December 1, 2022


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Kvinnelig jordansk ingeniør plukker chili i et drivhus i ørkenen.

Refugees learn to grow vegetables adapted to the desert climate

The Norwegian-led project will ensure food production and access to water in one of the world’s driest regions.

Several greenhouses line the middle of the desert in Aqaba, Jordan. There, 18 young Syrians and Jordanians will spend 14 weeks growing peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

12 of them are refugees. 13 of them are women. They will learn to grow vegetables with the help of solar energy and desalinated seawater. United in photosynthesis, green and red are abundant in greenhouses.

– Educating Jordanian youth and Syrian refugees, especially women, in sustainable agriculture is an important step towards increased income and food security, says Norwegian Ambassador to Jordan Espen Lindback.

A future for refugees and women

The training program was developed by Norway Sahara Forest Project. Together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they work for food security and education for a sustainable future.

Various technologies are incorporated. Electricity from solar energy is used to produce fresh water from sea water. Salt water is used to cool the greenhouses, while fresh water irrigates the vegetables in the greenhouses. Surplus water is then used to fertilize the desert outside the greenhouses.

Tomatoes in the desert: Syrian and Jordanian students learn agriculture in greenhouses in the desert.

Photo: Sahara Forest Project

The project was highlighted in a recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Interim report. It is said to be a good way to increase access to water and food and increase carbon sequestration.

A sustainable future

The Sahara Forest Project has been operating in Jordan since 2011. funded the testing facility there. Ministry of Climate and Environment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Union. It was opened in 2017 by Crown Prince Haakon and King Abdullah. Upscaling is now planned at facilities in Jordan and Tunisia.

Former climate minister Vidar Helgesen (R), Crown Prince Haakon and former Norwegian ambassador to Jordan Don Allers inspect cucumber plants during the opening of the Sahara Forest Project's facility in Aqaba in 2017.

Royal opening: Former climate minister Vidar Helgesen (R), Crown Prince Haakon and former Norwegian ambassador to Jordan Don Allers inspect cucumber plants during the opening of the Sahara Forest Project’s facility in Aqaba in 2017.


They can generate 50 MW of solar power, 50 hectares of greenhouses can produce 34,000 tonnes of vegetables and employ 800 people, as well as save more than 8,000 tonnes of CO₂ per year, the IPCC notes.

Since 2020, 50 female Jordanian engineers have participated in a training program at the Sahara Forest Project.

Now 18 more students under the age of 20 will prepare for the future. The group includes Al Hussein University of Technology in Jordan.

Female students learn regenerative agriculture at the Sahara Forest Project's facility in Aqaba, Jordan.

Students: 13 of the freshmen who learned how to grow vegetables in the middle of the desert in Jordan were women.

Photo: Sahara Forest Project

Prof. Ismail Al Hindi, president of the university, praises the partnership. He says the program creates expertise in cutting-edge technology that will give participating students a competitive advantage in the future labor market.

– I would like to thank all the participants who signed this project, and I hope that we can encourage each other to increase climate-smart agriculture in Jordan, said Kedil Stack, Executive Director of the Sahara Forest Project.

Saves water

The Sahara Forest Project plans to hire top students as the program scales up in 2023.

– But what about the rest? Surely there are solar and seawater powered greenhouses in the desert?

What they learn will be useful for many agricultural sectors in Jordan. The most important thing is a climate-friendly mindset. There is a shift in agriculture in Jordan, and many people are thinking like us and switching to more water efficiency, Hydroponic Cultivation now. We use only one-tenth the water of traditional agriculture. Stack says that expertise will be in high demand.

Climate-neutral vegetables for Europe

The scheme does not compete with local farmers. Vegetables go to Europe, not to consumers in the Middle East. For Europe, many greenhouses face cold and dark winters when electricity costs are high enough to require green fodder. Jordan has enough sun to share.

Kjetil Stake stands in front of trees and palm trees outside a facility in Jordan, the Sahara Forest Project.

Green Desert: CEO Kjetil Stack in front of plants growing in the desert based on the Sahara Forest Project.

Photo: Sahara Forest Project

The Norwegian company sees another advantage with desert-grown vegetables. Planting desert around greenhouses can neutralize the climate of vegetables.

The so-called vegetation is carried out outside the greenhouses. Trees and plants grow from sand. With the help of excess water from the greenhouse and compost from the operation, new ecosystems will form. Plants must store so much carbon that it zeroes out any emissions from vegetable production.

– In the first instance we consider 1 square kilometer of desert forest. But in reality when we connect water with energy it is only imagination that sets limits to energy To suit the climate, Emphasis on stocks.

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