Desert Control is still in the early stages of its story, but since 2019 has implemented liquid natural clay pilots in Dubai with several farmers and landowners and Dubai’s International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA). Different soil types require custom liquid natural clay compositions, so robust testing is needed to ensure the correct solution is used in each instance.
According to Sivertsen, ICBA documented a 47% water saving using the technology for grasses typically used for sports turf, golf courses, parks and green landscapes. It has also seen better yields of food crops such as watermelon (17%), pearl millet (28%) and courgette (62%). In one project in Dubai, the treatment led to 50% water savings for palms and various other types of trees, says Sivertsen.
Still, using liquid natural clay to grow great numbers of trees across Dubai will be a substantial task. “A single date palm can drink some 250 litres [55 gallons] per day,” Sivertsen says.
Anne Verhoef, a soil physicist at the University of Reading, says that while liquid natural clay is “in principle, a very exciting opportunity” there are still questions around its practicality and viability. For example, the use of saline water could impact whether the soils remain healthy and suitable for agriculture in the long-run, she says. Due to the lack of freshwater availability in the UAE, water used in agriculture often comes via desalination plants, which can result in higher-than-normal levels of salt.
It is therefore crucial that liquid natural clay is rolled out slowly, says Verhoef, with proper scientific trials taking place over a number of years to ensure there are no adverse effects on the soils, the wider environment and local communities.
And even if liquid natural clay treatment works, says Evans, it does not tackle all the challenges to establishing agriculture in desert environments, such as storing harvested food and supporting the workforce needed to harvest crops. “Technological innovations in robotics, AI and sensors could help to overcome these constraints,” he adds.
— to www.bbc.com