University scientists help to grow food in Sheffield and the Middle East

Left to right are Professor Tony Ryan from the University of Sheffield's Department of Chemisty, Professor Duncan Cameron from the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences and HE Hamish Cowell, British Ambassador to Oman. '
Left to right are Professor Tony Ryan from the University of Sheffield's Department of Chemisty, Professor Duncan Cameron from the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences and HE Hamish Cowell, British Ambassador to Oman. '

There may be over 4,000 miles between them, but Tinsley and middle Eastern country Oman are both the home to new sustainable food solutions.

Greenhouses, which have been designed by University of Sheffield, have been built in both areas to help solve the worldwide problem of limited food availability and soaring food prices.

The pioneering design incorporates various cutting-edge technologies developed at the university to help crops to grow, including solar power to convert seawater to freshwater and hydroponics systems, which use foam instead of soil.

The first greenhouse was developed in Oman as part of a collaboration with the country's Sohar University.

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.

“It reaches highs of 50 degrees in the summer with 65 per cent humidity and struggles to grow anything. This leads to food prices quadrupling in the summer.

“We had to create a greenhouse that can produce fruit and vegetables in the heat of summer in Oman but can be dropped as a package anywhere and be made bespoke.

“We’re delighted to unveil the first science-led greenhouses to provide fresh local fruit and vegetables.”

Scientists designed the greenhouse in Sohar so that plants are supported artificially and suspended away from the ground.

Using foam, which was made in labs in Sheffield, as the artificial material 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.

Scientists hope that these greenhouses can become be tailored to the specific needs of any country or location.

An abandoned school in Tinsley has also been turned in to urban farm which, much like the system in Oman, relies on hydroponics to grow crops.

It is hoped that the farm, which was created by Jake Nickles, Knowledge Exchange Associate at the University of Sheffield, will  provide fruit and vegetables for the local community.

It is also expected that it will provide training for unemployed or low-skilled workers and be an educational environment that schools can use.