In recent decades there have been some remarkable breakthroughs in design. But most attention has focused on the elegant product design of companies like Apple, the pre-fabricated, affordable design of Ikea, or the sporty, space age design of companies like Tesla. Sometimes, in corporate and startup culture, we find references to user-centered design and the importance of design thinking.

But the design breakthroughs of recent decades with the most impact potential have been happening in less popular arenas like ecology and agro-ecology. Designers who are just as geeky and data-driven as their tech-focused counterparts have been squeezing incredible yields from every sort of acre on earth. And they’ve been doing it without industrial additives and by using methods and species that are locally available and very low cost. These forms of agriculture and land stewardship also have the considerable advantages of increasing biodiversity and decreasing net carbon outputs.
We’re joining other researchers and thought leaders in an effort to popularize and scale up these impactful strategies.

And because people are often a bit unclear about what “agro-ecological design” could mean and because people can be a bit hesitant to read or watch anything about gardening, we’d like to take a minute to share some resources that demonstrate the awesome potential of these approaches.

First, it’s important to understand that these methods have already been implemented at a massive scale. In China, an area nearly the size of France was transformed from a dust-blown and infertile backwater into a lush and productive region. There are a variety of YouTube videos on the Loess Plateau, from short teasers to full documentaries. Here’s one to get you started:

The Loess Plateau may seem like an easy target because of the significant rainfall that the area receives. These same strategies have been applied to some of the most inhospitable areas on earth. Death Valley in Israel and Jordan is famously hot, arid, salty and devoid of life. Here’s another quick look at the rapid and incredible results of good agro-ecological design:

Variations on these strategies have also helped rural communities in the West African Sahel region to slow the advance of the Sahara. The story of Yacouba Sawadogo is particularly instructive:

As we work with our partners to develop learning materials that help people to implement this sort of transformational design, we’ll share everything here. Feel free to take, copy, modify and use whatever you like.

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