Knowledge for better food systems

Sahara Forest Project uses seawater and sunlight to produce drinking water and food

An engineering project aims to produce food, energy and fresh water from solar power and seawater by using a new combination of already established technologies. The Sahara Forest Project is run in desert areas of Qatar, Tunisia and Jordan.

Its facilities use restorative practices to establish vegetation in arid areas and locally reverse the trend of desertification. Various environmental technologies are combined to do this while also producing food and drinking water; the evaporation of saltwater to create cooling and distilled fresh water (i.e. in a saltwater cooled greenhouse) and solar thermal energy technologies key among these.

In their plants, a desalination unit run on energy produced by photovoltaic panels has a capacity of 10 000 liters fresh water per day will provide the necessary water for the greenhouse and outdoor growing areas. In this way, vegetables, cereals and salt are produced in previously unused areas.

Biomimicry was used a key design tool in the development of the project. The Sahara Forest Project website states:

‘There are a number of key biomimicry ideas that have been a source of inspiration throughout the project. The Namibian fog-basking beetle, which has evolved a way of harvesting its own fresh water in a desert, was important in developing the design of the seawater-cooled greenhouse. The characteristic of ecosystems being regenerative was a powerful driver for the team to strive for solutions that went beyond ‘sustainable’ to ‘restorative’.


From videos and photos (see one below), the installations look high-tech, thus representing a very different image to the more common restoration projects like the ‘Great Green Wall of Africa’.

This fifteen minute TEDx talk presents the project. Here is an update on their latest endeavour, a new facility in the Jordanian desert. Their website can be accessed here.

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The 54 countries in Africa – from the dry northern African nations, through those in deserts and rainforests, all the way to the temperate parts of South Africa – are hugely varied in their ethnic, cultural, climatic, geographic, and economic aspects. The continent’s population of over a billion inhabitants, with a median age of 19.7 years, is the youngest in the world. Due to both its localised epidemics of hunger and its huge untapped agricultural potential, Sub-Saharan Africa specifically is a key focus area for many NGOs and development agencies interested in food production and security.

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