Definition and causes of desertification (allAfrica)

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What is desertification?

Desertification is a process of fertile land transforming into a desert typically as a result of deforestation, drought or improper/inappropriate agriculture. Desertification is the development of desert-like conditions in regions that have experienced human disturbance such as deforestation, overgrazing, or poorly managed agriculture.

Although the extent of the world’s deserts expand and contract in response to natural changes in climatic conditions, desertification is a phenomenon induced by human activities. Land alteration often brings with it modification of local climatic conditions. Desertification is a phenomenon that ranks among the greatest environmental challenges of our time.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification defines the term desertification as “land degradation in arid and sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities”. Desertification is a dynamic process that is observed in dry and fragile ecosystems. It affects terrestrial areas (topsoil, earth, groundwater reserves, surface run-off, animal and plant populations, as well as human settlements and their amenities (for instance, terraces and dams).



Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.