Desertification

When we think of the word, desert, we think of Cairo, Egypt or the Sahara. But a desert is simply a barren space absent of vegetation, whether that has sand or not. In fact, we're getting more and more of the latter all the time.

 
 
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The fifth d

Desertification is the process of arable land slowly turning into unhealthy, barren land that prevents anything from growing. It lacks the qualities that make up a healthy soil, such as: microorganisms, soil air, arthropods, water, humus (decomposed organic matter), and minerals; much of which can be found in the top soil. It appears extremely dry because water does nothing for it. Rainwater on a desert simply washes over the soil; creating flooding in extreme cases, and what water does penetrate a desert, quickly evaporates during heat due to a lack of humus that would otherwise retain it. Desertification is literally the end result, or the fifth "D"; the first being dryland (arid land that is inherently prone to perturbations), then drought (a temporary stage from a lack of moisture), desiccation (the long-term stage of drought), degradation (progressed from desiccation, causing soil erosion and salinization, as well as a lack of vegetation), and finally desertification (the end result of desert conditions giving the entirety of the ecosystem absolutely no life).  Desertification can occur naturally, but its current rapid growth is mostly fed by climate change, political instability, deforestation, misuse of farming methods, and overgrazing from livestock.


how it affects us

Current areas that are being threatened with degradation, en route to desertification, are northern Africa, southwestern Africa, southwestern Asia, central Asia, northwestern India and Pakistan, southwestern United States and Mexico, western South America, and much of Australia. 

In the 1990's, 110 countries were at risk for desertification- it now threatens over 168 countries, according to the United Nations Desertification Convention (UNCCD), and costs $490 billion per year. This is increasingly difficult considering by 2050, we will need to increase agriculture by 297 million acres in developing countries and 124 million acres in developed countries just to feed the world population at that time, especially when every hour, 1,692 acres of productive land becomes desert. Currently, desertification directly affects 2 billion people worldwide, of which will grow as desertification continues to grow, as well. The average infant mortality rate is higher in dryland developing countries than non-dryland (forests, mountains, islands, and coastal areas) by 23%. Desertification does not always strain our abilities to grow food, however. It also allows for massive flooding, dust storms, economic depression and poverty, poor water quality, and migration that then overpopulates other areas. There are also some theories that many conflicts in developing countries that are a direct result of vulnerable desertification and its effects lead to wars that last for decades.

 

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Prevention

The best way to combat desertification is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. One major way is to practice sustainable farming and integrate better, natural methods that increase its biodiversity and retain moisture. Crop covers, minimal tilling, polyculture, manure, and integrated pest management can all help to sustain soil health and offer high yields in crops. Practicing sustainable agroforestry prevents forests from being clear cut so that the ecosystem can continue to thrive with minimal disruption, and crops can still grow intermixed with the trees without ever having to lead to erosion. Overgrazing, allowing livestock to graze on fodder more than it can regrow, is another cause to desertification. Thus, managing crop grazing with the livestock is essential to preventing overgrazing, by producing a plan. Rotational, recovery periods, grazing periods, stocking rates, and seasons should all be considered and included in the plan. 

And then there are advocate groups that exist like #50MillionTrees who aim to reforest 50 million trees in Tanzania, the same number in population, to combat desertification since three-fourths of the locals rely on agriculture as a livelihood. Another initiative is The Great Green Wall which involve eleven countries in the Sahel-Sahara region replanting native vegetation to increase healthy soil; funded by the World Bank and supported by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Bonn, Germany. The more initiatives, international policies and regulations, and organizations that are created to combat and prevent any further desertification to occur, the better chance we have to feed the increasing world population, especially in developing countries that struggle as it is.