The first greenhouse was officially opened at the Sohar University last week and has been developed as part of a collaboration with University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.
Scientists at Sheffield were approached by Sohar University to construct a greenhouse that cools rather than warms and can deal with issues like lack of water and soil degradation - a massive problem particularly in the region.
The pioneering design incorporates cutting-edge technologies developed at Sheffield to help crops to grow, including solar power to convert seawater to freshwater and hydroponics systems, which uses foam instead of soil.
Protected growing in greenhouses is already widespread in Europe and enables the production of a range of high-value crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, salad leaves, herbs, soft fruits and flowers.
However current designs have a number of issues, in particular high demands for water and energy and potential for environmental problems through fertiliser and pesticide runoff. They are also unsuited to the environmental conditions of the Gulf region, with extremely hot weather in the summer and the limited availability of freshwater.
Scientists have designed the greenhouse at Sohar University in a way that plants are supported artificially and suspended away from the ground.
Using foam as the artificial material - made in labs in Sheffield - eliminates the need for soil. The foam holds nutrients and water around the plant roots rather than allowing it to run off like it does in soil.
Duncan Cameron, professor of plant and social biology at the University of Sheffield, who has helped lead the project in Oman, said, “Geographically Oman is a difficult country. The temperature in Oman reaches highs of 50°C in the summer with 65 per cent humidity, so it is a struggle to grow anything. This leads to food prices quadrupling in the summer. We had to create a greenhouse that can produce fruits and vegetables in the heat of summer but can be dropped as a package anywhere and be made bespoke. We’re delighted to be unveiling the first science-led greenhouse to provide fresh local fruit and vegetables.”
The greenhouse, which is 150sq m, will be used as a research facility, demonstrating the potential to breed fish and grow vegetables and herbs.
Professor Tony Ryan from the Department of Chemistry, University of Sheffield, H E Hamish Cowell, British Ambassador to Oman and H E Ahmed bin Hassan al Deeb, Undersecretary, Ministry of Commerce and Industry attended the opening.
The collaboration has received funding from the UK Gulf Institutional Links programme via the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.