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August 14 2022 3:21 PM ˚
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Sahara Forest Project seeks to grow vegetables, economy in Aqaba desert

1. SFP
Sahara Forest Project country director Ruba Al-Zu'bi (right) and Al-Hussein Technical University president Ismael Hinti sign a new agreement to train female engineering students. (Photo: Zane Wolfang/Jordan News)
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AMMAN — Sahara Forest Project’s (SFP) goal of “Restorative Growth in Jordan” has two meanings. SFP seeks to grow trees and vegetables in the arid desert of Aqaba using the novel approach of pumping seawater from the Red Sea through a pipeline to cool greenhouses and irrigate crops after desalination, and it also aims to turn Jordan’s southernmost governorate, and its port city in particular, into an economic hub for emerging green technologies in the field of climate-smart agriculture. اضافة اعلان

SFP, the Norway-based foundation, held a National Stakeholder Roundtable on Tuesday at the St. Regis Amman announcing several developments, including new agreements signed with Al-Hussein Technical University and Aqaba University of Technology as part of the SHE GROWS initiative, which trains female Jordanian engineers in the field of sustainable agriculture.

The SHE GROWS initiative has already graduated one cohort of 30 Jordanian women, and is currently recruiting a second class of 20. SFP Jordan country director Ruba Al-Zu’bi stated during an open discussion, that 30 percent of spots in the new class (which equates to six students) will be reserved for women from Southern governorates.

SPF, which receives public funding from a variety of sources including the Norwegian government and the EU, officially kicked off the building process for their Aqaba site in 2016 at a ceremony where ambassadors of the EU and Norway planted a tree together with representatives from Jordan’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA). Preparation for the project started in 2010, when the company’s management was invited to Jordan for a field visit. The project shipped its first crop of vegetables harvested in Aqaba to Norway in February of 2021, and sent a second shipment in September 2021.

Participants spoke about the potential to innovate, become carbon neutral, and create green jobs for the Jordanian economy, while Norway’s Ambassador to Jordan Espen Lindbaeck and senior advisor to USAID Professor Dan Kammen offered remarks about environmentalism, social justice, and women’s empowerment.

SFP Managing Director Kjetil Stake, who attended remotely from Norway announced the creation of a new Jordanian commercial company in connection with the project and gave a presentation about how SFP “was ready to present a profitable business case to strategic investors.” Stake mentioned scaling up a “triple bottom line” of financial, social, and environmental goals, focusing specifically on a path to profitability for private investors.

The SFP’s success in using saltwater from the Red Sea to grow vegetables in the desert could be beneficial to Jordanians beyond private investors and others at ASEZA, according to Mohammad Al-Sakran, the executive director of the Aqaba Development Company for ports, airports, logistics.  

Sakran stated that “Aqaba Development Company and ASEZA are creating a new hub for fisheries and agriculture in Aqaba.” According to this vision, the success of the SFP in harnessing novel new technology to grow vegetables in the desert could lead to more green technology and smart climate agriculture firms forming an innovative economic cluster in the port city.

If those companies hire some of the women they are training for engineering jobs, and if they hire working class Jordanians for agricultural positions, that economic cluster could be greatly beneficial not only to investors but also to Jordanians of all socioeconomic classes.

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