Within recent years, the number and variety of leafy greens that are safe to eat in Egypt have sky-rocketed, all thanks to the innovation and creativity of one individual. Amr Bassiouny is the Founder of Egypt’s first hydroponic farm, using hydroponic technology to produce leafy greens in a more environmentally-friendly way. With this farm, he, alongside his business partner Adel El Shentenawy, have been dramatically changing the food that we have available on our tables and our restaurants as well as transforming the agriculture industry as a whole. We spoke to Amr to find out more…
Could you explain what Hydroponic Farming actually is?
“Essentially we grow crops in water without soil. When you use soil, 95% of the water is wasted, whereas using hydroponics we can recycle the water and it isn’t lost to the ground or through evaporation. There is also increased production because the plants aren’t competing for space. There is no direct contact with soil, reducing the numbers of creepy crawlies which improves the quality and makes it much easier to be pesticide-free.”
Could you tell us about the current state of farming in Egypt?
“The main issue is that most sewage is pumped into the Nile and its canals, which is then used to irrigate crops. Whereas with crops like tomatoes, water is filtered through the plants, leafy greens come into direct contact with contaminated water so have increased chances of food poisoning. This meant there was a gap in the market of high-quality leafy greens. I took that as a bit of a challenge. It took me about 9 months to research hydroponics and create a system that I have slowly perfected.”
Why is it so important to reduce water consumption?
“Right now everyone is moving out to the dessert and using ground water, which is a non-renewable resource. When you put fertilisers into that water, or take too much water out, the ground water increases in salinity until it becomes undrinkable and unsustainable for agriculture. In the past few years we have seen the salinity of the water supplying the well for our farm double. So once ground water is no longer an option, the only way to grow in an economically feasible way is to use hydroponics because of its efficient water usage and the ability to remove excess salts from the water if necessary.”
“The problems that we are facing are going to affect the immediate future.”
If Egypt doesn’t shift its farming practices when will we face a food crisis?
“Within 10 years. The problems that we are facing are going to affect the immediate future. Global Warming brings in new challenges of how to cope with the heat. One of the ways to deal with the heat is to grow in greenhouses. And one of the only ways to make greenhouses economical is to use hydroponics. Hydroponics therefore is the only practical way of dealing with all of these pressing issues at once.”
Was it difficult introducing an unheard of concept into the Egyptian market? Are people generally receptive to hydroponics?
“For restaurants, our produce came as a huge relief. It solved the problems that they had been facing with food poisoning. Young parents also jumped on board, they wanted to be healthy, but couldn’t eat leafy greens because of the contamination until we came along. Obviously there are the vegetarians and vegans who are looking for a healthy and environmentally-friendly lifestyle as well.”
“Egypt is going to become one of the leaders in hydroponic farming in the next few years.”
Have you had a big impact on the market?
“There has been as huge impact. Caesar salads were previously made with Iceberg lettuce because Romaine lettuce was made in areas of high pollution so it wasn’t usable. Now there are safe leafy greens of all varieties in the market. We have even introduced completely new foods to the market such as Kale. Our produce has allowed lots of Salad Bars to pop up, and a wave of smoothie bars are using our Kale.”
“And lots of farms are improving their methods because of our technology. Egypt is going to become one of the leaders in hydroponic farming in the next few years.”
Where can we buy your produce?
“You can find it in all Gourmet Egypt stores, Seoudi (Sodic, Zayed, Waterway, & Tagamo3), all Fresh Food Market stores, Sunny Market, all Fresh N Fresh stores in Alexandria, and Bestway Supermarket in Gouna and Hurghada.”
Can we come and visit?
“We love having people come to the farm! Whenever it’s open, you can come and pick your own greens and pack it up yourself. We want to have the consumer as involved as possible. We also love having school trips and university trips, we like having an educational perspective.”