U.S. Supports Hydroponics to Revitalize Mideast Food, Water and Security

Published: Jun. 6, 2016

By Maurice Picow for Green Prophet

In 2013,
ECO Consult
(Jordan) received a Powering Agriculture award for the
Early Adoption/Distribution (Stage 4) of
Solar Photovoltaic
solutions for
Irrigation
in the production of
Horticulture
in
Jordan

About Powering Agriculture

Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development supports the development and deployment of clean energy innovations that increase agriculture productivity and stimulate low carbon economic growth in the agriculture sector of developing countries to help end extreme poverty and extreme hunger.

Growing crops without soil, otherwise known as hydroponic agriculture, is not a recent innovation. In fact, it can be traced back to ancient times and kingdoms like Babylonia, whose Hanging Gardens were said to have been created and nurtured by use of hydroponics.

The modern day Middle East, especially water-deprived countries like Jordan and Syria, has had on-going problems in that local agriculture cannot provide sufficient amounts of local food due to lack of sufficient water and arable land to grow crops. Other resource-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates see hydroponics as the only solution for providing hyper local, fresh, nutritious food.

U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells visits an hydroponic bell pepper farm

U.S Ambassador to Jordan, Alice G. Wells at an earlier visit to the bell pepper demonstration site in Jordan Valley—Kraimeh Village—on Feb. 28, 2015. Photo: ECO Consult

As a result of this water scarcity problem, Jordan sees potential in hydroponic agricultural projects, which are said to use as much as 90 percent less water over conventional soil-based agriculture.

The Kingdom of Jordan is seeing commercial opportunities for local hydroponic farming and is getting some help from the USAID Hydroponic Green Farming Initiative (HGFI). Hydroponic agricultural projects growing vegetables by both hydroponic and organic methods were the subject of an event held in May 2015, where US Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells featured these vegetables in an event with Jordanian governmental officials and local producers.

The event was aimed at showing how use of hydroponic growing techniques not only saves water resources but produces high quality yields as well. Ambassador Wells told the participants:

“The future of hydroponic farming techniques is bright in Jordan. Hydroponic farming techniques are well-suited toward maximizing Jordan’s scarce supply of water. From my visits to hydroponic farms in the Jordan Valley, I’ve seen that the potential to grow more produce through hydroponic techniques is significant, given the minimal additional investment required to implement them.”

U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells introduces Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to American and Jordanian Dignitaries at a reception held at the Ambassadors Residence in Amman, Jordon on May 9, 2015. Photo: USDA

She added that hydroponic agriculture maximizes Jordan’s scarce water supplies. Her visits to hydroponic projects in the Jordan Valley indicate a good potential for this type of agriculture, with just a minimal additional investment required.

Chefs who attended the event were able to see the quality of the hydroponically-grown produce, which often uses no pesticides. Um Ali, who heads a woman’s agricultural cooperative in the north of Jordan, told the gathering that production of herbs like thyme is much better using hydroponic agriculture than by traditional soil methods:

“Our thyme production from hydroponic farming is far better than traditional soil farming. It uses much less water, which is scarce in Jordan. Our production is clean from soil diseases,” she said.

Building reliable markets for hydroponically-grown produce is equally important. The USAID program is designed to build greater awareness of the advantages of hydroponically-grown produce, and the chefs in attendance at the reception were able to experience first-hand the quality of produce from hydroponic fields. Developing strong domestic markets for produce will assist farmers in balancing the cyclical nature of produce grown for export.

Developing tools and an industry for hydroponics in the Middle East is just as important. Consider this super cool American company flux from New York powering up the entire industry by providing powerful monitors and controls for hydroponic farms, in the same way that Mobileye enables self-driving Tesla cars. The global market flux is tapping into will grow from about $19 billion today to $27 billion in 4 years. It’s a massive opportunity since there are few global players with no dominant, affordable solution for new businesses.

Jordan can and should be a part of that.

Related News & Events: 
Aug. 5, 2016

USAID’s first Global Water Coordinator recently visited several USAID-supported project sites in the Middle East. His trip included a stop at one of ECO Consult’s hydroponic greenhouses. This water-saving technology reduces water usage by up to 40% and significantly increases crop yields.

Jun. 6, 2016

Hydroponic agriculture—growing crops without soil—can be traced back to ancient times. In the Middle East, local agriculture cannot provide enough food due to shortages of water and arable land. Jordan sees potential in hydroponics, using up to 90 percent less water than conventional agriculture.

May. 9, 2015

U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells showcased locally-grown hydroponic and organic vegetables during a May 9 reception with Jordanian producers and government officials in honor of the visit to Jordan by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack.