As a solution to this, British company Seawater Greenhouse - in collaboration with researchers from Aston University, Birmingham - have developed greenhouses capable of growing crops in some of the earth’s most inhospitable climates, using recycled water from the sea.
“The greatest debilitating factor for farmers trying to grow crops in the Horn of Africa is that evaporation is much greater than precipitation,” says Charlie Paton, managing director of Seawater Greenhouse. “The Seawater Greenhouse process overcomes that by using seawater to produce cooler, cleaner and more humid air.”
The greenhouses are run using photovoltaic technology, which pumps saltwater from the sea, producing freshwater via a process of reverse osmosis. The remaining water is then trickled over a specially designed cardboard structure, positioned adjacent to the wind direction, to create a cool, humid breeze that reduces transpiration.
The methods used will enable salt extracted from the seawater to be reserved for use in cooking and preserving, while seaweed and kelp can be extracted to aid in fertilisation of the greenhouses and surrounding areas.
“Seaweed is well known to be a good fertiliser as it contains all the macro and micro elements needed for crop cultivation,” says Paton. The company will carefully extract the seaweed before blending it with other materials, such as composted animal and plant waste to make a balanced fertiliser.
The three-year project has an existing budget of £700,000 and has been awarded an initial £500,000 funding grant by DFID through the Innovate UK Agritech Catalyst fund. Current plans are to produce a 0.2 hectare greenhouse, which will support a further area of outdoor, less intensive agricultural production of one hectare.
The project is part of wider efforts to overcome inhospitable regions across the Horn of Africa, where temperatures regularly exceed 40°C, rainfall is erratic and infrequent and food scarcity is amongst the most severe on earth.