Deserts have always been known as barren wastelands with low levels of precipitation. With perpetually extreme temperatures, deserts prove how hostile living conditions are for plant and animal life. Although the word, desert, may bring to mind a sea of shifting sand in empty drylands under the scorching heat of the sun, these descriptions do not tell the whole story. Every desert hides an oasis, parallel to the saying, every cloud has a silver lining. Managing to unveil the concealed secrets of nature will tremendously help us in tackling the true building capacity in a desert.
About one-third of the Earth’s total landmass comprises deserts. Approximately one-sixth of the global population resides in desert biomes. For thousands of years, people have adapted to life in the desert, and communities managed to thrive in such extreme biomes. Yet, unknown to many, we have already impacted desert biomes through over-cultivation and poorly drained irrigation systems. Desert wildlife is vulnerable to ecological changes. Due to rising temperatures, scarce water resources continue to dry up and the risk of wildfire exponentially increases. The mismanagement of water resources resulted in desertification, leading to the emergence of new desert areas. Moreover, the act of drilling precious minerals and dumping nuclear waste in deserts brought irreversible consequences to the environment. Overall, the human exploitation of fragile ecosystems through resource mismanagement has further led to the decline in the productivity of deserts.
With the progressing issue of global warming, numerous water reservoirs have now plummeted to a historic low. The key to sustainability lies in recognizing that humanity's economic activities are dependent on the global ecosystem; thus, promoting the need to make the most of every resource while minimizing waste and emissions. This is made possible by the capacity building which involves strengthening the skills, processes, and resources that communities need to survive, adapt, and prosper in a rapidly evolving world. With that stated, an urgent action for capacity building invests in the effectiveness and future sustainability of the planet.
Driven by an increasing population and rapid urbanization, global food demand is expected to increase by about 40 to 50 percent by 2030, bringing the need for smarter and ecologically sustainable food systems. Instead of putting more fertile land into production, focusing on technologies and practices for intensifying production in marginal lands by restoring deserts will be more efficient in the long run. Through sustainable land management agroforestry practices and large-scale restoration, the impact of climate change and desertification can be significantly reduced. Moreover, this creates livelihood opportunities, improves food security, and builds community resilience to combat climate change. By transforming degraded lands into more productive grounds, desertification can be eliminated.
Growing food in a desert, especially in a period of sustained drought, is now a reality. Agriculture uses 60 to 80 percent of the planet’s scarce fresh water reserve, but through an integrated and infinitely scalable farming approach, food sources stack up economically. Sustainable desert farming involves combining technologies to generate electricity from solar power, desalinate water for irrigation and operate salt-water-cooled greenhouses for growing high-value vegetables. The system enables crops to be grown all year-round and produce twice the harvest yield while reducing water usage by half. Truly, responsible investing in water, energy, food, capital, and employment is greatly needed.
In conclusion, deserts are far from being empty and lifeless. Ironically, deserts are full of life, a place of great diversity, abundance, and activity. We must break our preconceived notion of the desert as an environment meant to be escaped, not sought after and celebrated. An ecosystem, regarded to be largely useless to mankind is a vital biome to the future of an ecologically viable food source. Let us engage in promoting resource efficiency for sustainable and inclusive growth that will boost industries, stimulate innovation, and secure supplies of key resources. We must keep in mind that over-exploiting our natural capital will only reduce its ability to provide goods and services. By incorporating such a mindset, we will be able to maximize what deserts have to offer and finally overcome resource conservativeness.
FAO. “Innovations in desert and drylands farming.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed July 14, 2021. http://www.fao.org/support-to-investment/news/detail/en/c/1040460/.
World Agroforestry. “Farmer-To-Farmer Extension: A Low-Cost Approach for Promoting Climate-Smart Agriculture.” World Agroforestry | Transforming Lives and Landscapes with Trees. Accessed July 14, 2021. https://www.worldagroforestry.org/publication/farmer-farmer-extension-low-cost-approach-promoting-climate-smart-agriculture.
National Geographic Society. “Desert Biome.” National Geographic Society. Accessed February 5, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/desert-biome/.
National Geographic Society. “Deserts Explained.” National Geographic Society. Accessed February 14, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/deserts-explained/#:~:text=Yet%20more%20than%20one%20billion,actually%20live%20in%20desert%20regions.
European Environment Agency. “Why Is Resource Efficiency Important?” European Environment Agency. November 23, 2020. https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/waste/resource-efficiency/why-is-resource-efficiency-important.