Stop the Desert: Innovative Landscaping Projects

    08 Sep 2021

    For millions of people on the planet “desert” is a terrible word, synonymous with hunger, thirst and death. Huge areas, deprived of water, and hence life is only growing, and until recently nothing could be done about it.

    Let’s check the projects collected by Climate Info that have challenged the drought, as well as the people who are turning dead lands into flourishing oases in the most unusual ways.

    1. Kuwait. Sea water + desert = cucumber

    The project of Norwegian biologist Joachim Hauge “Green Sahara” can be called a greenhouse, but only conditionally. After all, it is located in Qatar, on the shores of the Persian Gulf, where the heat is so plentiful. However, the combination of seawater and sun gives the desired effect. The front wall of this house is made of cardboard and looks like beehives soaked in saltwater. The hot wind, passing through the cells, cools, which helps maintain a comfortable temperature inside. And as freshwater for irrigation, inventors use the condensate, which accumulates on a roof at night. So far, only herbaceous plants, such as cucumbers, barley or arugula, are growing in this “greenhouse”. Still, scientists plan to create a seaweed farm for pharmaceutical purposes and start planting trees gradually. The only disadvantage of such “desert farming” is that the average price of a grown cucumber is still about one dollar. In response, scientists are just smiling, reminding us that this is not just about agriculture but about a new industry called “restorative ecology”.

    The silhouette of plowed sand dunes with beds of growing vegetables may seem like a shot from the Star Trek TV series. However, this sci-fi story took place in reality in the Jordanian desert. The BELLONA association and the Norwegian government presented the results of the Green Sahara project. 

    On September 6, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment Vidar Helgesen, along with King Abdullah II of Jordan and President of BELLONA Frederick Hauge, tasted cucumbers grown in the arid sands around Aqaba, a Jordanian port city where there is practically no rainfall during the year and stands 30-degree heat. 

    The cucumbers were so delicious that Hauge and his brother Joakim, General Director of the Green Sahara project, did not hide their pride. 

    “We can see that it works,” said Joakim Hauge. “It’s just fantastic.” 

    “This is an important contribution to solving the climate crisis,” says Helgesen. 

    Everything is used

     Of course, everything does not happen by itself – it is not enough just to dig a hole in the sand and throw seeds there. The Green Sahara project, which was supported by the EU, the US and Norway, has been introducing new technologies in the desert over the past eight years. These technologies are able to make the most of the harsh climatic conditions. Launched in 2009 near Doha in Qatar, the Green Sahara project has been fully implemented in Jordan.

    Cucumbers grow in greenhouses cooled by sea water. Solar panels generate electricity from solar energy to desalinate seawater. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is absorbed by the growing plants, resulting in a negative CO2 balance. This process brings in 10,000 liters of fresh water per day and allows the production of 130,000 kg of vegetables per year. 

    “This is a circulating model of the economy, when production wastes are used as raw materials,” explained Joakim Hauge. 

    Everything is used. The rest of the water is used for landscaping the next part of the desert area. Even salt obtained from seawater finds use. 

    Opening ceremony of the “Green Sahara” project in Jordan. Photo: Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon, King Abdullah II of Jordan, General Director of Green Sahara Joakim Hauge.

    The “Green Sahara” project appeared at an opportune moment. Desert area is growing 30 times faster today than at any time in history, according to recent UN estimates. In Africa, where the negative effects of climate change are already evident, millions of people migrate in search of arable land. With the world’s population reaching 9 billion in 2050, there is less and less fertile land. 

    Desert landscaping technologies will soon be in demand around the world. Further, the “Green Sahara” project can be developed in Australia and Tunisia. 

    “And this is just the beginning,” says Frederic Hauge. “In a few years, the project will be of tremendous importance to many people in the world.” 

    After all, “Green Sugar” is not only food. Technological advances and the exchange of know-how create jobs. The project will attract the attention of entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists around the world and will turn Aqaba into a mecca of green innovation and education. This, in turn, will enable Jordan to cope with the enormous challenges posed by food and water shortages.

    From Australia to Somalia

    Several other companies are employing similar technologies in other arid corners of the world.

    In 2016, UK-based agribusiness Sundrop Farms Holding Ltd opened a vast greenhouse for tomato farming in the Australian outback near Port Augusta, 300 kilometers north of Adelaide.

    The facility runs on energy mostly produced by a 115-meter solar tower that draws sunlight from 23,000 mirrors surrounding it.

    “Traditional agriculture is wasteful in terms of water and fossil fuels. In addition, unprotected crops are at the mercy of the elements, causing gaps in supply, quality issues and price spikes,” Sundrop chief executive Philipp Saumweber said.

    The company has signed a 10-year contract to supply Australian supermarket chain Coles with truss tomatoes and received investments of about $100 million from private equity firm KKR & Co, according to a 2014 statement.

    “While the capital expenditure required to build our farms is slightly more expensive due to its cutting-edge nature, we reap the benefits of this initial investment in the long run through savings of fossil inputs,” said Saumweber.

    Around 11,000 kilometers away, in sunbaked and drought-hit Somaliland, another British-based venture, Seawater Greenhouse, is setting up a pilot facility aimed at making high-tech greenhouse production more affordable.

    “We have eliminated using fans,” said British inventor Charlie Paton, a former business partner of Saumweber, who pioneered the use of solar energy and salt water for irrigation in the 1990s.

    “We designed [the greenhouse] to be cool by exploiting the prevailing wind. So it’s a wind-cooled greenhouse,” he said in a phone interview.

    The one-hectare complex, which received funding from the British government, cost about $100,000, he said, adding he expected it to produce around 30 tons of tomatoes a year and 16 liters of drinking water a day for irrigation and livestock.

    Paton said he hoped the greenhouse, which employs mostly local staff, would serve as a hub for expansion across the Horn of Africa.

    “The region gets a lot of humanitarian aid and that’s arguably detrimental because if you give free food to people you put farmers out of business,” he said.

    “It has more chances of success if people can make money out of it.”

    2.               Green Wall of China

    It is unlikely that anyone will argue that the Chinese know how to build great walls. By analogy with the Great Wall in defense of the Celestial Kingdom will soon be Green one.

    This is a series of human-planted windbreaking forest strips (shelterbelts) in China, designed to hold back the expansion of the Gobi Desert, and provide timber to the local population. The program started in 1978, and is planned to be completed around 2050, at which point it will be 4,500 kilometres long.

    Today it is the largest landscaping project in human history. Its goal is to stop the process of desertification in northern China. “Yellow Dragons” (as the Chinese poetically called the Asian dust storms, traces of which can be found even in the United States) annually take up to 1,300 square km of territories. The project, which began in the 70s of last century, is scheduled to be completed in 2050. And genetic engineering will come to the aid of the Chinese – poplars and tamarisks for a living wall will be extremely unpretentious, adapted to the local climate and will grow quickly.

    The “living wall” will protect China from dust storms, the effects of which are felt by 400 million people.

    The green wall, consisting of trees, shrubs and grasses, will stretch through 13 provinces for 4,500 km in length and 100 km in width.

    3.                      The Great Green Wall (Africa)

    An African project, the name and goals of which are similar to the Chinese, but adjusted for harsh realities. The forest strip will be narrower than the Chinese (15 km), but one and a half times longer (almost 8,000 km). It will stretch through 11 states from Senegal to Djibouti, ie from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea. The project, for which the Global Environment Facility will allocate $ 119 million, has not only environmental but also economic significance. Due to forests, moisture will evaporate less intensely, which will lead to the development of agriculture and increase incomes. It should be noted that no seedlings and seeds from other continents that would become invasive species will be imported into Africa – all plants are only local.

    As part of the Great Green Wall project in Africa, farmers are digging crescent-shaped grooves to hold water

    4.               Project by Yakubi Savadogo in Burkina Faso

    The living legend of Burkina Faso, the “man who stopped the desert,” was the name given to the African farmer by the British media, which made a documentary about him. A traditionalist and innovator in one person, Yakub Savadoho does not use advanced gadgets and achievements in his methodology. The ancient method of local agriculture is called “zay”. Instead of plowing dry soil, the aborigines throw seeds into the holes. And Jacob just added straw and manure to them. This retained moisture, which attracted termites. Insects loosened the soil, and the crop grew like yeast. The farmer even managed to grow trees on the desert soil, and now they are almost independent of the weather. The technique is spreading rapidly across the continent.

    “Trees are like lungs. And if we do not protect them, the end of the world will come, “said Yakub Savadoho

    5.               “Walking City” by Stefan Malka (Sahara)

    The French architect from the Malka Architecture studio is known all over the world for his eco-house designs, but this idea exceeds the most daring expectations. A giant sixteen-foot platform (originally designed to transport NASA rockets) will roam the Sahara, rebuilding the soil. Unlike oil rigs in the ocean, the Malki project will be a real populated city with a developed infrastructure, gardens, solar and wind power plants. Therefore, for the reclamation of land will not need outside help – everything you need will give processing processing

    6.               Israeli agricultural miracle

    Perhaps their most impressive Israeli farmers achievement is the narrow Arava Valley, which lies between the Dead and Red Seas. After all, this is a giant garden and research institutes in one area. Let’s start with the fact that there are almost no clouds over this desert – only the scorching sun and an average rainfall of 3 cm per year. And yet 60% of all Israeli agricultural products are grown here. Peppers, melons, dates and even whimsical grapes feel great here. The technology by which this is possible is called drip irrigation. The essence of the method is a strict dosage of water, which is supplied by special drips to the root of the plant. Water is taken directly from the sea, desalinated by installations based on “clean” solar energy. Rainfall-simulating sprinklers are also being used successfully in Israel. This allows you to evenly saturate the soil with moisture to the desired depth.

    With drip irrigation in Israel, watering is turned on automatically at the right time.You may read about the Al Baydha Project and how regenerative agriculture revived green life in a Saudi Arabian desert here.

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