Permaculture Technology: Greening the Desert

Greening the Desert Project: Jordan September 2018

Geoff Lawton (2018)

Film Review

This short video is a brief update of the Greening the Desert project Australian permaculture guru started in 2010 in the Dead Sea Valley in Jordan. His goal is to demonstrate the success of permaculture techniques in restoring barren desert to food production with minimal irrigation

As Lawton describes in the video, he began by planting native spiky acacia to condition the sandy soil and produce a continuous supply of mulch. He then added a series of legume, mulch producing and fruit trees. The legume trees add nitrogen to the soil while the mulch producing trees are an ongoing source of carbon. All are an essential source of shade to prevent water loss in the dry season (there is no rain at all between March and September).

In addition to trees, the project employs reed beds to recycle waste water from hygiene, laundry and dishwashing and passion fruit and Singapore daisy vines for additional shade and ground cover.

Workers are already harvesting dates (date palms help fix soil phosphate) and guava from the food forest Lawton helped them create. They will harvest their first citrus crops at the end of winter. They have also planted olive, pomegranate, papaya, kumquat and neem trees. The highlight of the film is when Lawton discovers a snail (which only breed in damp conditions) in a neem tree.

Workers have just planted their veggie garden in anticipation of rain over the winter months.

The winter rain will be collected in rain tanks and swales.* In addition the compound harvests municipal tap water, delivered a few hours a day three times a week. They also have water tanked in for drinking, hygiene, laundry and dishwashing, which they recycle through the reed beds.

They only use irrigation to start their veggie seedlings.

Four years ago Lawton proposed a similar solution for southern California, but local officials have yet to adopt his recommendations: A Natural Solution to Drought

A Natural Solution to Drought

In the video below, Australian permaculture guru Geoff Lawton challenges the energy intensive system of water management employed in the southwestern US and California.

He gives the example of the canal off the Colorado River, which presently transports water 300 miles to Tucson. Increasing evaporation has made the water so saline that it’s useless for irrigation – except for golf courses. A sinking water table means massive energy is required to elevate the water prior to transporting it. In fact, providing water to Tucson is the single biggest consumer of electricity in the state of Arizona.

Lawton contrasts this energy intensive approach to water management with a system of swales* built in the Sonora Desert 80 years ago under the Works Project Administration (Roosevelt’s New Deal job creation program). After 80 years, the swales are full of lush grasslands and trees that have self-planted.

This low-energy design approach, which works with nature rather than against it, can be used to transform any desert region into productive food forests.

The video has been censored from YouTube, but you can see it at http://www.geofflawton.com/fe/73485-an-oasis-in-the-american-desert

In the second video Lawton takes viewers through a food forest he built, by constructing swales, in the Jordanian desert.

*A swale is an artificial ditch on contour used to slow and capture water runoff by spreading it horizontally across the landscape, thus facilitating runoff infiltration into the soil