Sun powers vegetable farms in desert

ROME: With scorching summer temperatures and little rainfall, the barren scrublands around the port of Aqaba in Jordan, one of the world’s most arid countries, might seem ill suited to cultivating cucumbers.
Yet a Norwegian company is planning to set up a solar-powered, 20 hectare (50 acre) facility that promises to grow a variety of vegetables without wasting a drop of fresh water.
“We take what we have enough of — sunlight, carbon dioxide, seawater and desert — to produce what we need more of — food, water and energy,” said Joakim Hauge, chief executive of the Sahara Forest Project (SFP). Harnessing abundant resources to generate scarce ones will be key to feeding a growing global population, set to reach 9 billion by 2050, without damaging the environment or accelerating climate change, he said.
Food production must rise by about 60 per cent by 2050 to generate enough for everyone to eat, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The Aqaba complex, set to open in the summer, evaporates salt water piped from the nearby Red Sea to cool greenhouses, creating conditions for crops to grow all year round.
Sea water is also desalinated to generate salt and fresh water for irrigation, while vapour from greenhouses is used to humidify surrounding patches of parched land so plants can grow. SFP said a pilot project in Qatar generated cucumber yields comparable to those of European farms.
But FAO experts said high costs involved limited the potential of such projects to ramp up food production on a global scale.
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 km north of Adelaide.
“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’s CEO Philipp Saumweber said.
— Reuters