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First sustainable greenhouse research facility launched in Oman


MUSCAT, MARCH 16 - The first sustainable greenhouse designed to solve food security issues in Oman was inaugurated at Sohar University.

The greenhouse named Grow Dome — designed by University of Sheffield, in collaboration with Sohar University — will be used as a research facility, showing off its potential to grow vegetables and herbs, and breed and grow fish. The ceremony was held under the auspices of Eng Ahmed bin Hassan al Dheeb, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The project is a product of a research grant awarded to Sohar University in collaboration with University of Sheffield in 2017 by the British Council under the UK-Gulf Institutional Links Programme, which is part of the UK government’s strategic commitment to strengthening partnerships with the Gulf countries.

In a report, Sheffield University explained the Grow Dome was no ordinary greenhouse, but harnesses technologies such as hydroponics and aquaponics for farming. It makes use of solar desalination which requires little more than power generated by the sun and converts seawater into freshwater. It was also designed to provide a cooler environment, rather a hotter one, using evaporative cooling.

Duncan Cameron, a Soil Microbiologist at the University of Sheffield, who helped lead the project, said: “Oman is a difficult country. It reaches highs of 50 degrees Celsius during summer with 65 per cent humidity and struggles to grow anything. This leads to food prices quadrupling during the season.”

“We had to create a greenhouse that can produce fruit and vegetables in the heat of summer in Oman but can be dropped as a package anywhere and be made bespoke.”

Greenhouse use is already common in Europe where they are used to protect and grow high-value crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and soft fruits,” Cameron added.

Traditional greenhouses are not fit for the Gulf region due to the massive amount of energy they need and the extremely hot temperature during summer. This problem is solved by supporting plants artificially, suspending them from the ground and using foam instead of soil to hold nutrients and water around their roots, in a farm technique called hydroponic system.

Professor Tony Ryan, a University of Sheffield academic who was present at the launch, said: “We’re delighted to be unveiling the first science-led greenhouses to provide fresh local fruit and vegetables. We hope to work with other communities living in some of the world’s harshest climates to develop more greenhouses.”

Jomar Mendoza

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