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Seawater Greenhouse in the Horn of Africa

Use sunlight and seawater to end the 'famine follows drought' dictum

Photo of Charlie Paton
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Seawater Greenhouse Ltd

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa - PENHA

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Somaliland - a self-declared state, internationally considered to be an autonomous region of Somalia. It has a 740 km coastline.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Over the past 5 years we have developed, designed and implemented a Seawater Greenhouse that is optimised for the local economic, social and environmental conditions.  The pilot project follows on from a highly successful design for Sundrop Farms in Australia which is now growing 17,000 tons of tomatoes / year using sunlight and sea water.  The Somaliland design, while still based on evaporative cooling with seawater, is however radically different - simpler, cheaper, more rugged and easier to replicate.  We undertook this design in response to the many requests we had from the Somali diaspora community in the UK.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Somalia is a fragile country and is considered to be the world's No1 failed state.  There are many reasons for this but underlying everything is the lack of water and consequence inability to grow crops and feed her population.  It is the world centre of water insecurity, making it the centre of food insecurity which in turn generates physical insecurity and conflict.  The majority of the population (~80%) have no formal education yet can recite from memory their past ancestors going back 15 generations. Historically and still today, the people are tribal and while the clan structure provided some security, most are semi nomadic pastoralists who have grown up and lived in a permanent state of conflict.  

Traditionally the diet is meat based - sheep, goats and camel.  This diet is precarious when the livestock depend entirely on rain-fed pasture and in a region where rainfall is always erratic. Average precipitation has declined by 80% over the past century, largely a consequence of the broken water cycle caused by desertification - over-grazing, massive deforestation for charcoal production and mismanagement of ground water.  When rains do come, it often floods, damaging infrastructure and drowning animals.

A cultural issue we face is that farming is generally despised and suited only to the very poor.  Wealth and status are measured by livestock ownership.  When the livestock are decimated by drought or flood, camps for Internally Displaced People (IDP) provide the only refuge, and once in, there is no easy way out.  The 2018 Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan estimates the total IDP population at 2.6 million as of February 2018. Despite 70% of their population being composed of women and children, IDP camps provide limited employment opportunities to them due to their lack of skills as well as social restrictions. Lacking income and needing to support their families, women are faced with the hard options to either remain in the shelters or to move around Mogadishu in search of rarely available income opportunities, often leading them to accept exploitative casual work which pays less than a dollar a day. Surviving on one meal a day and poor access to food commodities is the cause of high malnutrition among infants and especially pregnant women in camps.

The aid industry, together with remittances from abroad that has grown to meet this challenge is the primary source of income to the region.  The annual aid budget to sub-Saharan Africa stands at some US$ 45billion and growing year on year.  We estimate that the cost to make every man, women and child in Somaliland self sufficient in fresh produce would have a one off capital cost of just 1% of that ~$400m.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The six themes are all linked, directly or indirectly to a lack of water and the seemingly accepted mantra of 'Famine Follows Drought'.  Could it be that this situation continues because there are enough people who wish it to?  After all, the aid industry is the country's major source of income and the main source of employment.  It may be keeping people alive, but it is not solving the problem, rather it is helping it grow.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Converting semi nomadic pastoralists to horticulturists is a major challenge that will require investment, training and a change in mindset.  The technical challenge is relatively trivial as we have already demonstrated - albeit on a tiny scale.  The two biggest challenges are:

1  Converting the aid machine culture from one of a 'hand out' to a 'hand up', and

2  Ensuring that the solution gains local adoption and ownership, and is interesting and profitable.

Such a shift is not without precedence, both elsewhere and within Somalia, where the mobile phone network coupled with mobile banking has experienced great success in a very short time.  Even so, there are several, locally owned providers and even these are split along clan lines.  Local ownership and local benefit are the keys to success.  Additionally, the solution needs to be women focused.  While the society is strictly patriarchal, it is the women who do most of the work and currently carry the largest share of the burdens of poverty.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Desertification, coupled with climate change and a fast growing population have reduced the environments capacity to absorb shock and broken the water cycle.  Yet the region is not short of water, its just that most of it is in the wrong place and too salty

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

What if CO2 were not the poison of our era, but the feedstock of a carbon-sequestering, agricultural economy? –  Just add water.

The image Illustrates 100ha of mixed agro-forestry with the potential to grow 300,000 tons of food (@30kg/m2) and sequester 1,000 tons carbon/year (@10 tons/ha)

If this were scaled up to 2,000 hectare, it would:

- Feed the 4m people in Somaliland with fruit and vegetables @ 0.4kg/day (WHO min.)

- Make 15m tonnes of fresh water / year

- Evaporate 32m tonnes water / year

- Sequester ~20k tonnes /CO2/ year

- Make 146k tonnes of salt / year

- Have a one off capital cost of ~ $400m

- Eliminate the culture of aid dependency and the associated suffering of refugee camps

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Attachments (1)

SG Company Introduction.pptx

Overview of the process


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

HI Charlie Paton great to see you joining the Prize!

We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.

You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit. linked here:

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.

Photo of Charlie Paton

Thank you Lauren for prompting me - with success!
Still unfinished but published