When you turn a tap on at home, do you ever think about where the water has come from? Probably not. Water is something we take for granted.
However, water is a scarce resource. The United Nations has reported that water usage has more than doubled during the last century. 16 percent is used by households and municipalities, 12 percent in industries and a huge 72 percent in agriculture.
The Water Futures and Solutions Initiative has estimated that nearly half the global population are already living in potential water scarce areas at least one month per year and this could increase to some 4.8–5.7 billion in 2050.
Veganism is a growing trend. Alongside arguments about animal welfare, the volume of water in meat production is often put forward as a concern. Both of those points are worthy of consideration. However, growing fruit and vegetables also takes up an incredible amount of water.
Today, water consumption per capita tends to be highest in desert locations where cars are washed frequently, swimming pools are filled up and irrigation systems are used to keep gardens looking green.
Many of us will remember campaigns to turn off lights in the hope that we would reduce electricity consumption. When the weather was warm and dry in summer, we would be encouraged to turn the tap off when we brushed our teeth, take shorter showers and many of us will have experienced water control measures initiated by our local authorities.
Most of us will remember and may continue to practice and participate in these initiatives, however what else have we done since to change our behaviors or find new ways of using water more sustainably? Over 200 years ago, the famous poet Samuel Coleridge wrote a poem about a mariner who found himself at sea surrounded by water but didn’t have access to fresh water to quench his thirst. The dilemma still faces us today.
We simply need to make more conscious decisions about our use of limited fresh water supplies and find ways to make use of salt water.
My colleagues and I at Red Sea Farms are driven by the need to feed the world sustainably. We want to change behaviors and believe we have found the best way to reduce fresh water use in the agriculture sector.
Look at tomato growing. In desert conditions, conventional evaporative-cooled greenhouses and open fields use 350 liters for every kilogram of tomatoes produced. As an alternative technology for desert regions, higher-tech mechanically-cooled greenhouses save water but use as much as 8 kilo watt hours of energy per kilogram of tomatoes produced. Common challenges faced in the agriculture sector include excess heat, excess humidity, lack of fresh water, a struggle to maintain quality and consistency of produce, and threats from pests and pathogens.
Red Sea Farms has created unique technologies that can be used in water scarce locations around the world to grow produce. We have found crops that grow using salt water instead of fresh and our patented cooling technology incorporates systems operating on 100% salt water versus traditional evaporative cooling that consumes 100% fresh water. Additionally, we use special solar technology created in Saudi Arabia to capture energy and power solar cooling. Our entire sustainable greenhouse is controlled by our AI-enabled, remote-monitoring technology. A kilogram of tomatoes is grown using only 20 liters of brackish salt water and around half a kilo watt hour of energy. Salt water is more abundant than fresh and sourced from our oceans and the ground – and we are finding ways to use it!
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology has nurtured us from the start and we are grateful to them for that.
Kirchner Group, an advisory firm in the USA with 30+ years of history working with impact-oriented companies, has helped us evolve our business model, develop a global expansion plan (for both developed and developing economies), increase investor interest and confirm consumer appetite (literally!).
In June, we attracted investment capital from leading Saudi and Middle East investors. Hot on the heels of that funding, Red Sea Farms has also attracted significant amounts of capital from our first USA-based investors – Bonaventure Capital, a venture capital company that “backs ventures on a mission to build a better world” and AppHarvest, a fast-growing, recently USA listed firm which has focused to date on agriculture production in Appalachia.
Whilst Appalachia has plenty of water that can be recycled, can you imagine if we could collectively bring sustainable food production to places like California, Arizona, and Texas where droughts are a fact of life? Reducing food miles and fresh water consumption whilst bringing benefits that support economic growth can be a reality.
Our technology is proven, and we are growing produce in the Middle East. Water scarce countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean can benefit from our solutions. Much of the USA can too. With the help and support of our new investors, we expect to bring our technology to North America.
We cannot improve the situation of water scarcity by ourselves. The wider agriculture sector, other industries and individuals all need to take the issue more seriously. Together, we can make a difference
Ryan Lefers, Chief Executive Officer, Red Sea Farms
With contributions from Professors Mark Tester, Chief Scientist and Derya Baran, Chief Engineer.