A newly-patented process to improve the water retention of desert soils by binding nano-particles of clay to grains of sand may help many millions of people whose livelihoods—and lives—are threatened by desertification.
Last December, 12 years after first beginning work on his Liquid Nanoclay (LNC) innovation, Norwegian scientist Kristian Morten Olesen found himself in the United Arab Emirates on the oasis farm of Faisal Mohammed Al Shimmari, after the farmer agreed to host a trial of LNC using okra, tomatoes, and eggplant as test subjects. Soil treated with LNC used 50% less water, the BBC reports, a very big deal in a country where “desert farms use almost three times as much water as those in temperate climates.”
At present, that water use “makes farming in the desert impractical, so the UAE imports about 80% of its food,” the UK radio network notes. LNC could help shift that calculation.
“For many, this might be the future of farming [as] increased drought, deforestation, and intensive farming methods are turning an area half the size of Britain into desert each year,” writes correspondent Aamir Rafiq Peerzada. By 2045, the United Nations forecasts that up to 135 million people could lose their homes and livelihoods to desertification.
Olesen said the LNC process is purely physical, involves no chemical agents, and “can change any poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land in just seven hours.” One stumbling block to implementation, however, will be the cost of treatment: currently ranging between US$1,800 and $9,500 (£1,300 to £6,900) per hectare, the technique is “too expensive for most farmers,” BBC notes.