How to grow vegetables in the Sahara Desert
Now, an ambitious high-tech agricultural project could make the desert bloom again and establish a new green economy in the process.
“We are trying to achieve a triple bottom line,” says Joakim Hauge, CEO of the company. “Something that makes financial sense, but also offers social and environmental benefits. ”
The SFP has developed a model based on the use of abundant resources to respond to shortages. This principle will be reflected in the basic technologies of the Tunisian installation.
The sea water will also be desalinated to extract both salt and fresh water, and the humidity from the greenhouses will be used to stimulate the growth of new plants outside the facility, in the hope to regenerate a larger ecosystem.
Hauge says efficiency improved as the group learned to adapt their model to particular conditions.
“We learned more about the value of local knowledge,” he said, adding that the Tunisian project would draw on local talent in a range of jobs from agriculture to highly skilled technical positions.
Hauge hopes the project and its local employees can inspire the growth of the country’s renewable energy sector.
In the right place at the right time
Tunisia was chosen as the project site on October 9, 2015, the day a group of Tunisian activists received the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in the 2011 “Jasmine Revolution” which preceded the transition to democracy. .
“Tunisia has always been interesting for its physical conditions,” explains Hauge. “Political developments have made it more and more interesting for us.”
On the same day, the SFP convinced the Norwegian Foreign Ministry that a newly dynamic and forward-thinking Tunisia would be the ideal host for their project, and secured funding for it.
In addition to responding to an emergency, the clean energy industry also offers another symbolic break from the past.
“The renewables sector can be good for our economic transition, after the success of the political transition,” says Ammar ben Lamine, Tunisia’s ambassador to Norway, and a key ally of the SFP project.
How to do ‘farming on Mars’
Despite the success of the SFP pilot in Qatar, it is doubtful whether the project can deliver on its great promise.
“(Among) the biggest problems throughout the region of North Africa and the Arab countries are the dust and sand storms that constantly cover solar panels and penetrate all the machines on display.”
However, Hirt believes that the SFP “is worth the effort and will teach us more about how to turn these vast areas of unused land into agriculture.”
SFPs intend to expand their model to have greater impact. Beyond its work in Tunisia and Jordan, the group has embryonic plans for a 4,000 hectare mega-facility that would employ 6,000 people and deliver 170,000 tonnes of products each year.
If such plans materialize, the Sahara could enter a new green era.