UAE: ‘Breathable’ sand can make the desert bloom

Photo by Shihab/Khaleej Times
Photo by Shihab/Khaleej Times

Dubai - Chandra Dake, an Indian businessman from South Africa, who has brought the Chinese technology to Dubai.


Anjana Sankar

Published: Sat 12 Jun 2021, 10:04 PM

Last updated: Sun 13 Jun 2021, 9:14 AM

Greening the desert is no mean feat, with the cost and effort required to water the arid soil in hot weather. But a ‘magic sand’ that can breathe is proving to be a game-changer — reducing water consumption by 80 per cent and making farming a cost-effective, low-maintenance pursuit.

Chandra Dake, an Indian businessman from South Africa, who has brought the Chinese technology to Dubai, said ‘breathable sand’ can revolutionise desert farming.

“This is a magic sand that can retain water much longer, while allowing free circulation of air that allows plants to live longer and healthier,” says Dake, CEO of Dake Rechsand, a collaboration between South Africa’s Dake Group and the Rechsand Technology Group from Beijing.

Dake’s home garden will vouch for his claims about breathable sand.

He and his wife Sujatha have transformed their backyard into an urban forest with trees of custard apple, mango, jamun, water apple, Chikoo and tamarind. The lush foliage also includes many plants that otherwise won’t grow and fruit in the desert climate — like moringa, grapes, papaya grapefruit, and pomegranate. Different colours of roses, hibiscus and jasmine adorn the garden and show no trace of summer stress.

Sujatha, the finance director of the company, said she experimented with varieties that do not survive in the desert. “The results were amazing. With minimal watering and care, most of the plants and trees have flowered and fruited,” she said.

The couple claims their office plants survived without any watering for up to two months during the lockdown last year.

Their company is also producing pots using breathable sand, where plants can grow with minimal watering.

The product was lauded by the UN for its innovative technology to help address pressing challenges of water scarcity and food security. It is ideal for the Middle East and North Africa region, the most water-scarce region of the world, Dake said.

“The region is currently using over 75 per cent of its renewable water resources, 85 per cent of which is being used for irrigation. In the UAE, water consumption rose by almost 26 per cent to 1.87 billion cubic meters between 2008 and 2018. That is beyond the sustainable levels,” said Dake.

But with one-time application of breathable sand, Dake said, commercial crops as well as gardening or landscaping can be done with 80 per cent less water.

“We have already done a farm in Abu Dhabi Al Ajban, and successfully grown lemon orchard and mango farm in extremely saline soil. We also grew commercial crops like mung beans and black-eyed pulses in the desert by watering it once a week in winter and alternative days in summer.”

The company has identified suitable sands in the UAE desert that can be converted into breathable sand. “We are planning to have a manufacturing unit in the UAE and have done extensive research on various types of desert sands,” said Dake.

“We believe this innovation can help achieve food security and grow rice and other even high-water-consumption crops in the desert regions without gallons of water or chemical fertilisers and pesticides.”

His company is also producing a range of products including tiles and kerbstones, which allows both water and air to permeate and help water harvesting. “Using the Honey Comb technology, we can preserve this water from excessive rainfall for up to 10 years,” said Dake.

How does it work

> Layer the soil with breathable sand for up to 1cm as a one-time application

> Breathable sand helps roots breathe and also allow high water retention

> It also creates breathable roots, which can transform forestation/green cover

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