Despite an arid, hot climate, Jordan has been growing food in the desert through the “Wadi Araba” project. The BBC report details that this is even more shocking when you learn that Jordan is the second most water-poor nation in the world, it has less than 150 cubic meters of water per person, per year. (The US has more than 9,000). Globally, food production consumes about 70% of global freshwater consumption and emits 25% of greenhouse gases. Farming sucks up half of Jordan’s water supply but contributes only 3% to the country’s GDP. What Jordan does have though, is sunlight and lots of it.
The project’s concept is elegant in its simplicity: Jordan’s solar energy desalinates the seawater; the desalinated water grows the crops (and the run-off cools the greenhouse) and the crops help plough carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil. Three tentpole challenges, tackled at once. Along with being a sustainable use of resources, the project could bring another benefit. Once scaled up and commercialized – and especially if its methods are adopted by other farms in the country – it could give Jordan another list of valuable exports. Currently, the country imports 98% of its food.
Arriving at that point will be a little more complicated. The project is still fresh, having only launched in September 2017. The greenhouse and its surroundings currently adds up to an area of about four football fields in size. This is just the pilot stage. The total land owned is 200 hectares. Once proven that the concept works, the idea is to scale up to 10 hectares by 2020, then to 20 hectares.
No-one doubts there will be a number of challenges ahead, but even now, the team has already grown produce using desalinated water, which is a step in the right direction.
Elsewhere in the region, the UAE has similar land characteristics as Jordan. It doesn’t have a lot of fresh water and over 85% of food is imported. What the UAE does have is sunlight and access to plenty of sea water.
The UAE is already taking steps to ensure its food security through technologies like vertical and hydroponic farms, artificial intelligence as well as partnerships with the Netherlands and India. All of this is part of a strategy to make the UAE one of the most food secure countries by 2021. Looking into semi-proven solar and sea water based processes could definitely be a part of this push with the right funding and research.
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