In Peru's deserts, melting glaciers are a godsend (until they're gone)

All told, more than 100,000 acres of desert were brought into cultivation.

“Years ago, if I gave you a plot of land here, you’d have said, ‘What do I do with this?’ ” said Osvaldo Talavera, a spokesman for the water district. “Now you’d say, ‘Do you have another plot for me?’ ”

Among the investors was Rafael Quevedo, a wealthy Peruvian landowner who began snapping up arid tracts after studying desert hydroponic techniques in Israel. His proposition was simple: With enough water and fertilizer, asparagus could be grown directly in the sand — and at yields per acre far higher than in the United States because Peru has no cold season and more days of sun.

“We’ve started a new chapter in the history of cultivation,” said Mr. Quevedo, who runs a farming company called Talsa.