonged economic recession. As a result, regional economies have become heavily dependent on the reform directions of the IMF, World Bank, and other investment banks.

Socio-economic and political tensions remain a distinct possibility in the post-pandemic era if policy responses fail to meet the demands of the majority and set a path for swift economic recovery. Countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and Tunisia already have debilitated capabilities. Persisting socio-political and economic hardship exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to a vicious cycle of economic malaise.

The same outcome applies to the only two oil-exporting countries of the region, Iraq and Algeria. Their economies were hit by the complete halt of economic activities due to the pandemic and have also been severely affected by the crash of oil prices. A similar assessment is applicable to war-torn countries of the region, Syria and Libya too. Though their economic outlook is linked to a sustainable political order and strong security environment, the spread of the virus and its humanitarian and economic costs are extra burdens on the wellbeing of communities living in these countries.

The only countries in the region with a relatively positive socio-political and financial outlook are Israel and Morocco. While their economies are experiencing the economic consequences of the pandemic, their macroeconomic variables are in a better position compared to their peers. Their public and externals debts are relatively lower in comparison to other nations in the region.

Nevertheless, every country will experience the heavy burden of issues such as collapsing global trade, low commodity prices, major capital outflows, and healthcare-specific challenges inflicted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The crisis is dealing a heavy blow on sectors such as tourism, export companies, and small and medium-sized businesses, which employ the largest share of the workforce and generate a considerable share of the revenue streams for the region’s economic development.

A reduction in income from these sectors, as well as remittances and foreign investment from the oil-rich Gulf countries, subsequently hampered the foreign reserves and deepened the current account deficit across the region as a whole.

Against this challenging backdrop, a range of economic recovery packages have been announced by the governments to mitigate the economic repercussions of the COVID-19. The majority of them are aimed at helping the most hard-hit sectors and communities through temporary tax relief, cash transfers or cheap financing.

The uncertainty about the real economic impact of the pandemic, however, has complicated the policy response. Many of these economies have limited fiscal and external debt capacities. The Lebanese government, for instance, has the highest external debt in the region with approximately 170 per cent of its GDP. Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq follow Lebanon with external debts of 97, 90, 87.2 and 80 per cent of their GDP, respectively.

Ultimately, many of these economies had already been battling with high poverty, political instability, and poor healthcare infrastructure; hence the historic economic downturn provoked by the novel coronavirus will aggravate existing economic and humanitarian challenges. The region already has the world’s highest youth unemployment, and it hosts countries that have weak security institutions.

In the period that lies ahead, if the geostrategic vulnerabilities and risks continue to amplify across the region without a stable political leadership, effective civil service, and a well-targeted set of economic recovery programs, the region will likely experience a prolonged economic recession and an increased risk of social unrest.

[ The writer is a researcher at the TRT World Research Centre. He holds a PhD in International Political Economy from King’s College London and specializes in global security, geopolitical risks and the politics of transnational economic affairs ]

  • Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency

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