Clay, water - and that’s it. The easy formula was developed by the Norwegian scientist Kristian Morten Olesen, has revolutionized agriculture in dry regions and has the potential to be used on a global scale. The LNC technique, or Liquid NanoClay, is capable of transforming poor sandy soils into high-yielding arable land.
Olesen has been enhancing the technology since 2005 and shows the results of his efforts. Desert Control, a company that commercially develops and applies LNC, says that by adopting nanoclay, the demand for water is reduced by 65% compared to the demand for regular irrigation methods.
"The treatment gives sand particles a clay coating which completely changes their physical properties and allows them to bind with water," Olesen told BBC. That is, a mix of nanoclay and water is distributed to the soil, enveloping each sand grain perfectly.
15 years in seven hours
The mix saturates the soil to a depth of 60 cm. Then, the sand turns into a sponge-like fabric that retains moisture/water; thus, it holds nutrients, and the crop grows better yield. Impressively, all that happens in a few hours.
"We can change any poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land in just seven hours,” the scientist said. Such a conventional operation would take up to 15 hours to achieve similar results.
Middle East as a customer
The desert region of the UAE is one of the driest areas on the planet, and one in which temperatures reach over 50°C. That is why the costs of agricultural production in these and other dry regions are high, as is almost everywhere in the Middle East.
Due to water shortages, producers hire tanks to bring water to their farms, which in turn require up to three times more liquid than it would be required in a temperate growing area. Because of these and other factors, the UAE imports about 80% of all food consumed in the country.
However, there is an oasis in the middle of this desert: the Al Ail farm, by the farmer Faisal Mohammed Al Shimmari, the first to implement LNC technology in the region. “I am amazed to see the success of LNC," says Shimmari to BBC. "It just saved consumption of water by more than 50%, which means I can now double the green cover with the same water." Today, he plants a selection of crops: tomatoes, aubergines and okra.
Increase of deserted areas in the world
With climate change, the risk of desertification is in 40% of the Earth’s surface, and the results are clear: every year, an area equivalent to the state of Ceará becomes desert in the world. In Brazil, 13% of the national territory runs this risk, whereas 230,000 km² are already deserted in the Northeast alone.
Desert Control believes its technology can be useful on a global scale. The company's current goal is to sell its method to governments, since costs are still high for the small producer: each new hectare costs from US$ 1.8 thousand to US$ 9.5 thousand. However, costs may drop. Or the need for food may simply force its use. Fortunately, in both cases, technology and innovation offer an alternative.