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Old mattresses used to grow crops in desert camp

Grand plan: Prof Tony Ryan (right) and colleague Prof Duncan Cameron remove foam. (Below) A Syrian refugee with crop of basil

A TEAM of British scientists are helping refugees grow their own crops in the desert — using old foam mattresses.

In the first trial of its kind, hydroponics experts from the University of Sheffield worked with a group of Syrians at the Zaatari camp in Jordan.

They showed them how to fill waste containers from around the camp with foam and a carefully balanced nutrient solution.

Seedlings were then planted straight into the foam — which supports the roots as the plant grows. So far they have produced tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, herbs and a variety of vegetables. Refugee Abu Wessam said: ‘We came here because of the destruction and killing in Syria and the conditions were very bad when we arrived. The situation was miserable.

‘This type of agriculture taught us a lot. It’s free from pesticides and growth regulators and it uses 70 to 80 per cent less water.’

The team now hope to raise £250,000 with their Desert Garden appeal, which also solves the problem of disposing of old mattresses. Prof Tony Ryan said: ‘If we can make desert gardens economically and culturally sustainable in Jordan, we can ultimately roll this out around the world and help millions of refugees to thrive. We are only at the start of what might be possible.’