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Cracking the food conundrum

Modern Forced Ventilation strategies in greenhouses and IoT-integrated silos can help the MENA region overcome food dependency, says Dipen Patel

| | Jul 8, 2021 | 3:25 pm
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The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remains one of the most vulnerable to a food crisis. MENA region countries are among the world’s largest importers of food – most depend on imports for over half their needs.

The MENA region is also the world’s most water-stressed area, with massive subsidies for water and agriculture and a preponderant, if ultimately unsustainable, role for the state, as many countries still pursue the chimera of cheap staple foods and self-sufficiency in cereal production rather than local and international market-driven solutions.

Dipen Patel

Compared to other states, GCC region countries, in particular, are considered among the more food-secure, as per the Global Food Security Index, which considers the availability, affordability, quality and safety of food supplies. However, the region lacks control over its food sources and remains highly import-dependent. During a disruption in supply chains, such as a pandemic, that reliance on imports leaves countries vulnerable to shortages. Given the enormity of the challenge, what are the possible solutions? The ones that immediately come to mind are greenhouses, livestock farming and highly advanced silos.

GREENHOUSES

A greenhouse represents the ability to produce plants of economic interest in a sheltered environment against adverse climatic conditions. The ambient in greenhouses is typically warm, humid and devoid of wind. They provide the most comfortable conditions for crops, but they very often foster the ideal environment for pathogenic microorganisms to grow.

The theoretical advantage of greenhouses, in terms of pest and disease control, is the isolated environment, where effective preventive measures can be observed; climate control and early identification of problems are possible, so the corresponding corrective actions can be taken. We are familiar with the positive effects of forced ventilation in greenhouses, including climate management, CO2 control and energy-balance optimisation. However, its role and relevance in preventing pests and diseases is not as well known. Air movement within a greenhouse or growing facility makes it difficult for pathogens to launch attacks.

A typical greenhouse reduces or even removes water condensation on plants surfaces. It prevents parasites from moving around and increases crop resistance. These significantly lower the incidence of extreme episodes. The virtues of a greenhouse can be bolstered through ensuring proper planting layouts to allow good aeration among the leaves, adequate irrigation, and optimal hygiene of facilities and air exchange areas through deploying doors, ducts and filters. From an integrated pest and disease management point of view, ventilation definitely appears to be the most profitable and efficient investment in a greenhouse.

LIVESTOCK FARMING AND THE ROLE OF VENTILATION

Ventilation and livestock farming, as a subject, has been discussed for many years; however, it is now time to go deeper into it through considering the available technology and analysing in an integral way the added value and the yield that this concept can and must deliver to our farms. Regular air exchange in farms, warehouses, silos and other agricultural buildings is indispensable for achieving optimal conditions for people, animals and stored products. Fans have to withstand the toughest ambient conditions, in some cases. In order to meet these challenges and, at the same time, achieve the best possible results of the respective systems for the operator, ventilation systems, specially designed for agriculture, are of paramount importance. The 21st century has ushered in some major challenges, including meeting the demands of an ever-growing human population, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and those pertaining to animal welfare.

So, what does animal welfare mean? Typically, it includes:

  • Freedom of movement and physical-thermal comfort through optimisation of facilities
  • Adequate health through preventing injuries and diseases
  • Natural behaviour patterns considered appropriate to the species, including social relationships and interaction with other animals or human beings Environmental control plays a relevant role in this regard. Thermal stress is one of the main reasons for a drop in production. Ventilation is a fundamental component that must be precisely calculated to achieve the right environmental conditions homogeneously, paying special attention to the air speed in contact with the animals.

The right control will ensure the sought-after comfort for livestock and reduction of diseases, which in turn, will optimise production, as per genetic potential.

SILOS: SAFE STORAGE AND GRAIN AERATION

Since the time when money came in our midst as an economic unit, we have worried about how to keep it safe. We have dug holes in the ground, stocked boxes beneath the floor and caches under the pillow. Silos and professional banking are based on the same concept – they must be safe and reliable and guarantee good performance in terms of service and benefits. A properly ventilated storage is an asset, and the possibilities provided by technology nowadays are boundless. Annual avoidable losses on cereal storage worldwide amount to tens of millions of tonnes.

The most efficient way to reduce such losses is through a better management of the storage conditions and particularly by the implementation of an adequate ventilation system. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence have brought along new business models in every activity, and storage is no exception: Big data, real-time analytics, robotics and machine learning can be applied to raise operational efficiency, labour productivity, communications celerity and, ultimately, decision-making optimisation. The possibility of benefitting from the integration of IoT in storage is immense, with typical advantages including early pre[1]harvest information, accurate monitoring, up-to-the-minute adjustment and synchronisation of ventilation systems, integration of weather forecast models and precise preventive actions. All these can be brought to bear in identifying the right selling time to optimise benefits.

The writer is Managing Director, ZIEHL-ABEGG Middle East FZE. He may be contacted at Dipen.Patel@ziehl-abegg.ae


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