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It’s time to stop treating our soil like dirt

 

Photo credit: Trees for the Future (Photo credit: NASA)

Desertification: Rooting out the Problem with Trees

More than 1.5 billion people in the world depend on degraded land, and about three quarters (74%) of them are impoverished¹.  For 250 million of these people, their plight has a name—desertification².  Desertification³, or land degradation occurring in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas, is driven by both natural and man-made factors, and it is leaving farmers across sub-Saharan Africa thirsty for answers.  Desertification is not only scraping at the back door of families in places like West Africa. It is already in their homes and affecting their livelihoods in the most fundamental way.  It is seen in the meals they eat, and the meals they don’t.  In this region where agriculture is the backbone of the economy and land is often a person’s most valuable asset, desertification means devastation. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, has a higher proportion of people living in poverty than any other region in the world, and 80% of these impoverished people depend upon agriculture or farm labor for their livelihoods⁴.

As the land dries up, so does peace.

But it’s not just about livelihoods or even food security.  In places like Nigeria, desertification is a threat to peace.  It is here that competition between nomadic cattle herders and farmers for the land that is increasingly swallowed by the Sahara desert has resulted in a conflict between the groups that has killed more people this year than Boko Haram⁵. Similarly, in Ghana, Fulani herdsmen from neighboring countries who have been forced to migrate in search of pasture have been destroying  property across local villages⁶.  As the land dries up, so does peace.

Desertification is not just their problem.  It is all of ours.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that by 2050, there will be one third more mouths to feed and that global food supply will need to increase by about 70% to feed them⁷. In a world where we are losing both agricultural land and people to urbanization, this means that efficiency gains will need to be made on the land we already have, that we cannot afford to lose any more, and that some of the land that has already been lost will need to be restored.  Africa will be a key piece of the solution.

In the semi-arid places of West Africa, such as in Senegal where Trees for the Future works, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the Sahara Desert is encroaching at a rate of five kilometers per year.

Read the full article: Trees for the future

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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