17th of June is a World Day for Combating Desertification and Drought. It was first introduced in 1994 to raise awareness about desertification and ways of combating this issue.
According to UNCCD, Desertification is a type of land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused by climatic variations and human activities. Desertification occurs because dry land ecosystem, which cover over one third of the world’s land area, are extremely vulnerable to over –exploitation and inappropriate land use
Increasing population causes growing demand for agricultural land, both for farming and grazing. According to UN, arable land is shrinking every day by 23 hectares per minute and pushes millions of people deeper into poverty. As a result, a vicious circle develops: people who depend on land for making a living have to use increasingly intensive farming techniques which cause further land degradation. Desertification and drought are serious threats to food security and increase the risk of sandstorms, fires and land erosion.
However, there are ways to prevent desertification. Mix of afforestation and landscape management is a proved approach to combat desertification. Successful examples of re-greening deserts exist in China and in several African countries like Kenya and Ethiopia (See Anneli Sundin’s blog on re-greening in Niger and Burkina Faso). However, to make this sustainable it is necessary to improve land management and to integrate it with socio-economic characteristics of the area. Ways to prevent deforestation through afforestation are:
- select the area for project, avoiding zones with natural non-forest ecosystems and soils with high carbon stock
- understand the type of erosion in the area (wind, sheet, gully, rill etc.)
- fertile land by establishing nutrient cycling from agricultural residues and from human and animal waste
- use native species, plant diversity of species and make sure that nurseries are not too far away from plantations
- encourage crop rotation, mixed farming and application of science driven agriculture
- implement agroforestry methods with promotion of ecosystem services
- maintain ground and surface water quantity and quality
- use water harvesting both from precipitations and surface runoff and employ the most effective irrigation techniques to reduce salinity
- avoid using young grasses and shrubs for animal grazing
- build barriers for wind.
Although increasing poverty is a likely consequence of desertification, there are other effects such as increasing number of unplanned urban areas, because people migrate from rural areas to cities when the land that they work on degrades. Desertification can also result in land conflicts between areas with more and less degree of desertification; it brings this issue to political agenda. Therefore, the problem requires landscape approach that encompasses both micro and macro scales incorporating strong policies, integrated land and water management and determined leadership. Finally, reduction of deserts will reduce habitat loss and hence slow down loss of biodiversity. Moreover, greater amount of green areas will increase carbon sinks and decrease emissions, contributing to climate change mitigation.
Individual actions that each of us can do to contribute to combating the causes of desertification even if you live in the city include planting trees and organization of cleanups, picking waste after you had a picnic in the forest, reject using unsustainably produced biomass energy and attempt to use more renewables. Combating desertification requires fundamental changes in our food and economy systems, but key to making a change is raising environmental awareness. So what you can also do is learn more about sustainable land management techniques and tell others.
Learn about United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification and implementation strategy at http://www.unccd.int/en/about-the-convention/Pages/About-the-Convention.aspx