For three years we have been designing, developing, collaborating and planning for our pilot in Berbera. Now we have built it. For more detail on the story of how we have arrived at this point read on.
The project began, some three years ago, with a question. How do we adapt our technology in order to benefit farmers in one of the world's most drought-prone and food-insecure regions: the Horn of Africa? Seawater Greenhouse had just concluded a highly successful joint venture in Australia with Sundrop Farms and was ready to take on a new challenge. Never ones to shy away from difficult endeavours, Seawater Greenhouse Somaliland was thus born. The mission was simple: to decouple drought in the region from food-shortages and famine.
Before we were to even think about building, we first had to design an all-new system to suit the conditions in the Horn of Africa. Our criteria were as follows:
It must be
- Low-cost. Our previous installation in Australia was highly sophisticated, with a hydroponic growing system and computer control. Such a system would be too expensive and difficult to maintain in Somaliland.
- Rugged. With temperatures exceeding 45C and winds over 20 metres per second, the summer months in Berbera are intense. The design therefore needed to be able to handle these conditions, while still achieving enough cooling to maintain output.
- Modular. We wanted to ensure the design was optimised for small-holder farmers, whom, along with pastoralists, make up a majority of the population in the Horn of Africa. A small family-run farm has the additional advantage of enabling the employment of women, who often make the best horticulturalists but are economically disadvantaged in the region.
To achieve our goals we needed to go back to the drawing board. The core elements would stay the same: evaporative cooling using seawater and fresh water production through desalination, but the rest had to be rethought. In order to meet our cost targets we had to make maximum use of ambient weather conditions to drive the process. This is where Aston University came in. Researchers at Aston developed mathematical models and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations that allow us to predict achievable greenhouse conditions given local meteorological conditions and materials choices. See here for a published paper on the model.
Aston's input, combined with the work of SG Designer Chris Rothera, eventually led to our finalized design. Around 10x cheaper than previous greenhouses, this newest solution combines two evaportively-cooled shade net structures (nursery and main), a work building with integrated PV and desalination units, as well as a salt production facility. The final product:
So we had a greenhouse design, optimised for the climate conditions in Berbera (and thus throughout the coastal regions of the Horn of Africa), but many questions remained. Where exactly do we build? How do we acquire the land? Who do we hire to build, operate, manage? To answer these and more we leaned on our brilliant partners PENHA (the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa). PENHA are an NGO with 25 years of experience operating in the Horn of Africa, and a dedicated team in Somaliland that implement projects to protect the environment and pastoral livelihoods throughout the country. With their guidance and support we were able to make all the preparations needed to ready the team for construction.
With a site, a team, and our materials in place, the only thing to do was crack on with construction. For a complete recap of the build, see our blog here, kept by Site Manager Chris Rothera.