Saturday, August 30, 2014
by Antonio C. Antonio
August 20, 2014
Desertification is a major cause for alarm and is considered a significant global ecological and environmental problem. History has witnessed the demise of societies and cultures in the periphery of the 3 desert epicentres; namely, (1) The Mediterranean; (2) The Mesopotamian Valley; and, (3) The north-western plateau of China.
Although there are several definitions of the term “desertification” the most widely accepted one is: “The process of fertile land transforming into desert typically as a result of deforestation, drought or improper/inappropriate agriculture.” (Princeton Dictionary) Desertification is a form of soil and land degradation wherein dry land areas become increasingly arid and loses water, flora and fauna. Climate change caused by anthropogenic (meaning: manmade) activities is the main cause of desertification.
The area affected by desertification is estimated at 12 million square kilometers representing 15% of the earth’s dryland. Drylands occupy approximately 40% of the earth’s total land area. Knowing that Mother Earth is mostly water --- 361 million square kilometers of water vis-à-vis 149 million square kilometers of land --- it is easy to assume that losing land (as opposed to losing water) is a more imminent possibility. Aside from desertification, land is also lost through rising water levels caused by global warming/shrinking polar caps.
What causes desertification? Land conversion from forest to agriculture will most likely experience desertification especially when agricultural activities are not managed properly. Vegetation plays a vital role in determining the quality of soil. Desertification hastens when vegetation is removed and, with the soil exposed and unprotected, fertile soil is blown away with the wind or washed away by floods. Soil without vegetative cover is most likely to bake in the sun and lose its nutritional elements. Another cause of desertification is over-grazing. The ratio of grazing land to (say) one cow is 1 to 1 hectare of pasture land. Livestock overpopulation will not allow the pasture land to recover.
Deserts are formed by natural processes over a long period of time. Depending on the human activity interventions, deserts either shrink or expand. The main stabilizing factor that stunts the growth of deserts is reforestation or the introduction of well-managed agriculture. There are techniques and programs to reverse desertification which are anchored on agricultural production. However, these mitigation measures are costly and farmers are not too keen on adopting them. More often, the cost of adopting sustainable agricultural practices in arid and dry lands is more than the benefits. Funding support remains to be the central issue in man’s fights against desertification. But something needs to be done since approximately 1 billion people live under the threat of desertification.
Just my little thoughts…
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