Drought resilience in the Horn of Africa using Seawater Greenhouses

Seawater Greenhouses use sunlight, wind and seawater to grow crops in arid coastal environments. Our latest project is in Somaliland.

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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Seawater Greenhouse

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $100k - $250k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 10 - 50

Organization type

  • For-profit

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development
  • Nutrition

Headquarters location: Country

  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Headquarters location: City


Location(s) of impact

Somaliland: Berbera, Hargeisa



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Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

SG technology is designed to tackle problems in the food-water-energy nexus. Over the coming decades, food production will need to rise dramatically to meet the demands of growing populations, particularly in Africa. At the same time, climate change and desertification are leading to rapidly declining amounts of arable land and water for agriculture. Existing practices of irrigation exacerbate the problem by over-abstracting groundwater.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Fortunately, the world is not short of water, most of it is simply in the wrong place and too salty. Seawater Greenhouses are 'cool houses' designed to overcome this problem in arid coastal environments by evaporating seawater to create a cool and humid microclimate ideal for crop cultivation. This reduces the demand for fresh water by crops inside the greenhouse by up to 90%. Plants still require some irrigation, and this is achieved by solar powered desalination of seawater. The result is an entirely closed-loop, drought independent method of high yield agriculture that can make use of vast areas of previously unsuitable land. It enables crop cultivation closer to end markets and provides a consistent supply of fresh produce year round. Our latest design, currently being piloted in Somaliland, is the lowest cost solution to date and specifically tailored for small farmers.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

The construction phase of our one hectare pilot in Berbera, Somaliland has just completed. During the construction, we employed a crew of 30 local Berberans and implemented a program of 'training the trainers'. In doing so we facilitated knowledge transfer and capacity building such that subsequent scale-up can be driven by our team locally. The pilot will save over 30,000 tons of water annually compared to a traditional farm. The water vapour produced by evaporating seawater will create an 'oasis effect' that not only cools the greenhouse itself but also rehydrates and rehabilitates the local landscape outside. Creating a drought-independent supply of fresh produce reduces reliance on imports and food aid. A previous project in Australia, designed by Seawater Greenhouse for Sundrop Farms, has recently been scaled up to 20 hectares and is producing 15% of Australia's tomatoes.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

The Somaliland project is funded by a £500k grant awarded through DFiD's IUK Agri-tech Catalyst Programme. The grant is shared cost, 55% of which is contributed by Seawater Greenhouse. The greenhouse will generate revenue through the sale of fresh produce locally. Additional revenue streams are generated through providing feasibility and design services to clients in other regions. Budget Grant - 45% Income - 15% Owner capital - 40%

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

No other existing solution enables affordable, sustainable, intensification of agriculture in Africa

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

Seawater Greenhouse (SG) technology was first pioneered by Founder and Director Charlie Paton. After a career in lighting design, he became interested in photosynthesis and how it could be optimised for plant growth. His first thought was that the areas with the best light for photosynthesis are typically deserts, but are too hot and too arid to support agriculture. He then thought to provide freshwater using a solar still but found that the amount of area needed to create a still large enough to irrigate a greenhouse was unfeasibly large. His aha moment came when he thought to combine the greenhouse and still into one system that cools the greenhouse with water vapour and simultaneously produces its own water - a Seawater Greenhouse.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Other

Attachments (1)

SG References.pdf

Photos and descriptions of our previous projects, as well as a list of academic papers published.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Chris Vousvouras

Fascinating infrastructure! Is there a plan to turn these investments commercially viable for local people?

Photo of Karl

Hi Chris! Yes there is. We view local buy-in as essential to the uptake and success of the technology within the context of Somaliland. Proving the new design and its pay-back period will be critical for us to attract local investment, benefitting entrepreneurs and farmers alike as the total area under cultivation expands.