Ilya Shambat

Ilya Shambat
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
November 21
Adda Enterprises
Born in Russia, family moved to America when I was 12. Got a degree from University of Virginia at 18. Worked for Oracle, translated four books of classical Russian poety, was part of San Francisco and Washington, DC poetry and music scene. Good friends with San Francisco's own Persephone's Bees and acquainted with Patch Adams. Currently married with children, residing in Australia and working on a clean energy technology implementation.


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APRIL 4, 2012 9:50AM

Solution for Africa: Irrigate Sahara

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Once again we are hearing about another African famine. This is happening at the time that many African countries, from Nigeria to Uganda, are recovering from their past mistakes and experiencing strong economic growth. This time, the famine is in the countries that are in the Sahara desert. I am recommending a solution that would end famine in Africa once and for all.

This solution had not been frequently recommended; but it is in fact a solution that, if implemented, stands to end famine in Africa forever. I am not talking about piecemeal solutions or semi-solutions; I am talking about a full solution. And the full solution is this:

Using desalinated ocean water to irrigate the Sahara Desert and turn it into farmland.

Think about this logically. Sahara Desert is a vast, dry and empty area the size of the United States. There is very little there to preserve with the exception of a few oases. Outside these oases it is nothing but sand dunes, and there is nothing there that deserves to remain as is or that contributes much - either to the environment or to humanity - by remaining what it is now.

The farmland in the United States comprises a much smaller area. The American farmland could feed 2 billion people with present technologies (it only feeds much less than 2 billion because most of it is used to raise cattle feed for government-subsidized Big Beef). Sahara, if fully cultivated, could feed the entire population of Africa and much more. So why not put two and two together and build desalination plants on the side of the ocean to send fresh water into Sahara and make it the world's largest stretch of fertile farmland?

Africa continues to experience uncontrolled population growth, and even if today's African farmers were to apply more efficient techniques they would still not be able to feed everyone in Africa. The famines would continue despite any economic progress that African countries make. Many current African farms face erosion, pollution, and other problems. Meanwhile to the north is a vast empty stretch of land that can become farmland using present technologies, and that has the potential to feed Africa for foreseeable future.

African famines will continue until Africans work out better ways to produce and distribute food. There will continue to be people outside of Africa who are willing to alleviate suffering; but ultimately even these people will start asking what are African people doing for themselves. Having had independence for over 40 years, African countries are being taken to task by many people for their failures. They can no longer blame such things on the Western imperialists; they are in charge, they are responsible for the results.

As someone who wants to see African people do well, I am encouraged by the fact that many African countries are in fact improving economically and politically. But Africa's chronic food problem is not going away until Africans work out better agricultural practices. If they irrigate the Sahara and turn it into farmland, then they will have enough food not only for today's population but also for any population that Africa may have in the foreseeable future. And that will go a long way to improving the lot of African people for a significant length of time.

Author tags:

africa, famine, farming, sahara, food

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I'm curious about the finance end, assuming it is practical.
Shaking head here. Always sounds good to make the desert bloom but the results can be less than spectacular.

Look what is happening in the long farmed Salinas Valley in California. Salts are building up in the irrigated soils and the desert is reclaiming the land that once produced much.

Desalination plants are the most expensive way to produce water.
Unsustainable as well.