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Based on the assumption that desert like land is related to minimal overall water availability, then a drip system as discussed above is the way to go. Another good thing about these systems is that liquid fertiliser can be added to the water to address fertility issues. But worth noting that we have met some resistance to their use in the field, most likely due to lack of understanding.
There must be papers written about this stuff, I am only aware of a National Geographic article (I think) about a village in Africa using traditional farming techniques to rehabilitate barren land. I could dig it out for you if your interested.