Dust obscures the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan (2001). Credit: Provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE
3 WAYS YOUR FOOD CHOICES COULD REVERSE DESERTIFICATION
On World Day to Combat Desertification (June 17), explore how agriculture has contributed to desertification, how it can help reverse this trend, and what you can do right now.
Eight decades have passed since “black blizzards”—massive dust storms—blocked sunlight and smothered people, animals, and vegetation in the American Great Plains. Due in large part to unsustainable ranching and farming practices, the once-lush pastures of the U.S. Midwest were transformed into a massive Dust Bowl through desertification.Practices similar to the ones that brought the dust storms in the 1930s are still prevalent in the United States and are being adopted by developing countries worldwide. Intensive tilling, over-fertilizing, the destruction of microbes in the soil through the application of pesticides, and continuous grazing are all practices that are spreading.
Some foresee another Dust Bowl returning to the United States. Other regions of the world are struggling with their own crises. Sand storms originating in the desertifying Mongolian Plateau, for example, have been recurring in Northern China for more than 15 years.
The solution, according to natural resource scientists, is simple: cover the soil with plants. Among the most promising paths is regenerative agriculture and ranching—an ecological approach to producing more-sustainable foods, clothing, and fuels while rebuilding ecosystems.
As society deepens its understanding of how systems in nature work as a whole to maximize productivity across ecosystems, agricultural production can shift to mimic “nature’s way” in our own production activities and to allow our broken ecosystems to heal.
Author: Willem Van Cotthem
Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development. View all posts by Willem Van Cotthem