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In a season when desert edges increasingly fluctuate, CLIMAVORE learns from plants that organise themselves collectively to save water and thrive in saline, arid soil. It propagates heirloom varieties of “desert foods” in microclimates that are able to water with stones.

A desert orchard planted in 2019 tests different microclimates to grow desert foods
In Sharjah, a desert orchard planted in 2019 tests different microclimates to grow desert foods through new landscape topographies that provide shading, retain moisture and reduce water stress.

Since the popularisation of the term after WWII, desertification has become a political tool to control space and people. Historically, inhabitants in arid regions did not “suffer from” aridity, as it has been portrayed in the West; they flexibly adapted with the seasons. Nomadic peoples moved with their herds of camels or goats across suitable outdoor lands for grazing. But as those pastoralists’ spaces were encroached upon and temperatures rose, the desert became a problem. Bedouin botanical knowledge found ways to use available plants to live with the desert beyond the imposed borders that cross it.

Turning their backs to the desert, megacities in the Arabian Peninsula and around the Gulf have often fuelled new green imaginaries by constructing impossibly lush, heavily irrigated urban landscapes. Such ‘oases’ are depleting groundwater levels and drawing seawater into freshwater reserves. Unlike water-dependent ornamental plants, desert food gardens can learn from algorithmic patterns in desert symbiosis, which reveal how plants are already organising themselves collectively to reduce water stress and overcome extinction.

Salt-tolerant desert species (sidr, tamarind, miswak, babul, saltmarsh greens) are well equipped to flourish in urban areas around the Gulf. On an abandoned former school site in the city of Sharjah, CLIMAVORE nurtures a desert orchard, using demolition rubble to create microclimates that provide shading and retain moisture in the ground by covering it with stones.

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates