Afforest4Future turns deserts into forests

Posted on 17 January 2019.

Near the Al Qudra artificial lakes, a few kilometers from Dubai, a small area of desert is about to be transformed into fertile land thanks to a pilot afforestation project.

Afforest4Future’s idea: use the sediment building up in reservoirs to turn barren areas into cropland.

Grow thousands of trees in the middle of the desert... An old dream that’s now reality thanks to afforestation techniques - they involve planting trees and shrubs where there have never been any. Or only a very long time ago.
In Asia, for example, China’s Great Green Wall, the largest afforestation project in the world, is expected to cover over 4,500 km. The goal is to curb the advance of the Gobi Desert and counteract land degradation caused by the poorly controlled deforestation in some parts of the country. The same type of initiative is in operation in Africa with a wall of trees crossing the entire continent from Dakar to Djibouti.
According to the UN, 12 million hectares of arable land, an area equivalent to Benin, are lost each year due to desertification and land degradation. Afforestation projects are emerging all over the world to fight this phenomenon.
But there’s a problem. In arid zones, let alone in deserts, turning sand into fertile soil - a prerequisite for growing plants - is a slow and complicated process. It can take fifteen years or so - even decades - using traditional techniques. This is where the start-up Afforest4Future comes in.

Two problems need solving

Founded by Vesela Tanaskovic, Afforest4Future aims to solve two problems: the growing need for arable land and sediment build-up in water reservoirs – which is the case in the Al Qudra artificial lakes, not far from Dubai where it is gradually reducing their storage capacity. According to the start-up, in the next ten years 70% of the world’s reservoirs will have to solve the issue of sediment build-up.
The Afforest4Future idea is to use the sediment building up in reservoirs to transform previously barren areas into farmland suitable for planting trees. The first step is to remove the sediment from the reservoir, crush it into tiny particles in a treatment plant, then pump a mixture of mud and water through pipelines to cover the desert sand. "Basically, when the sediment is spread, it immediately creates topsoil," says Vesela Tanaskovic.
It’s a good idea that is not dissimilar to that of the German scientists who collaborate with the Egyptian government to grow the Serapium forest using sewage sludge.

The power of IA

According to the American magazine Fast Company, Afforest4Future is also developing an AI tool that can analyze satellite images to determine which dams are facing the worst sediment issues.