A collaboration between Saudi Arabia and a Dutch greenhouse company aims to create an artificial environment suitable for agriculture in the desert. The initiative will transform an area equivalent to 15 soccer fields into a horticultural haven on the fringes of Neom, a new city under construction along the Red Sea coast that stretches into the desert.
This collaboration represents a significant step in food technology for Saudi Arabia, a nation whose predominantly arid terrain and intense summer heat have historically made it dependent on food imports. The endeavor is spearheaded by Dutch horticulturist Van Der Hoeven, who has secured a $120 million contract with the Saudi government. This contract encompasses the design and construction of two pilot facilities on the outskirts of NEOM and their maintenance and operation over several years.
Michiel Schoenmaeckers, CEO of Van Der Hoeven, elaborated on the project’s objectives, stating, “We aim to create a synthetic climate where outdoor cultivation is challenging, with the ambition for plants to produce crops throughout the year.”
Food security is a top priority for NEOM’s planners, a $500 billion initiative by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to transform a desert area as vast as Belgium into a technologically advanced region, potentially housing millions in the future. The emphasis on food security has intensified in light of recent global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions, which have underscored the vulnerabilities of supply chains.
Saudi Arabia’s endeavors in NEOM are bolstered by expertise from the Netherlands, a country that, despite its small size, has emerged as the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter after the U.S. The Netherlands’ success is attributed to innovative techniques like advanced greenhouses and vertical farming.
Juan Carlos Motamayor, CEO of NEOM Food, envisions these initial facilities evolving into a regional food hub catering to NEOM and the broader Saudi Arabian populace. This initiative also aims to serve as a model for nations worldwide grappling with food security challenges in the face of climate change.
The project’s scale will grow substantially after completing the two pilot greenhouses. Construction commenced in 2023, with the test facilities expected to be operational by the following year. The overarching goal is to produce over 300,000 tons of fruits and vegetables within the next eight to ten years.
The Dutch company’s approach integrates cutting-edge horticultural technologies, including AI-driven crop cultivation and advanced water filtration systems. One of the sites will feature an innovative solar and seawater-driven cooling system designed to function even during the peak summer months, significantly reducing water consumption from the local grid. Another location will house a quarantine greenhouse that introduces perennial crops to NEOM.
NEOM’s selection for this project underscores Saudi Arabia’s broader vision of diversifying its economy beyond oil and positioning the city as a hub for pioneering technologies that could redefine everyday life.
Image provided by NEOM