This is the year, and June 17 is the special day, set aside by the United Nations to add another link to our worry beads as we prepare to see the world's drylands becoming deserts.
Those who pay heed will learn that the future of food is between a rock and a dry place, the rock being the coming generation of 9 billion people who'll be looking for their next meal. And the dry place being the once productive food lands covering 40 per cent of the earth, home to a third of the world's population.
So far, only a small band of desert prophets based on the Canadian prairies - one of the planet's designated dryland hotspots, and, like most of these, long seen as a world breadbasket - see the trajectory.
In May, National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells sent an alert to senior UN officials. Just-in-time standards, he said, had reduced world grain reserves from enough to last 125 days in the mid-1980s to enough to last just 69 days now.
The age-old tradition of buying up and setting aside surplus in case of famine is being forsaken just as artificial fertilizers and irrigation are maxed out and our "cropland base is static or shrinking," Wells wrote from the NFU's Saskatchewan headquarters.
And Alberta fresh water expert David Schindler, credited with ringing the scientific alarm bell on phosphate and sulphur water pollution back in the 1970s and 80s, is now warning that the Canadian west, site of 60 per cent of Canada's farmland, lacks the water to serve the population keen to exploit its fossil fuels.
Dry humour is all that will soon be left for those who came up with schemes that didn't factor in the scarcity and pricelessness of the world's productive soil and fresh water. The facts about desertification reveal that the most powerful voices in today's world have planned as if there's no tomorrow.
There's a long list of parties who made this egregious miscalculation. It includes North American agri-food planners who've decided that rich countries should import cheap food rather than protect their own smaller farms and fisheries, and the free trade and World Bank officials who've assumed that export agriculture will define the future of the world economy. You can also add charity gurus like Bono, who've figured that the best chance for poor countries in the South is to break down the barriers that keep more of their food exports from entering the markets of the rich North.
The science around desertification leads inescapably to two conclusions: we must adopt land management practices that empower the majority of dryland farmers (which in the developing world means women), and we have to move away from the staples of export agriculture, almost all of which soak up too much water and erode too much soil.
Sandstorms of stereotypes have kept us from appreciating the value and fragility of drylands. "Dry" is usually equated with "barren." In fact, drylands were the original cradles of agriculture in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Mexico and South America, where our stock of modern plants and animals were first domesticated.
They are also where the original corridors for trade, minerals, written alphabets, cultural exchange and monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all desert religions) came from.
Another stereotype, probably a result of the publicity around sub-Saharan droughts and famines, has it that deserts abound in Africa, where there's too much scorching heat and too little water. The fact is that deserts abound around the world, are a particular threat in Asia and are spreading as a result of modern agricultural methods and crops.
Many of the world's best-known deserts (the Sahara and Gobi, for example) predate humans and are natural products of the geography straddling the equator. But a surprising number are products of recent human error. Wait till we see the climate change toll.
Forests came before humans, and deserts came after, one piece of folk wisdom has it. This refers to farming practices common throughout the Fertile crescent of the Middle East and in northern Africa during the millennia when agriculture arose.
Agriculture was based on annual crops like grains and beans, as opposed to perennials like berries, and fruit and nut trees like the apple that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden.
But annual farming is hard on the soil because of constant tilling and hoeing, and it destroys perennial crops that previously anchored nutrients below ground. To rub salt in the earth's newly tilled wounds, farms were irrigated with water from rivers that were saltier than rainwater. When that water evaporated quickly under the blazing sun, it left surface-level salty residues that quickly parched and destroyed soil fertility.
Planting crops in rows created wind tunnels destined to erode topsoil. Soil degradation, not heat and sun or agriculture in and of itself, is what makes deserts out of fertile drylands.
Nothing was learned from this experience. Why would modern scientists bother studying artsy stuff like ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman history? Thus we had the so-called "green revolution" of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, which intensified the rate of error that long ago made Middle Eastern and northern African deserts out of breadbaskets.
High-productivity seeds were developed for export volume production of grains and cotton across Africa and Asia. Sure, they needed lots of water and nutrients - all the more reason to build gigantic dams along the Nile, Ganges and Yangtze to "manage" irrigation flows better than nature ever could. And all the more reason to import tractors and fertilizers dependent on imported fossil fuels to replace the pathetic methods of peasant agriculture.
The green revolution - clogging dams with eroded sediment, draining lakes and rivers, encrusting land in salty irrigation water and eroding it by annual row crops, compacting and sterilizing the land under imported tractors and fertilizers - has proven a recipe for desertification.
To turn this around, both the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and its unit promoting the 1996 Convention to Combat Desertification, goaded on by a major conference on women and desertification in China earlier this month, promote community-based and women-led strategies that feature the planting of trees for food, fuel, fodder and fibre, interspersed with home and community gardens.
Destined to become a classic of eco-feminist analysis, this statement is the stuff of self-reliant agriculture geared to home markets.
Though no one in the UN can be blunt and direct about it, the fantasy of export agriculture becoming the foundation of a new world food order is going to be left high and dry.