Crops have been grown on buildings in towns and cities in Jordan thanks to an innovative research project backed by Harper Adams University expertise.
The scheme, which aims to boost food security in the Middle East by helping to grow crops in urban areas was led by Harper Adams University lecturer Jonathan Cooper in collaboration with partners at Jordan’s Royal Scientific Society (RSS).
Its aim was to help implement systems in Jordanian communities which enabled crops to be grown in new places – boosting resilience and food security for those involved.
It saw the rooftops of a family home and a community centre in two localities in Jordan – at Assalt and Al-Ashrafeyya – transformed into sites for crops as part of a three-part urban farming initiative.
Initially seeded by funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering for Development initiative, the programme helped provide the communities it served with a series of key crops.
At the community organisation, a soilless agriculture system on the roof helped grow quantities of tomatoes – a staple used in many Jordanian dishes which could then be cooked in the centre’s on-site kitchen.
At the family home, a hydroponic vertical farming system was used to grow celery and onions – and at both sites, as word spread in the local community, interested neighbours began to visit to find out more, spread the word about the projects – and buy produce.
A further innovative ‘green wall’ was also developed at RSS headquarters in Jordan’s capital Amman.
Dr Cooper said: “Most people in these communities had never seen anything like these projects before – but they could see for themselves the benefits for the people involved.
“Much of the technology involved is not particularly difficult to use or expensive – the innovations in this project were where and how it was used.”
Initial plans for the project – where both sets of experts would have met at the sites in Jordan to implement the proposals – had to be redesigned in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to most international travel.
However, despite this setback – and even following a rare blizzard in February 2021– the project has proved a success.
It is now one which Dr Cooper hopes can be used as a model both for further projects of its kind, and for further projects linking Harper Adams with international partners.
Dr Almoayied Assayed, Director of the Water and Environment Centre at RSS, said: “The food security of poor urban people is sensitive to changes in market prices and incomes.
“For the long-term potential impacts, this project will promote urban farming systems in poor areas in Jordan – thus enhancing food availability and creating more jobs for local community members.
“Some 40 days after planting on the rooftop, the family household was able to harvest more than 25kg of celery and onions; they consumed some and sold the rest.”
Dr Cooper added: “Working on this project – despite the unexpected challenges the past year presented – has led to direct improvements for two Jordanian communities, and has also helped to build links between institutions in the Middle East and here in the UK.
“It has shown the value of the work of Harper Adams University’s Urban Farming Group and of its specialist research – including the MRes programme in Urban Agriculture – in communities across the world.”
Eng Rana Ardah, the field coordinator for the project, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic situation was the main challenge faced during the project’s lifespan; however, the project team turned such a challenge into an opportunity where this was used to promote urban agriculture as a full time job for people in their own homes.”
And Meredith Ettridge, Head of Sustainable Development at the Royal Academy of Engineering, added: “Many of the major challenges facing humanity today, and in the future, will cross borders and disciplinary boundaries.
“Addressing these challenges requires cutting edge research and innovation by people with the right global networks and interdisciplinary mindsets, especially if the challenges are to be tackled in a sustainable way that leaves no communities behind.
“Projects like this are an excellent example of the kind of initiative that the Royal Academy of Engineering supports in order to help tackle global development challenges.”