Sun, 06 March 2022
I have been in Bahrain for a long time and sometimes, one of the simplest ways to track changes in an economic system, is to peruse grocery stores and see how the shelves change. One change I recently observed was in the produce section where I now see a lot of local farm produce. This same section used to have imported produce in larger quantities. As far as I knew, the region is not farm-friendly and the amount of input needed to produce a good crop even in my backyard was my benchmark for how uneconomical farming here was likely to be. I knew I was missing something because businesses grow only when they make business sense. So, here I am, exploring the world of farming in Bahrain – specifically, vertical and hydroponic farming.
Vertical farming is a technique wherein produce is grown in vertical structures which produce higher yield per sqm of land and also allows for optimised light absorption. Hydroponic farming is a soil-less farming technique where a carefully developed liquid solution is used to replace soil. Research indicates that vertical farming can yield anything between four to eight times the yield as compared to traditional soil-based farming. Further, these techniques are environmentally sustainable and in line with ESG goals with no need for pesticides and fertilisers since the crops are unexposed to natural elements.
Maintaining the nutrition, light and overall environment requires advanced technology and machinery all of which is capital intensive. However, these new techniques reduce the dependence on expensive imports. The viability of the business is evident in that the global vertical farming market was valued at USD5.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach USD19.86 billion in 2026, following a CAGR of 24.3 percent during 2021-2026. Leading players have been listed for years now and consolidation is also actively underway.
Regionally, Kuwait based Kuwait Agro Co. tied up with &Ever in 2021 to launch Kuwait’s first automated large-scale vertical farm with a daily capacity of 550 kilograms of fresh greens and herbs. It uses 90 percent less water, 60 percent less fertiliser, and zero pesticides. While Badia Farms was the first to set up a vertical farm facility in the city, Dubai will soon see the launch of the largest vertical farm, a USD 40 million partnership between Crop One and Emirates Flight Catering, which will produce tonnes of pesticide-free grain. In Bahrain, Peninsular Farms and Al Ghalia farms already use hydroponic methods and in 2021 Al Amin Gardens was awarded the tender to design, build, operate, and hand over a hydroponic farm located in Hoorat A’ali and Diraz.
Undoubtedly this is no longer an emerging area but one that is soon becoming well-established. Technology allows for lower dependence on limited natural resources and reduces the vulnerability to climate changes. For me, the most fascinating element is the deep problem that these systems solve – that agriculture and farming are dependent on natural resources. Indeed, now, with these changes, producing locally even in regions with non-arable soil and harsh weather, is a reality – and an economically viable one too. So, the next time you walk through the local grocery store, notice the changing volume of ‘grown in Bahrain’ products – a sign of a diversifying economy.