Qatar’s First Saltwater Barley Crop Sprouts in the Desert

greening the desert, Sahara Forest Project, saltwater greenhouses, barley in the desert, Qatar, Middle East, food security, water scarcity, desertificationWater scarcity combined with desertification makes for a scary combination in the Middle East, but The Sahara Forest Project (SFP) is pioneering a promising solution: greenhouses that use saltwater to grow food in the middle of the desert.

Since the pilot project broke ground in Qatar last December, three cucumber crops have been harvested, and now the group has harvested their first barley crop.

Speaking at a Sustainable Qatar Meeting at the Friends of Environment Center, cultivation coordinator Patrick Brading stressed that their seawater greenhouses, scaled up, could go a long way to ease food insecurity and provide employment opportunities.

A 4,000 hectare project could create up to 6,000 direct jobs and 13,000 indirect jobs, Brading said at the meeting.

“This is an investment opportunity of $1.5 to 2bn with an annual production of 173,000 tons of tomatoes, 7.5mn liters of bio fuel, and permanent CO2 storage of 495,000 tons per year,” he said.

“It will also have scope for 280 Gwh clean energy for export yearly.”

Jordan has also signed up to work on greening its desert using the seawater greenhouses, and a Danish group is working on a documentary to track SFP’s progress.

While raising money for the documentary through a recent Kickstarter campaign, the Copenhagen Film Company raised a few questions that are relevant to Brading’s suggestion that Qatar should invest in the SFP project to secure a more sustainable future.

“Will the people behind the Sahara Forest Project succeed in bringing this technology to market and sharing it with the societies of people who need it most: local desert communities in water scarce regions?” they asked.

“Will they benefit from this revolutionary technology economically, environmentally and socially?”

The pilot project is Qatar in its very early stages, and barley and cucumbers are the only crops that have been grown so far, so it’s still too soon to get too excited.

But such soaring success so early in the game offers a glimmer of hope for those living throughout the Arabian Peninsula and indeed other desert countries as well.

:: Gulf Times

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