Greenery in the Sahel has been advancing (Google / Daily Maverick)

Read at : Google Alerts – desertification

The planet is getting greener


Remember when the Sahara’s sand dunes were marching unstoppably southwards across the Sahel, and desertification was a bogeyman we caused by our industry and productivity? New research has shown that greenery in the Sahel has been advancing in the last two decades, as it has done worldwide.

Everybody knows the deserts are advancing, don’t they? Warnings about desertification, especially in the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert, have been around for fifty years.

The concept is part of school curricula, including those in South Africa. Moraig Peden, author of a book on environmental education in South Africa explains: “Current thinking in environmental education has shifted from educating learners … in the environment … to a new approach: education for the environment based on socially critical and constructivist paradigms oriented towards action for social change (her italics)”.

It would be nice, then, if the children were being taught socially critical and constructivist facts, so they can orient themselves towards action for social change that is actually useful. In other words, it would be nice if their education didn’t turn them into neurotic wrecks worrying about doomsday scenarios that simply are not true.

In 1995, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) published a reportthat claimed the desert in west Africa was advancing southwards at a rate of 5km per year. It predicted sweeping famines. By the year 2000, it guessed, Africa would be able to feed only 55% of its population, and by 2025, this would have dropped to 40%. It warned that Nigeria’s population would explode to 338 million in 2025, “123 million in excess of its carrying capacity”.

“Africa is the world’s nightmare, a continent of recurrent drought, [and] famine … perpetually dependent on food aid hand-outs with spreading deserts and shrinking forests,” the FAO wrote, calmly.

All these predictions were wrong. And not just a little wrong, but “wrong sign” wrong. In fact, exactly the opposite of the FAO’s predictions happened.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

%d bloggers like this: