Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land

Deano Martin | Tuesday, 11th March 2014
A practical book providing an array of information on how to implement desert-adapted practices to your orchard, garden or farm to alleviate the effects of the ever changing climate.
Author: Gary Paul Nabhan
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Publication year: 2013
RRP: £21.99

Whilst the title may not immediately grab the attention of a UK-based reader, the subtitle Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty should. If I am honest I was hooked on reading this book from the very beginning. The author’s description and account of his meeting with a Sufi mystic and desert farmer captivated me, as did the vision of a network of connected small oasis-like farms. However the book is about more than just a vision. The author stresses early on the need to take right action, rather than just acquiring appropriate knowledge, and that is perhaps the best way to approach reading the book. It’s about learning new techniques and then applying them to your own practice. Underpinning this are examples drawn from desert farmers around the world, and through the ages. I was particularly impressed by the scope, size and diversity of a Saharan oasis. Surely if 12,000 people can be sustained like this, in those conditions, we can do more?

I really liked the way that the author laid out each chapter, with a Warm-up, a Parable, Principles and Premises, then Planning and Practice. With practical examples for each section I was left with a feeling of confidence that growing and thriving in these harsh conditions was possible, and achievable.

The book includes examples of dry land techniques such as harvesting organic matter from flood water using trees and waffle gardens, the use of clay pots (ollas), and the use of Bokashi/composting in place with effective microorganisms. Some techniques, such as wick irrigation are only mentioned briefly, and I would have liked more details, whilst the use of zai pits is not included at all.

I liked the author’s understanding that annual crops will need to play an appropriate role in providing greater food security, despite his emphasis on trees and perennials. The explanation that varieties that matured more quickly would need less irrigation had not occurred to me before, but makes a lot of sense. The selection of plants that can tolerate heat and drought, and flooding was an interesting concept, worthy of further research. Providing a list of suitable species to grow was useful, and I am already growing some of the plants on his list, and am looking for more to try. The notes/ bibliography section is comprehensive, and hopefully any topics that you find interesting can be followed up using these references.  

Perhaps the cleverest part of the book is the way that it takes some techniques commonly described and used in perma-culture, and looks at them from a new perspective, that of a changing climate. In doing so the author helped me to understand them better.

There will be elements in this book that are unlikely to be of practical use to some readers, but here in Eastern England, with low average rainfall, and with what seems like longer dry spells between bouts of heavy rain, I will be putting some of the ideas from this book into practice.

US customers can buy this book from Chelsea Green for $29.95 HERE.

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Further resources

Watch: How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change

Watch: Greening the Desert

Watch: Green Gold: how can we regenerate large-scale damaged eco-systems?