I think it would be useful for such workers to have a copy of Bill
Mollison's 'Permaculture, A Designer's Manual' Tagari Publications, Tyalgum,
Australia 1988, (US sources would be known to US permaculture groups), which
has a whole section on dryland strategies.
The appropriate strategy is going to be local and must be politically
Mollison writes, p 315, that "Gardeners [in drylands] have had good results
from shredded bark, manure and leaf nutrients as mulch, with compost below
this, and some sulphur added if pH is high." But I expect a major issue is
source of mulching material, and that requires attention to preservation of
plants, especially 'woody weed' species. Desert plants are usually prolific
seeders and local species are of course best adapted to local conditions.
Often pioneer species are good soil improvers, acacias are nitrogen fixing,
and also lower pH, but some desert species will tend not so such to improve
soils as to have individual survival strategies, by seed proliferation,
aestivation [opposite of hibernation] etc; plants adapted to holding water
make good live fodder, if there is a sensible plant-animal balance.
Whatever, being able to exclude animals, especially goats, from any
significant area for a couple of years, or a couple of rains, would seem a
critical start point for developing biomass for soil, compost or mulch.
Living plants, rather than dead material, may need to be the first priority,
and then it may be better to try to grow within such an environment rather
than disturb it with cultivation. The goat/livestock question is, I would
have thought, critical. Especially if it tangles with a balance between
men's business [herding] and women's business [planting].
But again, I'd recommend the Mollison book as wonderful food for strategic,
large enough and ideaful enough to get any Peace Corp worker off to sleep
with new ideas at night, and complex enough to need reading several times to
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