ON THE GROUND: Sunseed Desert Technology, Spain

Dominic Wood

Scheme: An education, research and sustainability project in southern Spain.

Funding: Total yearly income of £35,000; around 75 per cent comes from donations from project volunteers, the rest from other donations and membership fees

Objectives: To develop, demonstrate and communicate accessible, low-tech methods of living sustainably in a semi-arid environment

Sunseed Desert Technology is the Spanish project of the UK-based Sunseed Trust. Established in 1986 in Almeria, south-east Spain, the project aims to find low-tech ways of sustainable living that can be replicated across the world to ease poverty.

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, recently said: "Drought and desertification threaten the livelihood of over 1 billion people in more than 110 countries around the world."

Because Almeria is located in Spain's driest corner, the charity is ideally placed to deal with one of the world's most pressing environmental problems.

Sunseed attempts to find practical answers to ecological problems such as growing food on eroded, dry land, or in poor soil, and soil erosion.

It also addresses environmental issues such as effective treatment and use of human and vegetable waste, water provision and conservation, and recycling. Dry land regeneration, which includes organic horticulture and fungal research, is one of Sunseed's main areas of work.

Alzena Wilmot, from Sunseed, says: "Mycorrhizal fungi form a beneficial association with the roots of most plants. Our project tests ways of innoculating plants with the fungi to try to increase tree and shrub survival in harsh environments."

Wilmot says Sunseed's research uses low-cost, low-impact methods, which can be replicated in similar environments by people with limited access to resources.

If successful, the project could benefit areas affected by desertification across the world by helping to re-establish natural tree and shrub communities, preventing soil erosion and increasing soil fertility.

Sunseed has one paid employee and around nine volunteers at any one time, all of whom have a symbiotic relationship with the charity,using low-tech, sustainable living methods and depending on the food from its organic gardens. The charity, which has never received money from trusts or companies, relies on the volunteers' donations to fund its research projects.

Volunteers often leave with ideas that reduce their own environmental footprint back home. Esther Nicholson, a recent volunteer with the project, says: "I have learned about hay boxes, solar cookers and compost toilets in a wonderful atmosphere."

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