Desertification is a process by which natural or human causes reduce the biological productivity of drylands (arid and semiarid lands).

The productivity of land decreases mainly because of causes such as climate change, deforestation, over-grazing, poverty, political instability, unsustainable irrigation practises, etc. Desertification is a major problem that we are facing right now and we need to act quickly!

Why do we need to worry about desertification? Following below are some facts that would answer the above question:

  • Desertification has affected 36 million square km (14 million square miles) of land and is a major international concern.
  • The lives of approximately 200 million people are affected by desertification.
  • Roughly half of Earth’s ice-free land surface—approximately 52 million square km (about 20 million square miles)—is drylands, and these drylands cover some of the world’s poorest countries.

In desertification, the land is degraded to an unusable state. In the rainy season, intense rainfall could wash away the newly grown plants because the ground is extremely infertile. People living in and around these areas need to constantly move and look out for better and prosperous areas for agricultural activities and cultivation.

  • Around 80% of farmlands suffer from degradation.
  • It can take 500 years for 2.5 cm of soil to form, but, it takes only a few years for it to become dry!
  • 110 countries are threatened by desertification.

Desertification is not a natural process; it is a result of man-made activities. Today a third of emerged land is threatened by desertification. Climate change which is also a result of man-made activities, further adds on to the problem of desertification. Every year, land covering about 12 million hectares is lost due to desertification. Desertification is affecting all of mankind. Soil degradation and infertility reduces the production of crops and their yield, moreover, with the increasing rate of population and constant demand for natural resources, desertification has become one of world’s major problem!

Every year the equivalent of 20 million tonnes of cereal is lost due to desertification. It also causes large scale migration of people.

What can we do to prevent this disaster? There have been solutions which are being put to use already in order to prevent desertification from spreading. Following are some of them:

    • Irrigation improvements, which can inhibit water loss from evaporation and prevent salt accumulation. This technique involves changes in the design of irrigation systems to prevent water from pooling or evaporating easily from the soil.
    • Cover crops, which prevent soil erosion from wind and water. On larger scales, plant cover can help maintain normal rainfall patterns. Cover crops may be perennials or fast-growing annuals.
    • Terracing, which involves the creation of multiple levels of flat ground that appear as long steps cut into hillsides. The technique slows the pace of runoff, which reduces soil erosion and retards overall water loss.
    • Planting more trees that help bind soil together and prevent soil erosion!

Agroforestry is another important measure to prevent desertification. Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. This intentional combination of agriculture and forestry has varied benefits, including increased biodiversity and reduced erosion. Agroforestry practices have been successful in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of the United States.

Agroforestry systems can be an advantage over conventional agricultural, and forest production methods. They can offer more productivity, economic benefits, and more diversity in the ecological goods and services provided.

There have been various projects put into action to restore desertification and conduct successful reforestation! Planting trees and nurturing them could help retain the fertility of the soil and prevent soil erosion.

Countries like Africa, China have taken initiatives and measures to prevent desertification by building the Great Green Wall across their deserts with a hope to restore the lush green land that was once lost. To watch their contributions towards preventing desertification, click below: