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Monday May 29, 2023 at 06:30

Fresh fish and vegetables in the Sahara desert

Low-cost domestic aquaponic prototype installed in the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf Low-cost domestic aquaponic prototype installed in the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf

A research team, led by professors Javier Marugán and Cristina Pablos, has participated in the implementation of a prototype for the domestic production of fish and vegetables in the refugee camps of the Saharawi people in Tindouf.


Due to the scarcity of water and the logistical difficulties of transportation to the Sahara desert, the Saharawi refugee communities located in Tindouf (Algeria) suffer structurally from nutritional deficiencies derived from their diet based mainly on carbohydrates (rice, cereals and sugar) supplied by the World Food Program. To address this problem, the SAHARAPONICS project aims to develop systems for the local production of high-quality protein foods (fish) and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals, which can reduce both the incidence of anemia in fertile women in the communities as indicators of susceptibility to diabetes in the general population. "The objective of the project is to improve the nutritional quality of the diet of refugee communities in arid areas through the development of low-cost aquaponic systems and reduced water consumption for the production of fresh fish and vegetables," says Javier Marugán. , URJC professor and head of the SAHARAPONICS project. The aquaponics technique combines the raising of aquatic animals (aquaculture) with the cultivation of plants in water without the need for soil (hydroponics).

“The installation of this prototype constitutes a first step in the development of infrastructures for the local production of foods of high nutritional value. Aquaponic cultivation is especially adapted to Sahrawi communities due to its water consumption that is 10 times lower than cultivation in soil and because it does not require fertile soil," says Loïc Le Goueff, CEO of Green In Blue, a company collaborating with the project, a specialist in Design and installation of aquaponic systems.

The SAHARAPONICS project, financed by the call for Cooperation Projects of the Rey Juan Carlos University, also has the collaboration of the NGO Voluntary Nómada. This initiative includes the training of local personnel to ensure the long-term use of the systems. “This action is within the strategic objectives of the SADR (Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic) Ministries of Agriculture and Youth and Sports. Aquaponics has great potential for adaptation to desert conditions as long as it has trained personnel to implement this way of cultivating locally”, highlights Malad M. Sidi, head of the NGO Voluntary Nómada.

Jalihenna M. Mustafa, director of the youth department, comments that "this type of initiative represents a great boost for the population of the camps, the vast majority of whom are young, who seek to power innovative projects while contributing to the improvement of the diet of the Saharawi people”. Proof of this is the Badad Aquaponics initiative, in the Ausserd refugee camp, promoted by the Ministry of Youth and Sports within the framework of the Livelihoods Projects and that has successful results in the sustainable production of fresh food with an economic benefit for the producers.


Badad Aquaponics facilities, in the Ausserd refugee camp

From Farm to Table

This type of action, such as the one promoted by the SAHARAPONICS project, is aligned with the Farm to Table strategy (Farm to Fork) of the European Union, which recognizes the need to strengthen food production systems. Cristina Pablos, principal investigator of the URJC team in the European project AWARE, indicates that "aquaponics technology is not new, but its adaptation to the extreme arid conditions of the Sahara desert is". In this project, where Green In Blue also participates, the main objective is to build the first fish and vegetable production system in Europe, which uses reclaimed water in an aquaponics system. This plant will be installed in the city of Castellana Grotte (Puglia, Italy) and expects to open its doors to the public in 2026.


Aquaponic system for the production of fish and vegetables at the URJC facilities