The way the world feeds itself is not sustainable. Every day we continue on this path, we damage the very ecology on which we are dependent.
This problem has been exacerbated over the last hundred years as the demand for food has risen considerably, increasing pressure on food producers to grow crops with greater efficiency and fewer resources.
The Challenges of Desert Agriculture
Modern agriculture was not designed for the betterment of nature. One of the key challenges food producers face when using solutions like chemicals fertilizers is that they mask the problem of degraded soil. Since chemical agriculture became mainstream in the 1970s, the earth has lost one-third of its topsoil resulting in desertification. Through desertification, fertile areas become increasingly arid, posing a problem for food production.
Another challenge is the availability of water in the desert. It is hard to imagine that just 50 years ago, there were approximately 500 cubic kilometers of water beneath the Saudi desert. However, in recent years 21 cubic kilometers has been pumped out annually for agriculture use, causing an 80% reduction in the availability of the original underground water.
As a result, the desert now has a negative water balance which leeches nutrients and leaves salt deposits in the soil. The lack of nutrients and salt deposits make for a hostile environment for organic matter to grow, causing the soil to become thin and infertile.
Smart and Sustainable
There is no shortage of challenges to overcome when creating sustainable food resources in the desert. Despite this, TRSDC, which is building the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism destination, The Red Sea Project, on the western coast of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has committed to meeting these challenges with regenerative solutions. To do this means growing and serving food in a way that is not harmful to the environment and, if possible, even improves it.
Equally, TRSDC aims to ensure that food production protects the environment and contributes to its socio-economic sustainability goals by ensuring that local farmers are among the first to benefit from the uptick in demand.
When employees and guests alike arrive at The Red Sea Project in Q4 2022, the demand for food will rise significantly. Beyond the estimated one million guests per year expected by 2030, a permanent new town for the 14,000 employees who will operate the destination is being built.
The company seeks to take advantage of the latest sustainable agriculture research and technological advances to help meet this demand and is investigating high-tech solutions like Hydroponics and Aeroponic Farming. In this production method, plants are grown in a nutrient solution rather than in soil.
This will be coupled with indoor and vertical farming, using climate-controlled temperatures which limit a plant’s exposure to outdoor temperatures and pests and diseases, reducing reliance on pesticides.
In addition, Aquaculture, also known as aqua farming, is being explored. This will allow the farming of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic plants, algae, and other aquatic food organisms in freshwater and saltwater tanks under controlled conditions.
Collaboration is Key
While innovative technologies will solve part of the puzzle of creating food sustainably, the real answer is right on the doorstep. TRSDC is laser-focused on collaborating with a local network of 900 farms within a two-hour drive of the project to realize opportunities to create a larger supply to feed guests and employees.
Most of these locally run businesses are growing organic edible crops such as citrus fruits, dates, mangoes, guava, figs, olives and moringa. Local farmers also cultivate herbs such as rosemary and henna. The company also believes that by utilizing local produce and traditional plants, herbs and even seafood unique to the area and present in local cuisine, they will be able to offer guests a truly immersive cultural experience.
By respecting nature and local communities and actively working together, it is possible to overcome the difficult challenge of producing a sustainable food supply at scale in the desert. By collaborating with local farmers and exploring new and innovative technologies, TRSDC remains committed to delivering a nutritious food supply that is developed in line with its regenerative approach.
in practice TRSDC is no stranger to using technology to tackle complex challenges, recently partnering with SOURCE Global, PBC, to produce bottled water from sunlight and air. The Red Sea Project will be the first destination on earth to use the patented solar technology that draws pure water vapor out of the air and converts it to premium, mineralized drinking water. Through this partnership, the SOURCE facility being established on site will initially produce 300,000 bottles per year using reusable glass bottles.