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.

Hydroponic agriculture for animal fodder

An approximate 60 percent of Sahrawi refugee households have livestock (around three sheep/goats per family), however the animals are mostly fed with food scraps, and often only plastic or carton. The poor feeding practices have significant consequences on animals’ productivity (milk and meat quantity and quality).  

To tackle this, WFP initiated a pilot project using a low-tech hydroponic container (recycled shipping containers) that is specially designed to quickly grow green animal fodder. With the help of solar power, barley shoots are grown in a partially controlled environment (unit) in 7-day cycles.  Each unit alone can provide enough fodder for up to 30 animals per day.  Moreover, WFP provides training and locally available material to refugees on how to produce their own fodder using locally adapted solutions and is helping create low cost greenhouses to boost production. 

In 2017, WFP plans to scale-up this initiative testing different approaches (cooperative vs. household level).