What is Desertification and Why is it Important?

 In Eco Systems, Intentions
Deforestation The Great Gathering

Desertification refers to a complicated ecological process and in general it does not get the media attention or press times that is warranted by this serious issue. As a result, many people do not really understand what this term even means, let alone the disastrous consequences that can result from it. Read on to learn more about this important environmental issue and also what you can do about it.

What is Desertification?
The Green Facts website defines desertification as the “persistent degradation of dry-land ecosystems” and is the process by which semi-arid but productive land is turned into nonproductive desert. Vegetation coverage is lost as well as precious topsoil and water runoff and erosion increases, slowly destroying the capacity of the habitat to support life. Dry-land habitat occurs on all continents (excepting Antarctica) but the habitats of Africa and Central Asia are particularly vulnerable. This problem is incredible widespread and it is estimated that due to this process, nearly 12 million hectares of land are made useless for cultivation every year.

What Causes Desertification?
The largest cause of desertification is overgrazing. Indigenous peoples who traditionally used dry-lands did so in a nomadic fashion, with the tribe and their herds following water and food availability and not grazing in one place for an extended period of time. However, modern cultivation practices have utterly destroyed this nomadic way of life, and overgrazing on one particular stretch of land is the result. Other causes of desertification include cultivation of marginal land that cannot support sustained agriculture or of land that has been recently burned by fire. Also a problem are poor irrigation practices that lead to an increase of salt in the soil (a process known as salinization) and lead to land sterility.

What are the Consequences of Desertification?
Currently, it is estimated that nearly 1/3 of the world’s population lives in dry-land habitat, and these populations are already classified as some of the poorest and most vulnerable on Earth. In a nutshell, desertification means that there is less arable land to help fulfill the nutritional needs of a planet already overpopulated and struggling to feed its people. This lack of available land to farm means quite simply less food in the bellies of those who can least afford to lose it.

What is Being Done and What can I do to Help?
Fortunately, this problem is being recognized. At the Rio Summit in 1992, desertification was actually listed as one of the largest threats to worldwide sustainable development, and two years later, the United Nations Conference to Combat Desertification was formed. It stated goal is to “forge a global partnership to reverse and prevent desertification/land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.”

The UNCCD and other groups are working together to bring policy changes and new technology to these regions to help improve this problem. Prevention remains a superior solution to rehabilitation — mostly due to the high cost of habitat restoration — and efforts are focusing in on developing economic opportunities for people living in the semi-arid lands as well as improving agricultural techniques.

You can help by supporting conservation efforts that attempt to both prevent this land degradation and to restore habitat that has already been damaged. If you are interested in these efforts the best reference site is the UNCCD site as www.unccd.int. Here you can sign up for their newsletter and get more information on opportunities to study or volunteer abroad or participate in World Day to Combat Desertification activities.

Sources
University of Western Cape, www.botany.uwc.ac.za
Green Facts www.greenfacts.org
United Nations Conference to Combat Desertification www.unccd.int

by The Great Gathering
Copyright The Great Gathering 2014©

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