The Dutch Triple Helix Approach to a greener UAE

Nazeem Beegum /The Hague Filed on February 17, 2018 | Last updated on February 17, 2018 at 05.12 am
The Dutch Triple Helix Approach to a greener UAE
Every single unit of a smart greenhouse is hi-tech, which optimises the production.

(Supplied photo)

Netherlands has successfully implemented the approach to innovations in the water-energy-food nexus and healthcare.

THE UAE is not new to innovations. From AI-assisted banking agents to solar-powered roof tops and health apps, the country is utilising the latest technological boom to its advantage in many sectors.

Moreover, in just two years, the country will witness a whole gamut of innovations from across the world at the much-awaited Dubai Expo 2020 which is themed 'Connecting Minds, Creating Future.'

But, is finding sustainable solutions to food, water, energy and health problems just a government priority and responsibility? Ask any Dutch, they will say, it is not. Interestingly, the Netherlands is so eager to share with the entire world its tested and proven method - the Dutch Triple Helix Approach that promotes nexus between government, private sector and knowledge institutes - for the benefit of humanity as natural resources are depleting everywhere in an alarming rate.

In the Middle East region, the UAE is far ahead of their counterparts in developing and implementing sustainable solutions and even seeking to broaden its horizon of the knowledge economy. All these make it compatible with the Dutch approach as revealed through the innovations happening across its universities and research centres there.

The Netherlands has successfully implemented its Helix approach to innovations in the water-energy-food nexus and healthcare. Of the innumerable innovations and research based on Triple Helix Approach, which were disclosed to a media delegation from the UAE recently, greenhouses seemed to be suitable for arid conditions of the UAE, which lacks arable land and water resources.

The UAE now has several homegrown crops thanks to the visionary leader and the founding father of the nation, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who played a big role in shaping an agriculture sector in the country.

As per the official data available online, the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has been increasing acreage under organic farming by five per cent annually. If there were 4,000 farms in 1971, it has risen to 35,704 in 2011, spanning an area of 105,257 hectares, comprising 54 organic vegetation farms, three animal production farms and one manufacturing facility. The organic production area in the UAE increased to 3,920 hectares by the end of 2013.

The positive side of the UAE is that it has already started thinking about collaboration between various entities inside and outside the country, to take this commendable progress to the next level. Hence the Dutch Helix Approach, which can easily be adopted, as the knowledge institutes in the UAE are getting immense support from the government for innovations.

Why greenhouses suit UAE

Every single unit of a smart greenhouse is hi-tech, which optimises the production and ensures a full control over climate conditions and plant diseases. Moreover, it gives 15 times more crop per drop of water compared to cultivation on the soil. Besides, the greenhouses can also function as energy producing units. For example, only some part of the spectrum is allowed to reach plants through the fuse glasses and the rest of the heat can be preserved for future purposes. They use chemicals only if an emergency situation arises as compared to organic farming or outside farming. Moreover, in organic farming, productivity is low.

Above all, there is a huge increase in population worldwide, and it is predicted that three billion people will move from low income to middle-income group, which will cause an increase in food demand.

New knowledge and technology will help meet this challenging demand, according to Aalt Dijkhuizen, president of Dutch Topsector Agri and Food. "There is a room for increased collaboration between the UAE and the Netherlands in this field as there is no need for soil for this technology. Like the Netherlands, the UAE also lacks fertile soil. Greenhouse technology is tailor-made worldwide, which means the smart greenhouses can be used everywhere based on the temperature and humidity variations."

When asked whether technology helps feed the world and control the price rise, Aalt, who has been in this sector for decades, told Khaleej Times: "It is an ethical question. But there is always a need to produce more food to feed the world. When you produce more, eventually prices will go down.

"People are willing to pay for food but they don't want to give double the price. Also, when people become wealthy, they look for good quality food. And technology helps not only to have food security but to store them safely, make the best food available at best prices possible. Food is something that has to be available in affordable prices because everyone buys them. There should be more volume of production than prices. That demands more innovations. One single company cannot meet the investments for innovations. That's why we combine money and people for innovations."

The Dutch exploration for sustainable solutions is not limited to its innovation centres or universities, it is an everyday affair for them. They find natural ways to improve their quality of life. That's why the number of bicycles is more in the Netherlands than people, according to the citizens of the country. A visitor feels that's why the Dutch make their guests walk short distances instead of depending on taxis, unlike in the UAE!

Nazeem Beegum

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