Azerbaijan’s not a place I hear about every day. But there is a lot going on when it comes to agriculture. What about the horticultural industry?
One of the most rewarding parts of writing a blog is that every now and then, someone from the other side of the world (or just around the corner) gets in touch. Over a year ago, Nijat from Azerbaijan sent me an email.
Nijat works for a company called Green Tech LLC, part of a larger conglomerate called Azersun. He started out working in one of their greenhouses, but is also now exploring new technologies to be applied to greenhouses in Azerbaijan – so he’s knowledgeable about the industry and has hands-on experience too. We met at GreenTech (the other one) last year and had dinner together in Utrecht.
Later on I thought you might find it interesting to hear some of his thoughts. And now, over to my interview questions and Nijat’s answers.
Why has Green Tech decided to build greenhouses?
The horticultural sector was very profitable in Azerbaijan about 8 years ago. Neighbouring Russia is a big export market for Azerbaijani companies. I think horticultural companies have good profits from exporting to Russia, especially in winter. Currently the Arab market is also attracting our growers.
What is your background? What got you into greenhouse horticulture and this project with Green Tech specifically?
My background is in soil science and agrochemistry. I also studied environmental science. Growing plants has always attracted me. It is very enjoyable work in growing crops and harvesting at the end. The agricultural sector is one with a promising future, new perspectives and profitability in Azerbaijan – especially greenhouse horticulture. So I trust that I will be very successful in this sector. When I decided to work in the greenhouse horticulture sector, I needed to choose the right company – not only to work but also to learn and get experience. So I found out that Green Tech is also a good school.
What is your day-to-day work in this greenhouse?
I started out working as a greenhouse operator and agronomist. A few months after starting work, the company noticed my interest and investigation ability. Therefore the company offered me work as a research specialist as well. It was my dream job and I accepted it.
I am responsible for the investigation of new technologies and tools in the agricultural sector. Every day I read articles, investigate and contact different companies. This is the office part of my job. The company has a research greenhouse where we test new vegetable varieties.
What was it like working in a greenhouse in the beginning, and did you run into any unexpected hurdles?
In the begining it was a little bit hard for me, because it was my first job and I did not have much field experience. In the field you must be very active and attentive. I had to walk round 5 hectares of greenhouse, observe the plants and direct 32 workers. But after becoming more used to the job, it’s become a lot easier.
Which crops do you grow?
We grow tomatoes, eggplant, pepper, cucumber and other vegetables.
Who are your main competitors?
The greenhouse sector is growing in Azerbaijan every year. There are some major vegetable producers in greenhouses. For instance, Green Tech LLC, Bine Agro and Baku Agro Park are some other major players in this sector.
What do you see as the next crucial steps – technical, regulatory, or other – required to take Azerbaijan’s greenhouse horticultural sector to the next level?
From a technological point of view, I think there are well equipped greenhouses in Azerbaijan. Of course there some technologies missing. But when we have guests from abroad, they are always surprised that we have very modern and high-tech greenhouses.
Technological development will take this sector to the next level – for instance, harvesting robots, which are currently missing. This is mainly due to the cheap labour in Azerbaijan. In the future I am expecting the increasing usage of biopesticides instead of conventional pesticides, and the number of artificially-lit greenhouses will also increase. Artificial intelligence will lead the development of the horticultural sector of Azerbaijan in the future.
Thanks again Nijat. It’s April 2020 right now so we’re all in lockdown — but hope to see you again once travel becomes more viable again!