Utilize Treated Aeolian Sands to Combat Food Insecurity in Desert Regions

Published: 11 January 2023
Last edited: 11 January 2023
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This solution is about sand-based technology to save irrigation water usage and reduce infiltration. Aeolian sands were sorted, washed, and then coated with water-repellency layers, and applied as a thin liner beneath the soil where the plants are rooted.  It is a one-time application for many years, as long as the layer is not disturbed.


More than a dozen of projects in China have been completed since 2010, from reversing desertification to farming in barren lands.  The size ranges from a few hectares to 100 hectares. A few projects in UAE were also completed in 2018, including a desert farm to combat food insecurity.  Various fruits, crops, and vegetables are planted. People now can enjoy fresh local produces which was not available much before, and water usage can be reduced by up to 70-80%. 


This technology won the Gold Award, in the “Innovation in Sustainable Technologies” category, at the Gulf Sustainability Awards in 2021.


East Asia
North Africa
West Asia, Middle East
Scale of implementation
Buildings and facilities
Desert ecosystems
Green roofs / Green walls
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Hot desert
Rangeland / Pasture
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Ecosystem services
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Genetic Conservation
One Health
Food systems
Water, sanitation and hygiene
Ecosystem loss
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action


Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Inner Mongolia, People's Republic of China
Hangzhou, Zhejiang, People's Republic of China


* Desertification becomes a global issue, with implications for biodiversity, eco-safety, poverty eradication, socio-economic stability, and sustainable development. As global temperatures rise and the human population expands, more lands are vulnerable to desertification.


* Water scarcity is worsened by climate change and increased water usage.   Farming accounts for almost 70% of all water withdrawals. Agricultural water scarcity is expected to increase in more than 80% of the world’s croplands by 2050. 12 of the world’s 17 most water-scarce countries are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).


* Regional food insecurity: Food security is a big issue in many arid and semi-arid regions. MENA region is home to some of the largest net food importers in the world, importing over half of the calories they consume. One expert estimates that Middle East food imports could double from $35 to $70 billion by 2035.


Farmers saved up to 80% less water consumption; Residents buy fresh local foods and enjoy greener landscaping; Students and employees have stewardship and learning opportunities; Government increases regional food security


How do the building blocks interact?

The foundation of all the building blocks in this solution is based on a solid core, the "Breathable Sand" technology,  which treats the aeolian sands from the desert and applies them back to the desert environment, to save water and make farming sustainable.


The planting and demonstrations in schools, homes, and hotels, as well as in the successful desert farms, are all different application examples that pave the way for more sustainable activities in arid and semi-arid regions. The final goal is to change local people's activities and lives in arid and semi-arid regions, through innovative technologies which save more water, secure more local foods, and make farming more sustainable.


Thanks to the aeolian sand treatment technologies (hereinafter referred to as "Breathable Sand")


* A 500-square-meter desert farm was built to grow abundant and high-quality pulses, beans, tomatoes, chilies, mangoes, and lemons.  A 100,00-square-meter farm is in the planning phase.

* A few sites including  a handful of schools, home gardens, office buildings, and hotels were landscaped using this technology to save water;

* Reducing irrigation water usage by 70 to 80 percent in arid regions;

* Fewer fertilizers and pesticides are needed;

* Securing fresh local foods;

* Some sites are served for educational and outreach purposes.


After more than three years of implementation in UAE, good social, economic, and environmental benefits were gained.

Contributed by

yumingsu_41730's picture

Yuming Su American Academy of Water Resources Engineers, State Key Laboratory of Silica Sand Utilization, Changsha Sponge City Eco-Industry Technology Innovation Strategic Alliance

Other contributors

Dake Rechsand