A Greener Outlook

Aquaponica Corporation, winner of the ‘ideas’ category in the MIT Enterprise Forum Saudi Arabia, has a concept with the potential to ensure food security for years to come by developing sustainable agricultural practices in even the most challenging environments.

Dealing with ever-changing and ever-challenging climate shifts is a truly global problem that does not respect borders or cultures.

It is particularly threatening to food security, potentially leading to large-scale difficulties in the Middle East.

Although there is a strong agricultural tradition across the region, it is vastly underused and underdeveloped. The World Bank reports that as much as 80 percent of all food available in Saudi Arabia is imported and as high as 97 percent in some GCC neighbours.

It is clear that this needs to change – not an easy task in a naturally arid country such as Saudi Arabia. But Aquaponica Corporation hopes to lead that change by using technology and developing innovative, efficient, and climate-specific agricultural techniques that increase the quality and quantity of sustainable arable land.

Founded by Dr Amin Majdi in the Western region of Saudi Arabia, Aquaponica’s primary focus is on the design and implementation of temperature-controlled greenhouses and aquaponic agriculture on a commercial scale.

Dr Majdi received the King Abdullah Scholarship and qualified in the USA with master’s and PhD degrees in energy-efficiency and renewable energy. While in the USA, Dr Majdi was introduced to the concepts of energy efficiency in buildings.

“During my studies, I was introduced to many energy-efficient residential, commercial, and industrial building designs,” he says. “I found the ‘Passive House’ building principle fascinating. Passive houses have incredibly stringent energy-efficiency standards that can reduce energy consumption by up to 90 percent and make renewable energy economically appealing.

“For my PhD research I wanted to take the principles of the passive house and apply them to greenhouses – which typically follow no energy codes whatsoever.”

Dr Majdi used his expertise in energy efficiency to enhance his designs, helped by the latest computer software and smart algorithms. He was drawn to aquaponics in his search for efficient and sustainable farming methods that eliminated the need for conventional cooling/heating and were also practical and economically feasible.

“After I discovered the benefits of aquaponics, I read and researched extensively to broaden my understanding, attending many aquaponic workshops in the US to get more hands-on experience and build relationships with scientists, experts, and leading companies in the field.”

Now, having received his PhD and achieved his aim of creating a new standard of energy efficiency in greenhouses, Dr Majid is bringing his technology to the real world. This means agriculture can flourish in incredibly challenging environments such as in Saudi Arabia.

“I think that Aquaponica is a turning point in the agriculture sector. It saves energy, water and materials, requires no conventional heating or cooling systems, enhances renewable energy systems efficiencies, and produces two fresh premium products – fish and plants – that are free of pesticides and chemicals.”

But taking a concept to market requires business knowledge and marketing and public relations skills, which MITEF Saudi Arabia has provided to Dr Majdi as a part of its competition programme.

“When it came to business, I was trying everything almost for the first time – from talking to the media, to standing in front of the judges. But the guidance I received from MITEF staff was incredibly helpful and I had the opportunity to learn while simultaneously networking and having access to decision-makers.

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