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This Moroccan startup grows crops in the desert

2023-11-22 15:30:17:

This Moroccan startup grows crops in the desert


Climate change means desertification is a growing problem, with 250 million people directly affected by the degradation of formerly fertile lands.

This problem affects a third of the earth’s surface, according to the United Nations. parts of Africa, South America, southern Europe, China and a third of American soil. Reclaiming drylands and converting them back into agricultural fields could be key to ensuring we are able to feed the world’s population.

Sand to Green is a Moroccan startup that can transform a piece of desert into a sustainable and profitable plantation in five years, according to Wissal Ben Moussa, its co-founder and agricultural director.

“Desertification is the future of many countries today,” she says. “Our solution is to use agroforestry to create a new type of agriculture that is sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change. »

The system can be deployed anywhere near a brackish water source, which Sand to Green desalinates using solar technology. He then plants a variety of fruit trees and herbs in the same space – a practice known as intercropping – and irrigates their roots directly with desalinated water, to minimize evaporation.

The soil is regenerated using what Sand to Green calls “green manure,” a mixture that includes compost, biochar and microorganisms that help the soil “wake up,” according to Ben Moussa. Biochar is a form of charcoal that can help arid soils retain water.

This allows some herbs to be ready for harvest after just two years.

Wissal Ben Moussa, co-founder of Sand to Green and agricultural director.

As part of a five-hectare trial in southern Morocco, carried out since 2017, Sand to Green tested a variety of plants in search of the most efficient ones. “My three favorite trees are the carob tree, the fig tree and the pomegranate tree,” explains Ben Moussa. “They are endemic to the regions where we wish to deploy, have high added value in terms of products, but they are also very resilient. »

Successfully tested intercrops include rosemary, geranium, vetiver and lemongrass, which Ben Moussa describes as “very low maintenance and very high margin”.

A 2018 review by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification found that the global economy was on the verge of a slowdown. lose $23 trillion by 2050 from land degradation, while Taking urgent action would cost only a fraction of that amount, $4.6 trillion. Land degradation or drought affects 169 countries, with Asia and Africa hardest hit.

Efforts to grow crops in desert environments are increasing. The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture grows salt-tolerant superfoods in Dubai’s sandy soil, while in Tanzania, nonprofits use earth mounds called dykes to hold back water so it can penetrate into the dried out soil, allowing the grasses to return.

Sand to Green is currently working on expanding a 20-hectare proof-of-concept commercial site, also in southern Morocco. It says a site of this size would cost around €450,000 ($475,000) to set up and would start generating financial returns in around five years.

“With this system, we create biodiversity, which means better soils, healthier crops and higher yields,” explains Ben Moussa. “Our plantation can generate 1.5 times more yield and therefore more income than a monoculture plantation in the same area. »

Once commercialized, each plot of land will be divided into plantations which will be provided as a “green investment”, explains Ben Moussa, with Sand to Green taking care of each stage, from creation to completion. Revenues will be shared between investors and Sand to Green.

Earlier this year, the company raised $1 million in seed funding, and there are plans to raise more, 500 hectare project, still in Morocco.

Sand to Green says its techniques could be used in countries like Mauritania, Senegal, Namibia, Egypt, In the Arabian Peninsula, parts of the United States and on the Mexican coast. “We can go anywhere in the world as long as we have access to brackish water,” says Ben Moussa. “The good news is there are plenty of them along the coastal areas. »


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