A spark of hope: there is a tree plantation in the middle of the Egyptian desert, nurtured by repurposed sewage effluent.


The Serapium forest is the result of a research project that was started by the Egyptian government in the 1990s. Its goal was to make 36 desert locations green and prosperous. To achieve that, they planted native tree species as well as commercially valuable species, non-native to the region (eucalyptus and mahogany).

In the Egyptian desert the sun is extremely strong and water is next to non-existent, as rain almost never falls there. In order to make sure the trees would grow in such extreme conditions, they covered the ground under the trees with a layer of dry fallen leaves. "Twice a day, each tree is given five liters of water," explained Ahmed Ragaie for the Deutsche Welle. "Extra fertilizer isn't necessary - the effluent water delivers all the nutrients that the plants need."

Perhaps using sewage effluent wouldn't be your number one solution, but it actually provides the trees with all the nutrients they need to grow. To make safe use of effluent, plastic or paper waste are first mechanically removed from the effluent, while oxygen and microbes are added. After the microbes do their work, trees can be treated with a top quality fertilizer - a fluid that has a high concentration of phosphates and nitrogen compounds. Which is what people normally buy in stores to give their garden flowers a boost.

According to Deutsche Welle, eucalyptus trees planted in Egypt are ready to be harvested in just 15 years during which they are capable of producing approximately 350 cubic meters of wood per hectare. In Germany, typical pine plantations are said to take 60 years to produce the same results, so it's not so unexpected that German companies are interested in exploring the Egyptian business model. Tree plantations, if expanded, could also create new jobs and prevent deserts from spreading further. 

With proper funding secured and using 80% of the country's effluent, no less than 650,000 hectares of the Egyptian desert could be put to good use by becoming areas covered with trees, securing bountiful wood production in the region.

Sept. 2, 2016 Living photo: Deutsche Welle

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