Would we benefit from terraforming deserts into farms?
With the current rate of population increase, we will surely reach a point when our agricultural land no longer produces enough food for everyone to fill their stomachs. How could we deal with that? Well, one possibility would be to turn infertile land arable. Why not make desserts arable?
Terraforming has been in the cultural zeitgeist for quite a while now. However, we are yet to see much of it in practice beyond building canals through desserts. To understand terraforming, we need to analyze the factors that play a role in plant growth. Plants need light, water, nutrients, and an ideal temperature to bloom. Regions with these factors flourish a variety of flora, like the Amazon Rainforest.
So for us to turn our desert fertile, our first goal is to find clean water. An artificial lake could well be the answer to this. It would also take care of the scorching heat in the desert by bringing temperatures down. Sunlight would definitely not be an issue in our um... checks notes... desert. As for nutrients, we do have a wide variety of fertilizers already.
Why, then, have we not terraformed our deserts yet?
To put it plainly, there isn’t a need. Not yet, at least. We have done it to a certain extent with countries like Egypt and Israel utilizing drip irrigation to grow crops with limited water. As it stands now, the land we have serves to feed the world. Importing food from nearby countries fills our shelves with food that isn’t grown in our countries.
That being said, there are some benefits to terraforming deserts into different habitats even if we aren’t in dire need of more food, the chief among them being variety. Domestic farming of foods exotic to that region would drop their prices to reasonable levels. Not only would this make them more accessible, but also shorten supply lines and reduce the traffic of ships traveling day and night, making logistics easier.
As a concept, terraform might be in its infancy. But the rising interest in space travel drives interest in it, making it relevant, especially as interest in colonizing Mars rises. Most of the adjoining planets are not habitable for human life, and it would be in our interests to transform them into liveable places. The future cannot be a vision of us living in gas giants.