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Greening the Desert with Permaculture

“I have never seen soil like this before” was the comment that Bill Mollison made during a visit to the ‘Jordan Valley Permaculture Project (aka ‘Greening the Desert – the Sequel’) in 2011. At the time, he was referring to the poor state of the soil in the small village of Jawasari, Jordan. An area of the world where the landscape has been damaged by not only extreme pollution and the overuse of recycling nutrients but also by the climatic conditions of the location. At 31° North of the equator, 400-meters below sea level, in an area that receives less than 50-millimeters (2-inches) in annual rainfall, and Summer temperatures reaching over 50°C (122°F), the Dead Sea Valley is considered one of the world’s worst agricultural scenarios.

So, when I and thousands like me first saw the original ‘Greening the Desert’ video, a short documentary produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), we thought, if this is possible in one of the lowest, driest, and harshest environments in the world then we can do this—grow food, harvest water, repair soil, enhance the ecosystem and build community—anywhere in the world. The solution has been found, and it’s merely adopting the same design methods, the persistence, and the passion.

Growing up in Jordan I have seen agricultural land being encroached on. The neighborhood I grew up in slowly turned from fertile farming land, growing grains and vegetables, into a residential apartment block that was everything you would expect from a concrete forest. I witnessed small farmers struggling to stay profitable, and confessing to losing their land to salt due to commercial planting methods, the advice they get from agriculture departments, chemical fertilizer salesmen and the lack of long-sightedness in the agriculture policy in Jordan overall.

When a farmer tells you that he doesn’t want his children working on the farm with him,  and instead he wants them to work in an office job, you know that he is reaching a dead end. And that’s why the Greening the Desert Project is essential. It’s showcasing an alternative while inspiring us all.

Situated on the west facing side of a rocky hill the land was far from an attractive option to start a project on. But by evidencing the dramatic transformation, the team hopes to make people stand up and listen. The before and after pictures of the project site show just how significant the change was and how the land responded to the strategies used. From water harvesting on contour to planting fast-growing nitrogen fixers for shade and organic matter production for soil building, to wind breaking and microclimate creation. Every strategy worked hand-in-hand to produce what we now call the Greening the Desert project.

The ‘Greening the Desert – the Sequel’ project has vegetables, herbs, small animals, shrubs, and vines. It has a mixed desert food forest with a citrus, fruits, and olive understory that’s mixed with fast-growing support species, and a date palm over-story. It is the perfect example of how sustainable food production can happen in arid landscapes.

Below is a trailer of the upcoming new movie about the project:

At the time of writing this, the next Greening the Desert Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course is with Geoff Lawton and Adam Afoullouss starting on September 30, 2018, followed by a Solar workshop and the famous Greening the Desert Internship. See our course listings for dates and details.

For those who may feel inspired to donate to help the project can do so, here. And to follow the project on Facebook, visit the page here.

A little background on the project:


  1. This project is truly amazing and so inspiring, I am moved. Thank you for the hope and lessons

  2. Hi. Now that its raining in the desert. I think more frequently? I think this is a strong indication that the weather network needs us to green the desert. Then how do we sustain vegetation growth in the desert until the next time it rains. Would mobile desalination boats work? To sustain water where the plants come up. The idea is that the network will use its algorithm to learn where to rain.

    1. I could’t see that the desert gets more rain.
      In any case, dead-sea water desalination is next to science fiction. The water is a saturated solution of salts.

  3. Interesting and inspiring.
    Want to see loads of such miracles? Cross the border, to Israel, and you’ll encounter thousands acres of such green, food growing, human hospitable villages and small cities whithin the desert. Including around the dead sea.

  4. This is a great example of people forgetting or denying that they can affect the landscape.

    Most today seem to have forgotten that ecological disasters are not new, and human created ones date back 12,000 years.

    But they are not irreparable, and it is odd that most in the USA seem to have forgotten that we fixed the 1930’s Dust Bowl.

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