29 July 2019
Seawater Solutions Is Tacking Agriculture's Impact On Climate Change
YANIK Nyberg set up Seawater Solutions after seeing the destructive impacts of conventional agriculture and the threat of rising sea-levels in the places he has lived (Scotland, Africa and Asia). He came up with the idea of growing food with seawater to address the degradation of land and the loss of biodiversity. The Result? A system of farming that creates wetland ecosystems on which food can be grown, while carbon is captured at a rate of up to 40 times higher than the same area of rainforest, and profits are more than eight times more profitable than the average potato field
Name: Yanik Nyberg
WHAT’S YOUR BUSINESS CALLED?
WHERE IS IT BASED?
WHY DID YOU SET UP THE BUSINESS?
IT was a direct response to the challenge of the impact agriculture has on climate change. Conventional agriculture is extremely disruptive in its nature and we looked at its impact in coastal regions. The only tangible solution that can deliver results across the board in the five years we have left is to redevelop degraded farmland and turn it into artificial wetland ecosystems using seawater and specialised saline plants. This takes up to 40% less carbon than rainforests do.
I grew up in Africa and South East Asia so I was familiar with development initiatives and looked at rising sea levels from agriculture. I did a degree in law and then environmental engineering at Strathclyde [University]. Two years ago I looked at the concept of seawater farming and realised that bringing this method of farming to the UK would require a collaborative framework between government, academic institutions, and farming communities across Scotland. I asked two sites if we could introduce artificial ecosystems. We have two projects in the UK and two around the world. We are speaking with local councils and environmental organisations to introduce this innovation to UK sectors, including aquaculture for wastewater treatment.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
IT’S a relatively simple concept. Seawater is introduced to coastal farmland and aquaculture facilities, where naturally salt-tolerant crops are grown. These crops, such as Samphire and Sea Aster, store massive amounts of carbon and are extremely nutritious, being heralded as "superfoods" across the world. We are the first in the world to grow these crops on redeveloped farmland for the purpose of created valuable wetland ecosystems. The great thing here is that we can establish these ecosystems within a year, instead of 10 years for a forest to mature. We have a team of four core staff and 25 volunteers and interns.
WHAT IS YOUR TARGET MARKET?
WE liaise with coastal farmers but also work with retailers and seafood distributors and fishmongers. In Asia we are looking at selling the systems instead of the end product. Those systems can then be used as a revenue stream.
We have had good feedback so far. It is something no one has really seen before and they are often amazed we don’t have to rely on freshwater to grow food. The coastal community is excited to see how it can grow.
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM COMPETING BUSINESSES?
THERE are people that grow similar crops in greenhouses with chemical salt and freshwater but this has no environmental benefits. Wetland and salt marshes present the greatest opportunity for the environment and allow health to return to soil. Usually you need pesticides for growth but they damage soil and cause corrosion. Salt marshes can make soil immediately healthy and diverse and insects can return to these sites. Its an organic system where we use saltwater on farmland that makes a greater yield and is eight times more profitable than the average potato or wheat field.
IS SCOTLAND A GOOD PLACE FOR THIS TYPE OF BUSINESS?
SCOTLAND is generally much more progressive [than other countries] – farmers are much more open to innovative ideas such as turning their fields into saltmarshes. It makes Scotland an ideal place to start a disruptive business. The Scottish business community is second to none. I have never seen anything like it. There’s enormous support so we can thrive. It makes Scotland a special place.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT RUNNING THE BUSINESS?
I HAVE a great balance between being indoors at the office, and outdoors on our sites. Being able to travel the country for work, interact with the government and communities, are all amazing aspects to the job.
WHERE DO YOU HOPE THE BUSINESS WILL BE IN 10 YEARS’ TIME?
I HOPE that we can grow the business across the world in countries facing climate challenges. It’s important to spread it to as much land as possible. We aim to cover a quarter of a million hectares in five years. We have four right now so we’ve got a long way to go. Even in the next year we will need four more core staff and a lot of funding. We have won a few competitions including Shell and Scottish Edge. We will be going for investment in spring 2020 if not this year. We need to grow the team.
There’s rampant clearing and degradation of land and the importance of innovating in that sector is totally overlooked. Climate change is a hot topic now. The focus is fuel from cars and plastic but this misses the point – climate change is all about agriculture. It’s all a drop in the ocean compared to this. Changing agriculture will have faster results than anything else.