Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Farms secures $10m in new funding

Saudi Aramco’s entrepreneurship arm Wa’ed and the FII Institute are among the investors in its latest financing round

Ryan Lefers, Co-Founder & CEO with Mark Tester, Co-Founder & CSO. Courtesy Red Sea Farms
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Agricultural technology company Red Sea Farms secured $10 million to develop commercial farming using salt water sources to help improve food security in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

The latest funding round was led by a group of Saudi and UAE investors including Saudi Aramco’s entrepreneurship arm Wa’ed, the non-profit foundation Future Investment Initiative Institute and King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (Kaust), the company said on Monday.

UAE-based venture capital group Global Ventures is also providing new investment.

“The investment from our new partners will help us improve global food security while reducing the carbon and fresh-water footprint,” Red Sea Farms’ chief executive Ryan Lefers said.

The company, set up in 2018 by Mr Lefers along with Mark Tester and Derya Baran, aims to reduce the use of fresh water in farming by 85 to 90 per cent. It is based at Kaust in Thuwal, 60 miles north of Jeddah.

“The Red Sea Farms investment reflects our decade-long commitment to the Saudi start-up sector, where Wa’ed has deployed more than $100m in venture capital investments and loans to more than 100 entrepreneurs,” Wassim Basrawi, the managing director of Aramco venture Wa’ed, said.

“Red Sea Farms is a good example of a game-changing start-up whose innovations not only can transform markets but improve life for everyone in the kingdom.”

Food security has been made a priority for many Gulf nations in recent years, even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted global supply chains. GCC states currently import as much as 90 per cent of the food they consume, according to Chatham House.

“Our investment in Red Sea Farms is an expression of FII-Institute’s mission to support initiatives and projects which will have a positive impact on humanity,” Richard Attias, the FII Institute’s chief executive, said. The investment is FII Institute’s first in the AgTech sector.

Red Sea Farms is initially using its technology to grow and sell tomatoes in Saudi Arabia, but ultimately plans to sell entire growing systems to buyers around the world.

In 2019, the company received a $1.9m investment from the Kaust Innovation Fund and Riyadh-based Research Products Development Company.

Other governments in the region are also supporting companies developing AgTech. Last year, Abu Dhabi said it will offer more than Dh110m ($30m) in financial incentives to companies in the sector looking to set up operations in the emirate as part of its Dh50 billion Ghadan 21 accelerator initiative.