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Growing food in the desert: is this the solution to the world's food crisis? | Environment | The Obs 
27th-Nov-2012 08:36 am
Growing food in the desert: is this the solution to the world's food crisis?

What an interesting article, with good pictures. And, given the natural abundance of desert and seawater, one that is quite in keeping with our needs.
28th-Nov-2012 08:07 am (UTC)
There is the difficulty that this method requires an abundance of four things:

1. Capital and infrastructure to build enormous greenhouses, solar collectors, etc. Solar cells only recently reached the point at which their probable lifetime power production exceeded the energy required to manufacture them. This, then, represents a significant cost in energy, raw materials, labour, and capital. The article mentioned £8m as the cost of a 20-acre greenhouse.

The FAO (United Nations) classifies about 13.8 million square kilometres of the earth’s surface as arable land. That equals about 3.4 billion acres. To increase that area by one percent, at the costs mentioned in the article, would require building greenhouses over 34 million acres of desert at a cost of £13.6 trillion. Try finding that amount of capital anywhere.

2. Desert. No problem there, except —

3. Seawater. The difficulty about most deserts is that they are hundreds of miles from the nearest sea. The difficulty about most seas is that they are hundreds of miles from the nearest desert. So you need an additional investment in infrastructure to build canals or pipelines to carry water to the desert; and since nearly all the world’s deserts are above sea level, you also need large amounts of energy to pump the water uphill.

4. Proximity to markets. Spending £400,000 per acre to build greenhouses makes no sense for staple crops; it is only practicable for garden truck, which has a much higher yield (in price and poundage) per unit area. Only a fool would spend £400,000 to turn an acre of desert into a wheat field. The trouble is that garden truck costs so very much to ship (mostly energy costs again), it is unprofitable to ship it by land more than short distances. This is why most garden truck is either grown near cities for domestic consumption, or grown near major seaports for export. But again, seaports require seawater, which brings us back to difficulty #3.

Conclusion: As usual, tanstaafl.
28th-Nov-2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
1. There are ways to reduce the power required: this, for example would be quite useful in the setting. Large capital requirements would typically require more efficient use of resources, but these efficiencies are available.

2&3&4. Saudi Arabia, the southern Mediterranean, are examples of accessible deserts.

Edited at 2012-11-28 02:39 pm (UTC)
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