Executive Chairman & Group CEO of Dake Group, an advocate of Innovation and Sustainability – Food Security and Water Conservation.
According to the United Nations, the global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050 and over 11 billion by the end of the century. Currently, about 11% of the world’s land surface is classified as arable and under permanent crop rotation. The inevitable friction between these two sets of statistics is obvious to even the most casual observer. So how does our world ensure resilient food security, which can help humans thrive, currently and in the future? How do we ensure that the needs of this growing population are met, without driving the earth over the brink of ecological disaster?
As with most global issues, the scale of what is required to address these issues is daunting. For humanity to respond to the challenge, a multisolution strategy will be necessary. Taking every opportunity to optimize food production will be critical. Breakthrough techniques, such as indoor vertical farming, hydroponics and aquaponics, zero input food forests and seawater farming are all opening the door to exciting new possibilities. Another powerful solution, which can make the globe exponentially more food secure, is desert farming. As counterintuitive as this approach may sound, some of the earth’s most barren land may hold the key to a greener, more food abundant future.
Breathing Life Into The Lifeless
Restorative agriculture, which is the reclaiming of degraded land to grow food and green cover, has the potential to transform human civilization. Increasing the land humans have available to grow food can secure the needs of a growing population. More green cover can also help in fighting climate change — in my opinion, probably the greatest challenge that we currently face.
It’s important to realize that most deserts are not in their present condition because of some immutable natural law. Much of the current desert land in the world today was once arable land. For instance, the Iraqi desert areas were once the “green crescent” that was home to some of the world’s earliest civilizations. Intelligent human intervention can restore such degraded land to its former glory. Several initiatives and techniques are being implemented to reverse the desertification of our world. And each has its own set of positives and strengths.
A Multipronged Revolution
The “Greening the Desert Project” in Jordan uses permaculture, a low-input technique that mimics restorative patterns in nature. While the transition to fertile land is slow, it is also steady and economically feasible for even the poorest communities.
Israel is home to many revolutionary new technologies that are regreening desert land. These range from the development of hardy and drought-resistant fruit and vegetable varieties to simple technologies such as Tal-Ya Mitra polypropylene trays, which trap humidity to generate water for plants.
Sundrop Farms, in the South Australian desert, uses solar thermal electricity to desalinate seawater. The operation then uses the freshwater it generates to grow pesticide-free tomatoes in a greenhouse environment. The project has consistently grown 17,000 tons of tomatoes annually.
In the Mexican desert, the world’s first cactus-powered biogas plant is generating renewable fuel using the humble prickly pear. The project has since expanded to include a dairying operation because the fruit is also a high-value cattle food.
One of our Dake Rechsand’s desert farming initiatives is a technique that transforms ordinary, lifeless desert sand into a breathable “magic sand.” The resulting products retain water around plant roots much longer while also allowing the free circulation of air, unlike other hydrophobic materials. This technique has grown 1,500 acres of organic rice in the Ulam Buh Desert, one of the world’s seven driest regions, with temperatures of up to 57 degrees Celsius (approximately 135 degrees Fahrenheit).
Linking Sustainable Resilience To Transformative Entrepreneurship
Does our inability to overcome limitations imposed by degraded ecosystems really reflect the tools at our disposal in the year 2020? Is it inevitable that some pockets of humanity will continue to be poor and malnourished because they drew the shortest straw geographically? The short and succinct answer is undeniably and emphatically no. In fact, one of the great strengths of green entrepreneurship is that it makes economic, as well as ecological, sense. Approximately 13.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents are added to the atmosphere annually because of our legacy food supply chains. Green entrepreneurship often combines environmental impact with a low barrier to entry in terms of capital. Localizing production, processing and consumption can unlock both thriving communities and economic activity across multiple and diverse entrepreneurial opportunities.
Perhaps most significant of all, the compelling argument of a profit motive creates self-sustaining empowerment for underdeveloped populations, enhances living standards, transforms health metrics and democratizes the economy like virtually no other strategy. Green entrepreneurs don’t just transform the lives of a few employees. They are the front line in the shift to a sustainable economic model, in line with the best of an emerging global consciousness.
Transforming The World By Transforming Our Deserts
In the aftermath of Covid-19, which brought the world’s supply chains to a standstill, governments around the world are concentrating on reducing their external dependencies. In this context, the GCC nations, which were already diversifying vigorously into sustainable technologies, may emerge as pathbreaking innovators.
Greening deserts around the world and unlocking their potential to grow nutritious food crops abundantly could be one of the greatest breakthroughs humanity makes. It could not only transform the self-reliance of desert regions, but also introduce water frugal innovations into standard agricultural practices. The story of human civilization is one of taming the environment to produce abundance for large populations to thrive on. Reversing desertification and developing desert farming solutions can empower a future in which all life on earth, and the planet itself, can thrive sustainably.