Innovative solution keeps Sahrawi refugees healthy during Ramadan

In Sahrawi refugee camps, the harsh climate makes it hard to access good, nutritious food on a daily basis. But thanks to hydroponics, Sahrawis are now able to improve the quality of their food and stay healthy.

By: Nadia Papasidero & Soazic Dupuy

As Ramadan comes to an end, Muslims around the world are getting ready to celebrate. For those living in harsh and desert-dry climates, fasting from dawn to dusk without even a drop of water can be quite a challenge.

None more so than for the refugees living in the Sahrawi camps in Algeria, who face temperatures that often soar to 50 degrees Celsius, water scarcity and limited availability of fresh food. Meat and milk from goats are amongst the few nutritious options in the camps. However, due to dry conditions and limited access to fodder, goats end up eating leftovers and rubbish.

In Sahrawi camps, goats used to feed on leftover and rubbish. Photo: WFP/Soazic Dupuy
Thanks to hydroponics, refugees can now grow fresh fodder to feed their herds. Photo: WFP/Soazic Dupuy

Since November 2016, Sahrawi refugees have been using hydroponics to grow fresh barley for their goats. This in turn helps families stay healthy in rough conditions. Through the soilless cultivation technique, refugees are able to grow plants in arid desert areas, using about 80 percent less water than they would with traditional agriculture. Currently, 11 solar-powered units run by families can produce up to 60 kg of barley fodder per day, for up to 10 months each year.

Hydroponics uses up to 80% less water than traditional farming techniques. Photo: WFP/Soazic Dupuy

Azuha, a 25-year-old mother, was one of the first people to benefit from the joint WFP and Oxfam project launched in late 2016 in Dakhla camp. After introductory training — which she joined together with around 3,000 Sahrawis — she has been working extremely hard to ensure her unit works at its best, protecting it from wind, sandstorms and keeping it cool from the sun. The units are built on-site using locally available materials, are very simple to use and only require seeds and a water pump to begin production.

“I was born here and never moved. I always thought about growing my own garden. Now I have an occupation and I can feed my animals and keep them away from trash and plastic,” says Azuha.

Fodder produced through hydroponic cultivation currently feeds 220 animals. Photo: Oxfam/Taleb Brahim and WFP/Waafa Soussi

Azuha is just one of the many Sahrawis who are reaping the benefits of the units. Goats fed with fresh barley are healthier and stronger, producing more — and better quality — milk and meat. Currently, 220 animals are fed daily thanks to hydroponic cultivation. By August, this number will go up to 520 animals per day.

Goat milk and dairy products are a precious source of nutrients for Sahrawi refugees. Photo: Oxfam/ Mohamed Abdelhaye

In Bujdur refugee camp, Deida el Abed and her three grandchildren often get together for the traditional tea ceremony. Sidahmed, aged 5, Saeed, 3 and Zeina, 1, get their recommended daily requirement of milk from goats fed with fresh barley fodder. During Ramadan, people rely even more on healthy and nutritious food. Eating dates and milk is the traditional way to break the fast in Ramadan at Iftar, the first meal when the sun sets.

Goats fed with fresh foodder produce more and better milk, and their meat is of higher quality. Photo: WFP/Mohamed Boumaaza and Oxfam/Taleb Brahim

Myriem, pictured above, has lived in the camp with her sister since they were born. She has enjoyed using hydroponics — recently introduced for the first time in her community. “We already had some experience growing food for our family, but we had never thought we could improve the quality of our livestock through fresh fodder,” she says.

Thanks to refugees working on hydroponics such as Myriem and Fatma, more and more people in the camps have a nutritious meal to look forward to.

Hydro Sahrawi is an innovative livelihoods projects established by the World Food Programme in Algeria. There are plans to replicate it across the Middle East and North Africa region. Find out more about the project and the WFP Innovation Accelerator.

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Insight by The World Food Programme

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Nadia Papasidero

Nadia Papasidero

Runner, linguist, traveller. Passionate about fighting climate change and all about innovation for sustainable development. @wfpinnovation & #LSEAlumni

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