Red Sea Farms: Solving for Food and Water in a World of Diminishing Resources

Back in 2013, experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization predicted that undernourished populations would increase 9% between 2014 and 2019 - roughly 64 million more people going to sleep hungry each and every night. In April 2021, these same experts reported that 111 million more people have gone hungry since April 2020.

In low to middle income countries, the amount of people expected to face food insecurity will double in the COVID aftermath. The World Economic Forum has listed water crises as the top three of the greatest risks to world economic security for the last six years, consecutively. To feed the expected 10 billion additional people by 2050, 1 billion tons of additional cereal will be required each year.

In an attempt to supply this booming food and water demand, unsustainable farming practices are being deployed, harming our planet by over-utilizing its non-renewable resources. Agriculture currently accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse emissions, and 68% of global freshwater consumption. In MENA, that number stands at 87%. For a region where water scarcity is a serious and imminent threat, the way water is being used is compromising its longevity for generations to come. By one estimate, 58%of MENA’s renewable water sources will be depleted by 2030.

In the GCC, the lack of natural resources, limited arable land, and extreme heat means that between 80 and 90% of food is imported, making food security and water scarcity priorities on governments’ national agendas. Today, we are excited to announce our partnership with a company that is addressing these challenges: Red Sea Farms (RSF).

RSF is tackling the food and water nexus in the region, but also in geographies where the climate limits the possibilities of agriculture. To us, what stands out most about the company is the unmatched trifecta of the solution. Co-founders, Dr. Mark Tester and Dr. Ryan Lefers, married their individual scientific specialties to create a solution at the intricate intersection of engineering, plant sciences and innovation.

The RSF technology is completely home grown, at KAUST. Dr. Lefers was exploring applications of saltwater within engineering systems and greenhouses. His colleague, Dr. Tester, was exploring the possibilities of manipulating specific cell-types and testing the salinity tolerance of crops. Their joint, pooled know-how allowed them to unlock the potential of the earth’s most abundant water resource, saltwater, to feed the world.

On one hand, the RSF greenhouse is a fully-sustainable agricultural system using advanced scientific knowledge, engineering and technology that replaces unsustainable freshwater with saltwater. Existing agriculture solutions tend to adopt a unilateral approach where a single part of the process is ecological and environmentally-safe. RSF has a full stack solution, meaning that the entire system, from start to finish, is entirely sustainable. Saltwater is cooled, not desalinated, saving on energy consumption and emission. Humidity, that would otherwise be blown out of the green house and into the atmosphere, is reused for evaporative cooling, reducing water wastage.Advanced glass and solar technologies are leveraged for heat, light and energy management. All of this is then integrated into a proprietary IoT monitoring and autonomous control system, tailored to both the English and Arabic operator.

On the other hand, plant science is applied to find, breed and produce salt-tolerant crops. With an initial focus on growing tomatoes, one of the world’s most massively produced and consumed vegetables, the company’s engineering and plant science solution is replacing up to 90% of the freshwater used in the crop’s production, and reducing energy requirements up to 10-fold in comparison to traditional farming methods. Tomatoes grown on Red Sea Farms are non-GMO, totally organic and saltwater tolerant, making them richer in taste, flavor and texture.

As Red Sea Farm embarks on the next chapter of its exciting journey, we at Global Ventures are proud to co-lead this round and support these innovators as they rewrite the course of food and water security in the region, and the world.