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Producing food, water and clean energy in the desert

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Greening the desert

“This is an example of how we need new and environmentally friendly technology to contribute to world food production while reducing climate gas emissions”, said Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg during the signing ceremony of the cooperation agreement between Yara, Qafco and The Sahara Forest Project AS to build a pilot plant in Qatar.

Producing food, fresh water and clean energy in the desert of Qatar? Is it too good to be true? But in February 2012, Yara International ASA, the Qatar Fertiliser Company, QAFCO, and The Sahara Forest Project AS signed a cooperation agreement to start a pilot project in Doha, Qatar. The goal is to build a pilot plant and test together the use of green technologies for converting the desert sustainably and profitably. 

“We need environmentally friendly technology”

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

The agreement was signed by CEO Jørgen Ole Haslestad of Yara International ASA, CEO Khalifa Abdulla Al-Sowaidi of Qafco and CEO Joakim Hauge of the Sahara Forest Project AS, at the Government Guest House in Oslo, and witnessed by the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.

Both Prime Ministers welcomed the pioneering environmental project, which will use seawater, greenhouses, solar energy and a supply of CO2 and fertilizer for cultivating desert land and making it green.

“This is an example of how we need new and environmentally friendly technology to contribute to world food production while reducing climate gas emissions. And it is very good that we have Norwegian companies, that we have Yara and Bellona, but also that we have partners in Qatar,” said  Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

“We live in a very tough part of the world and agriculture is very important for us. Water is very important for us. And this pilot project could show how we can grow with less water,” added Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.

A holistic approach backed by knowledge

The Sahara Forest Project embraces a unique approach to address challenges such as food security and climate change: using known and proven environmental technologies together to maximize beneficial synergies.

Greenhouses will utilize seawater to provide cool and humid growing conditions for vegetables. The greenhouses will produce fresh water too. The experiment also includes use of concentrated solar power for generating clean energy, cultivation of algae in a system of photobioreactors, open pond cultivation systems and outdoor hydroponic raceways for cultivation of halophytes, plants tolerant of irrigation with salty water.

“We have addressed these very serious challenges of food, water and energy security often separately and we think a more holistic approach to these issues is needed. And we are happy to have Yara and Qafco as part of that approach,” said CEO Joakim Hauge of the Sahara Forest Project AS.

The pilot plant will be built on a one hectare area inside the Qafco 5 site in Doha, Qatar. The estimated cost is 5.3 million USD and Yara and Qafco will provide the funding. The target is to have a fully operational pilot plant by December 2012.

“We are a team and we´re going to do this together. Yara and Qafco are not only contributing with funding but they are also important providers of knowledge and they have the competence of how to get things done on the ground,” highlighted Joakim Hauge.

Innovative thinking to secure a sustainable future

Relying on innovative thinking, the visionary project can change the face of the desert, not only in Qatar but in arid areas worldwide. The Qatar pilot plant will provide the first demonstration of those synergies at scale and is considered as an excellent research platform to develop and prove this new strategy.

“It is a typical example of how we want to be at the forefront of defining our future and participating in something which will secure a sustainable future for all of us,” stressed CEO Jørgen Ole Haslestad of Yara International.

External resource

The Sahara Forest Project in Qatar

SFP Qatar Folder(PDF, 1.6MB)