The innovation of turning desert sand into arable land

Faisal Mohammed Al Shimmari holdings in some of the most extreme conditions in the world, in the oasis city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates desert, where temperatures of up to 50C.

“It is expensive, since we regularly buy water for the irrigation of these plants,” he says.

The farmers have to bring the use of tankers, in water and in the desert farms is almost three times as much water as those in temperate climate zones. This makes the agriculture in the desert is impractical, so that the UAE imports about 80% of its food.

But for many, this could be the future of agriculture. More drought, deforestation, and intensive farming methods, is a half the size of great Britain in the desert every year.

According to the United Nations Convention to combat climate change by 2045, 135 million people could lose their homes and livelihood desertification.

The challenge, as food can grow, in the increasingly hostile conditions, but a scientist with an innovation that could turn those deserts green again.Liquid clay

Norwegian scientist Kristian Morten Olesen has patented a process to mix the nano-particles of clay with water and tie them to sand-particle state, the desert floor – it has a liquid-Nanoclay (LNC) since 2005.

“The treatment of sand-particles of a clay coating, which completely changed its physical properties, and allows you to bind with water,” he says.

“In this process, not by any chemical means. We can change the poor quality of the sandy soils in high-yield arable land in only seven hours.”

Kristian, the son of Ole Morten Olesen, who is also the chief operating officer of the company, which you founded, desert Control, says: “We just mix the natural clay in water, loading it in the sand creates a half-Meter layer in the earth, transforming the sand into a good fertile soil.”

Normal sand particles are very loose, which means that you have a very low water capacity.

But if you mean liquid adding Nanoclay on the sand, it binds together those grains of sand, says Kristian, what, it hold the water longer”, increasing the possibility of profits of agriculture”.UAE-study

Back in the United Arab Emirates, Faisal agreed to host a test version of liquid Nanoclay last December, and two areas have been planted with a selection of plants: tomatoes, eggplant, and okra.

It was treated with LNC, while a second portion was untreated.

“I am amazed at the success of the LNC,” says Faisal. “It is easy to be saved, and the consumption of water by more than 50%, it means now I can double the green cover with the same water.”

He says that the untreated surface is used almost 137 cubic meters of water for irrigation and the treatment with LNC only 81 cubic meters.

“I can double the area under cultivation with the same amount of water I was using before,” says Faisal.

The cost of the treatment per hectare (2.4-acre), which varies from the desert of $1,800-$9,500 (£1,300-£6,900) depending on the size of the project – currently it is too expensive for most farmers.

The soil requires a 15%-20% after treatment for four or five years, if the land is cultivated, and if not cultivated, then the treatment will take longer.

Desert Control, says initially, it will target the local governments, and commercial breeders, but eventually the cost for all would be accessible to breeders.

“This is a big game changer” for farmers in dry areas, says Kristian.

Part of our series of what the temperature is focused on the fight against climate change, and the people and ideas that make a difference.

This BBC series was produced with funding from the Skoll Foundation