EXCLUSIVE: a Pioneering project in Somaliland delivers the first harvest of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers – all grown using only seawater

Madeleine Cuff


A ground-breaking project to grow vegetables with seawater has produced its first harvest in Somaliland, green tech start-up Seawater Greenhouse announced today.

The UK firm has reaped a successful crop of lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions from the ‘greenhouse’ – a shade net covered with cardboard pads. Seawater is trickled over the pads to keep the air damp and cool for the plants, cutting the need for irrigation by up to 90 percent.

The remaining water for the plants comes from an on-site desalination plant – the first in the country – powered by solar.

The Somaliland set-up, Seawater Greenhouse’s first in the Horn of Africa, adapts the start-up’s design from similar projects in Australia, Abu Dhabi, and Oman, in particular by replacing glass panels in the greenhouse with netting. This cuts costs tenfold compared to previous projects and is better suited to Somaliland’s climate, Seawater Greenhouse said.

The greenhouse is also helping to regenerate nearby land thanks to the moisture produced by the indoor plants. This ‘oasis effect’ is allowing local farmers to start growing beans, melons and aubergines outdoors on the site.

Somaliland is one of the poorest countries in the world, with millions of its citizens in need of emergency aid such as food and water due to severe drought and the ongoing conflict in the region. According to the UN, the number of Somalis – across Somalia and Somaliland – on the brink of famine has grown tenfold since this time last year.

Seawater Greenhouse’s founder and director Charlie Paton said the setup will not only act as a vital food source for local people but could also provide a scalable solution for water-stressed sites around the world. “Water shortages are a global crisis that is worsening dramatically,” he said. “So is land degradation. This represents a scalable model that could be taken anywhere there is limited or no fresh water.”

Paton now wants to expand the project from one to five hectares, but needs to find local investors willing to back the scheme. “This project’s ongoing success is going to be dependent on local ownership,” he said.

Madeleine Cuff

Madeleine Cuff is the Deputy Editor at BusinessGreen, responsible for contributing daily news and features and analysis pieces to the site. She has a particular interest in sustainability in the food and fashion industries, alongside an enduring curiosity for new clean tech innovations.

Prior to joining BusinessGreen in June 2015, Madeleine spent three years as an assistant editor at innovation consultancy Stylus, where she covered future-facing shifts in the science, technology and health sectors. She has a Masters in journalism from City University London and a first class honors degree in English Literature from Durham University.

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