“If everyone does their bit, everyone is a winner.”

 

Photo credit: Independent

Behind the rhetoric what is really being done to combat desertification?

by Gavin Haines

Like most people living along the Sahel – the drylands between Africa’s tropical savannahs and the Sahara Desert – Mustafa Ba is all too familiar with the effects of desertification.

Thanks to a combination of overgrazing and deforestation, he has watched the countryside around his Senegalese village, Mboula, turn into a dusty, unproductive wasteland.

“Trees provide us with many benefits,” explains Mustafa, as we sit on a mat in the centre of his village. “They are good for the soil and important for food security.”

But in impoverished regions of rural Africa, selling firewood is a source of quick cash and many trees along the Sahel have been felled. Communities have paid a high price for such enterprise; with no trees to protect the land, vast swathes of the Sahel have succumbed to desertification.

According to the United Nations, Mustafa is one of 850 million people – nearly one eighth of the global population – to be directly affected by this process of land degradation.

But it’s not just a local problem; desertification has an impact on food production, which pushes up grocery bills around the world (the UN estimates Guatemala alone loses 24 per cent of its agricultural GDP due to desertification).

To raise awareness of the issue, the UN reserved June 17 as World Day to Combat Desertification, but behind the rhetoric it has also been supporting projects to tackle the phenomenon head on. One of those is Great Green Wall of Africa, a 4,800-mile “wall” of trees that is being planted across the continent between Senegal and Djibouti.

It took years to secure funding for this ambitious project but with the help of the African Union, European Union, World Bank and other international investors, it was approved in 2011. Mustafa was delighted.

Read the full article: Independent

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Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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