Before you worry about rising sea levels, turn your attention to an arguably more pressing global threat: desertification. The term refers to the persistent land degradation that transforms arable land into barren desert; a process sped up by manmade causes, including the removal of vegetation. Although desertification is a worldwide issue—the UN estimates land loss at 12 million hectares a year—its effects are most acutely felt by poor rural communities in Africa and Asia that struggle with increasing displacement and food insecurity. However, all hope is not lost. Designers around the world are putting together thought-provoking proposals to fight desertification, and we’ve rounded up six such brilliant ideas below.
1. Wind-powered Tumbleweed Robot by Shlomi Mir
Israeli industrial designer Shlomi Mir created the wind-powered Tumbleweed Robot. The GPS-enabled robot gathers data about sand dune formation and plants seeds along its path. Created with a circular steel frame and fabric sails, the compact robot operates autonomously to access hard-to-reach areas. Mir’s goal is to build a team of innovative Tumbleweed Robots to identify areas at risk of desertification and to fight against the threat by planting stabilizing grasses.
Architect Stephane Malka’s visionary thought experiment to fight desertification takes the form of the “Green Machine,” a solar-powered mobile city that turns the Sahara desert into arable land. Moving on caterpillar treads, the massive self-sufficient machine plows the land, plants seeds, and waters the landscape wherever it goes.
When Magnus Larsson was a London Architectural Association student, he developed an idea so brilliant he was invited to create a TED Talk. Larsson’s project proposed using bacillus pasteurii, a microorganism found in wetlands, in the desert to turn sand into sandstone. The anti-desertification scheme envisioned long walls of sandstone that would span the Sahara Desert from east to west and would not only block encroachment of desertification, but would also provide refugee housing.
Winner of an honorable mention in the 2015 eVolo Skyscraper Competition, the ‘Bio-Pyramid: Reversing Desertification’ project proposes expanding Egypt’s ancient pyramids into a pyramidal bio-sphere “living machine.” The greenhouse-like structure would run on renewable energy and use carefully cultivated microclimates to support vertical farming, water purification, energy creation and more. The fantastical Bio-Pyramid would also serve as a mixed-use development comprising retail, restaurants, research labs, and university facilities.
The Groasis Waterboxx is a device that can help grow trees and plants in deserts. The machine functions as a plant incubator, sheltering the sapling from the elements while collecting dew and rain to water the plant through a slow-releasing water battery. The low-tech and irrigation-free system has been successfully tested to bring back greenery in difficult areas.
The nonprofit Roots Up developed a dew-collecting greenhouse to provide fresh vegetables and water in the desert. Unfortunately the initiative, which launched as an Indiegogo campaign, did not reach its funding goal. However, the dome-like greenhouse design still holds promise, and could be reused in a new design for growing greens in arid environments.