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Illuminating hope: a revolutionary approach to afforestation and desert greening

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By Vesela Tanaskovic

· 6 min read


Abstract

In a world facing challenges like climate crisis or a growing population and dwindling resources, innovative solutions are needed to combat hunger, water scarcity, and land degradation, which are becoming omnipresent. This article explores a groundbreaking methodology for desert greening and afforestation that not only addresses the issues of sedimentation in reservoirs but also creates fertile grounds for sustainable ecosystems to flourish.

By utilising nutrient-rich sediments, which are obstructing dam operations across the globe and are only predicted to rise with an increase of droughts and flash floods, as soil amendments and harnessing the power of desert native plants like Moringa genus, this approach holds promise in transforming barren landscapes into thriving habitats. And by thriving I mean a regenerative ecosystem focused on native biota, and naturalised planets, an economically thriving community helping restore desert landscapes into productive agroforestry oases, creating jobs, preserving water and providing food in some of the fastest-growing population centres in the world.

Introduction

With the global population projected to reach 9 billion by the mid-21st century, ensuring adequate food production and essential resources becomes an increasingly complex task. Now enhance this by the fact that the highest growth is expected in the MENA region! The urgency to tackle issues such as desertification, deforestation, and water scarcity cannot be overstated. However, amidst these challenges, a ray of hope emerges through a revolutionary methodology that merges environmental restoration, regenerative agriculture, and socioeconomic development.

The sediment phenomena and the birth of a solution

One of the critical challenges identified for the future is the availability of freshwater, as reservoirs worldwide face sedimentation issues and we are expected to lose 42% of them by 2050. A groundbreaking dissertation has developed a patented "methodology for desert greening" that not only addresses the dam sedimentation problem but also offers a solution to the increasing desertification and land degradation plaguing arid regions. By harnessing the nutrient-rich sediments from reservoirs, this approach serves as a soil kick-starter for transforming surrounding dry areas into fertile grounds. Focusing on addressing the lack of vegetation surrounding the majority of arid reservoirs, which sediment much faster due to this than other reservoirs present in more moderate climates. When envisioning this just imagine that nearly every human settlement in an arid region has its own water body, in most cases a multi-purpose man-made reservoir. Addressing only these arid reservoirs would be just enough to sink 34 billion tonnes emitted each year. 

But not all historic emissions. Of course, there is NO silver bullet. We need to start thinking as a global community, not as individuals. And as much as the individual action matters, it is nothing compared to global governments and their mind-blowing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Just in less than 2 years, they have received over 9 trillion US dollars in subsidies.

The reason I mention this is that no matter what we invent, we cannot continue with the “business as usual” scenario, we NEED a global societal shift. We need to start thinking as a part of a larger ecosphere and not think of ourselves as individuals.  

Just for your entertainment, imagine all this money being spent on afforestation or reforestation projects worldwide. Do you know how many trees we would have planted at the highest planting and maintenance cost of 10 dollars? 1 trillion! Crazy! And yes, brilliant as it is, any afforestation project can do just so much. 

Going back to the amazing potential of desert greening by preserving our man made freshwater sources in arid lands aka reservoirs. 

The case of Egypt and the new valley

The research focused on Egypt, a country grappling with an ever-growing population of around 110 million people, and the urgency to find new solutions to utilise its limited arable land. The research calculated that by applying it to create a New Valley region focusing on connecting the present oasis, and parallel to the Nile Valley, using sediment from the Aswan High Dam Reservoir, only with this one reservoir, we could double Egypt's existing agricultural land and sink 2 billion tons of CO2. The results showcased the methodology's efficacy and its potential application in diverse climate zones globally, making it invaluable for dam maintenance, reservoir preservation, and river basin control in the face of an exasperated climate crisis, where flash floods, droughts, and forest fires break records each year.

Harnessing nature's power: the role of Moringa

Central to the success of this approach is the careful selection and combination of native and naturalised plants. Among these, Moringa Peregrina, Moringa Stenopetala and Moringa Oleifera have emerged as key species due to their resilience, economic value and nutritional benefits. Recognized by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Moringa Oleifera offers a multitude of advantages, including rapid growth up to 12 metres a year, edible parts, water purification potential, and biofuel production. And one of the most important characteristics of the whole genus is nitrogen fixation in its roots making them one of the best colonisers of desert soil, which should be used as ecosystem creators. 

The promise of a new ecosystem

Through the implementation of this methodology, not only are the challenges of sedimentation and land degradation overcome, but new ecosystems flourish, offering a sustainable solution to food security and unemployment. The transformation of once-barren lands into fertile grounds provides opportunities for job creation and economic development, benefiting both the environment and local communities.

The downside of the solution

As with most large scale geoengineering approaches, this one too requires a lot of different governmental approvals, involvement of multiple ministries, and in the case of the Nile and other major rivers, the inclusion of intergovernmental bodies, UN and other. Unfortunately, I am afraid that we might not have enough time to wait for them to agree. This is why we must unite, we must act, and we must think as an integral part of a whole, rather than a sole individual. Greed, capitalism and the glorification of individual actions will be our end. We must think like bees and protect the queen at all costs, and our queen is our Gaia, our one and only habitable planet, Earth. 

Conclusion

In a world where desertification and deforestation persist, the methodology for desert greening shines as a beacon of hope. By tapping into nutrient-rich sediments from reservoirs and harnessing the potential of native plants like Moringa, we can combat water scarcity, create sustainable ecosystems, and address the pressing challenges of hunger and unemployment. This innovative approach presents a path toward a greener and more resilient future, where arid landscapes bloom and humanity thrives in harmony with nature.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Dr. Vesela Tanaskovic Gassner is a renowned climate scientist and desert greening expert. With a focus on knowledge transfer, she works closely with NGOs, SMEs, institutions, and governments, providing clear actionable advice to address misinformation and promote sustainable solutions for arid environments and agriculture.

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