The Sahara Forest Project to grow 10 hectares of food in the Tunisian desert
With 75 percent of its country comprised of desert, it’s not easy for Tunisia to grow food. But the Sahara Forest Project aims to change that with a $30 million facility funded by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Building on their first projects in Qatar and Jordan, the group will use solar energy and desalination technology to sprout food in the Sahara Desert.
The Tunisian government has given the Sahara Forest Project its blessing to build the facility, which will cover 10 hectares and is slated to open in 2018. It is expected to equal the success of the pilot in Qatar, which produced vegetables at “a comparable rate to European farms.”
So how do they accomplish what was once thought impossible, or at least improbable? By integrating solar power and desalination technology. Seawater is used to cool and humidify the facility, and the extracted salt will be sold commercially. The desalinated water will be used to irrigate the plants and can even be used for drinking. Concentrated solar power, which utilizes mirrors to generate heat for a steam turbine, produces the electricity necessary to power the seawater greenhouse, both purifying the water and pumping it through the space. Together, these two technologies will ensure food can be grown throughout the year.
The project will help Tunisia achieve its goal of utilizing more renewable energy. In 2015, the country’s power was generated using only 1 percent renewable energy, but they pledged to raise that number to 30 percent by 2030. The Tunisian government, the only relatively stable democracy in the Middle East and North Africa region after the uprisings of the Arab Spring, has been very open to the Sahara Forest Project as they seek ways to mitigate climate change.
Not only will the Tunisia facility develop agriculture and renewable technology in an arid climate, it will also employ hundreds of people – from farmers to high-skilled positions operating the technology. The UN’s sustainable development efforts include fighting desertification, and the Sahara Forest Project aims to expand to impact as many desert countries as possible. Another facility is currently being built in Jordan, and the group has plans to eventually build a plant somewhere in the Middle East that would produce 170,000 tons of food every year.