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A The Sahel zone lies between the Sahara desert and the fertile savannahs of northern Nigeria and southern Sudan. The word sahel comes from Arabic and means marginal or transitional, and this is a good description of these semi-arid lands, which occupy much of the West African countries of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad.

B   Unfortunately, over the last century the Sahara desert has steadily crept southwards eating into once productive Sahel lands. United Nations surveys show that over 70 per cent of the dry land in agricultural use in Africa has deteriorated over the last 30 years. Droughts have become more prolonged and more severe, the most recent lasting over twenty years in parts of the Sahel region. The same process of desertification is taking place across southern Africa as the Kalahari desert advances into Botswana and parts of South Africa.

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Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

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