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Now is the time to do business, say virtual diplomats in the Emirates

The coronavirus pandemic presents entrepreneurs worldwide with huge challenges, including in the United Arab Emirates. The country imports around 90% of its food supplies. Now that the crisis has made that difficult, it is looking for reliable suppliers and innovative methods of producing its own food. ‘Now is the right time to work with Dutch entrepreneurs on sustainable solutions.’

The ties between the UAE and the Netherlands have long been close. ‘With volume of trade totalling around $8 billion a year, the UAE is one of the Netherlands’ main trade partners in the region,’ says Ambassador Lody Embrechts from the embassy in Abu Dhabi. ‘So in the current crisis, it’s essential to keep in touch. Though virtual conversations cannot replace personal contact, they are a way of providing information, keeping in touch and supporting businesses in these difficult times.’

Virtual talks
The Dutch embassy in Abu Dhabi and the ministry in The Hague use both the telephone and the computer to keep the Netherlands in the picture. Peter Potman, deputy Director-General for Foreign Economic Relations and his counterpart in the UAE held virtual talks on the impact of COVID-19 and the future of economic cooperation between the two countries. The UAE’s ambassador to the Netherlands and the Dutch ambassador to the UAE also took part.

‘Growing your own food is a good way of becoming less dependent on others,’ says Lody Embrechts. ‘That’s why trials are now under way with a Dutch water-saving greenhouse system in the middle of the desert.’

Horticulture in the desert
Certhon, a Dutch family business, is working hard to perfect the greenhouse system in the Emirates’ desert. ‘We develop sustainable solutions for horticulture, so that vegetables can be grown in desert areas,’ says Damion Schwarzkachel, consulting engineer at Certhon. ‘In the UAE there is over-exploitation of natural resources, rapid population growth and rising temperatures. As a result, it’s almost impossible to grow food here year-round.’

Certhon first introduced its technologies in the Abu Dhabi desert in August 2018, when it built nearly one hectare of semi-closed greenhouse for the production of tomatoes. In late 2020, vertical farming company Madar Farms will start producing fresh tomatoes in the UAE’s first commercial indoor farm, developed from start to finish by Certhon. All the produce will be sold in the UAE for local consumption.
These are major steps: using water, energy and raw materials sustainably to produce fresh, healthy vegetables locally.

‘With their worldwide experience and their knowledge and technological innovations, Certhon has helped to bring food security in the Gulf region a step closer,’ says Lody Embrechts. ‘These innovations are a good example of what the Dutch horticulture sector can offer the world.’

Dutch pavilion at EXPO 2020
During EXPO 2020 in Dubai, the Netherlands will provide a platform for Dutch entrepreneurs wanting to build an international profile. Cooperation and knowledge-sharing in the fields of water, energy and food will contribute to food security and a sustainable future. With the Dutch pavilion, which is essentially a biotope, the Netherlands will demonstrate the importance of cooperation and connecting innovations.

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