With its dry climate and sand dunes, the Algerian desert seems an unlikely place for barley – or any other crop – to grow. Yet, with the support of the Innovation Accelerator, WFP Algeria is using low-tech hydroponic containers to support remote refugee camps, home to tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees. 

Algeria has hosted refugees from throughout Western Sahara since 1975 in what has become one of the world’s most protracted refugee crises. These Sahrawi refugees are located in five camps near the town of Tindouf in Western Algeria. The harsh and isolated desert environment limits opportunities for self-reliance and, as a result, the refugees depend on humanitarian assistance for their survival. Assessments have shown that chronic malnutrition is about 25 percent while global acute malnutrition among children aged 5 or less is under eight percent.

WFP is reinforcing its food assistance activities with hydroponic growing, focusing on a small-scale, low tech project that builds on existing and external expertise to improve food security and contribute to resilience in the camps. In only 7 days, fresh green barley fodder can be produced from seeds, using minimal quantities of water and no fertilizer, with a daily harvest of up to 60kg per day per unit. One unit can feed up to 20 animals, supporting approximately 7 families.

In 2016, WFP initiated a pilot project building on existing and external expertise to improve food security and contribute to resilience in the camps. First results of the pilot show an increase in milk production by 2.5, reduction of animal offspring mortality and healthier heavier animals. The first phase (November 2016 – April 2017), WFP tested the concept (seed and water quality needs, handling etc.) with a high-tech container unit and adapted the technology to local needs with the support of the refugees and a Sahrawi engineer. A new Fodder unit, developed locally by the refugee community, can now be produced at 10% of the cost of the previous version using only locally available material, therefore contributing to the sustainability and ownership of the initiative.

The units are run by a group of families and entrepreneurial Sahrawi refugees, who are responsible for the production either for their own livestock or potential commercialisation of the produce. Refugees operating hydroponic units are receiving technical and business training, as well as ongoing support. Different from the traditional way of distributing food basket to the refugee, this approach is highly innovative and offers refugees the chance to sustain themselves and become progressively less reliant on international aid.

A second phase which started in May 2017 sees the local model being replicated and rolled out into the different camps, improving teaching methods, laying the base for scale. Currently, different operating and business models are being tested and compared.

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