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Fog could be an important source of water for germinating crops in dry regions of Chile, say scientists.

Chilean scientists have germinated the seeds of two important Andean crops using water collected from fog on a hilltop in the semi-arid coastal region of La Serena, in northern Chile.

They also recorded fog and dew frequency, and found that fog is three times more abundant than previously reported.

The group — from the Centre for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA) at Chile's University of La Serena — presented their results at a conference last month (22–27 July) on fog, fog collection and dew, held in La Serena.

"Fog-captured water can be collected all along the year, being thus a potential source for irrigating cultivated plants like quinoa," said Enrique Veas, one of the researchers.

The researchers captured fog with metre-long nylon nets attached by a hose to pots sown with quinoa and chañar seeds.

Fog passes through the mesh of the net and deposits droplets that drip down into the pots. Connecting the pots directly to the fog-catching mesh allows for direct irrigation — and means that less intervention is necessary.

Quinoa — 'mother cereal' in the indigenous Quechua language — can survive in cold and dry climates and its nutritional qualities make it of considerable value to people in highland areas. Chañar is a drought-resistant tree that produces edible fruits.

"We used quinoa in this study because we are working on a project to reintroduce this species to the region. This research proved that it is possible to achieve this with fog-water," said Veas. The researchers hope to scale-up the project in the future.

Fog-catchers have already proved their efficiency in capturing drinking water in the same regions. In the early 1990s, Pilar Cereceda, from the Catholic University of Chile, led a project that used fog collectors measuring 48 square metres to collect some 10,000 litres of drinking water a day.

How fog-collection technologies can be adapted to increasing agricultural and forestry productivity and combat desertification were major issues discussed at last month's conference.

Fog collection projects are also currently underway in Cape Verde, Chile, Eritrea, Guatemala, Morocco, Peru and Yemen.