Coronavirus - Food Supply Chain Under Strain, March 24th, 2020
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation
Being a farmer isn't easy, that much we all know. Even when times were not so challenging, farming has always been a risky business, in which a lot of things could go wrong at any point in time; weather, pests, water supply, you name it.
Add to that the ongoing and unpredictable global phenomena such as climate change, global warming, floods and droughts. Fighting against the risks of so many natural and man-made parameters has gradually made us realize how critical it is to be able to grow our food in a controlled environment.
Fast forward to February 2020. The Coronavirus takes over, and the world is under siege with borders closing and transportation of food becomes a real headache. Suddenly, the need to secure local food production becomes even more important.
The first greenhouse dates back to 30 AD, when the physicians of Emperor Tiberius told him that it was necessary, for his health, to eat one cucumber a day. This was not a problem in summer, when cucumbers grow easily in the heat, but to be able to produce the vegetable year-round, an alternative solution was needed. So they created growing structures resembling small carts with translucent roofs. Almost 2000 years later - greenhouse technology had come a long way but the concept, a closed structure providing a protected and monitored environment for plants, is essentially the same.
Greenhouse farming offers many benefits for growing most vegetables. To begin with, a greenhouse is a protected place where you can control environmental factors for optimal plant growth. When the crops aren’t exposed to unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, they give better yields. It's as simple as that.
When you optimize the consumption of water and fertilizers, you reduce production costs. You can artificially generate climatic conditions that are suitable for different vegetables. Plus, it’s a lot easier to control pests and weeds in a controlled environment than it is in a natural setting. Finally, you can grow different varieties of plants all year long and get more than one crop cycle per year.
If growing most vegetables in a greenhouse is the right way to secure local food production, why aren’t all farmers jumping on the wagon? Well, what might be a natural choice for high-value crops growers, might be more challenging for others. Commercial greenhouse deployment requires significant upfront capital which many small farmers can simply not afford. It is also really tough for some farmers to change the way that they have always farmed. If small farmers alone cannot move the needle, who can?
The advantages of production within a controlled environment have caught the attention of governments and organizations from across the world, who have subsequently invested in some ambitious greenhouse projects. Notable greenhouse projects include Mexico’s Agropark, a 700-acre greenhouse center built to offer flower and vegetable growers the opportunity to compete successfully in the world’s most competitive export market, and The Thanet Earth Project, the largest greenhouse complex in the UK which empowers local growers who were overshadowed by the large-scale cultivators from Spain and Holland.
At Netafim, we have developed our own greenhouse solution, a natural extension of our precision irrigation technology, and a synergetic solution in terms of our clients and products. Our greenhouse solution offers a holistic approach backed by agro-technology knowledge and digital tools, over fifty years of agronomic experience and crop know-how, vast global experience, and the stability and accountability of an industry leader.
In Vietnam, we were approached by one of the country’s leading food retailers who needed to guarantee a steady supply of high-quality fruits and vegetables to its customers under extreme hot and humid climatic conditions. Our polyhouse structure, specifically designed for better natural ventilation was a perfect fit. The result? The grower was able to provide fresh quality produce all year round and sustain a profitable business.
In Azerbaijan, we helped a leading water conveyance equipment manufacturer make a smooth entry into the agriculture industry. We achieved 40% savings in water and fertilizer by designing an ultra-efficient irrigation system with UV water recycling system, and implementing a smart inter-planting system to enable cost effective year round production.
An international corporation in Kazakhstan needed to provide its oil and gas workers nutritious vegetables all year round. The metal construction was designed to bear heavy snow loads and extreme cold weather conditions. They also trained local teams to operate the project. The greenhouse project, implemented nearly 230 km from the nearest city, not only delivered 1100 tons of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes per year but also contributed to the creation of local jobs.
With hundreds of greenhouse projects completed, in all climates, our experts support local corporates and farmers to establish the correct balance between their needs and factors like technology, agro-economics, and crop requirements.
It took a microscopic virus to refocus the world on the value of essentials like food, fuel the demand for fresh, healthy and safe food, and highlight the need to secure our food supply and lower our dependency on imported goods.
The “Global Village” approach, which saw the world as a single community linked by telecommunications, might have to adjust and make room for a somewhat different thinking that promotes the self-sustainability of local communities.
Greenhouses, unlike outdoor farms in most locations, are able to produce a constant supply of local food year-round, making them ideal to meet the local food market’s demands and overcome future challenges involving our global food security.
New and large-scale Netafim greenhouse projects are already underway around the globe, from the U.S through Japan to South Africa. By doing so, we hope to keep supporting local food security and grow more with less.