Dealing With Desertification

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Desertification. The ‘fancy word’ for land in a dry region losing bodies of water, vegetation and wildlife, resulting in perfectly fertile land transforming in to a desert. The consequences of desertification are most severe – with 40% of the Earth being dry lands and home to more than two billion people, the rapid degradation of dry lands to desert eventually results in poverty. Given that 90% of those living on dry lands are also living in developing nations that have less than desirable socio-economic conditions, the possibility of land becoming useless threatens both famine and drought.
 
The causes of desertification are widespread and often interact with each other to bring about a devastating result. A domino effect is created when poor socio-economic conditions force farmers to relentlessly over cultivate soil meaning it cannot regenerate naturally. This results in soil being unable to recover, bringing about degradation and eventual desertification. Couple this with an increased population (resulting from birth rates increasing, infant mortality improving and age expectancy greater than ever) and desertification becomes a major issue affecting real, hardworking people. Agricultural land simply cannot cope with the pressure of feeding more people than ever.
 
Similarly, over grazing from livestock removes vegetation covering the ground, which is key to protecting land from erosion. Poor land drainage and water distribution also contributes to desertification. With an estimated 12 million hectacres of land suffering from desertification every year, it’s about time we raised awareness about desertification and work to resolve the issue; whilst humans have contributed to the issue, they also have the ability and resources to rectify it before it’s too late.
 
Africa is suffering the most severely from desertification but it also affects North America, Asia and Europe. Allan Savory is a world-leading expert in desertification and has implemented numerous methods throughout his life. He notoriously believed that elephants were the reason behind the desertification of a national park in Africa in the 1950s. The government at the time agreed with Savory’s research, leading to the shooting of some 40,000 elephants. However, the problem of desertification got worse and Savory described the shooting of the elephants as ‘the saddest and greatest blunder of my life.’ This spurred Savory on to find a solution to desertification.
 
Savory actually found that removing cattle and livestock was actually detrimental to dry lands. He argues that grazing animals that gathered in large herds, as a means to enhance their protection from predators, is beneficial in countering desertification due to the total amount of dung produced. Now, nobody likes to eat where they put their waste, so the herds moved on, preventing the overgrazing of plants. Movement also allows for good cover of soil, allowing it to regenerate naturally. Therefore, Savory advocates using livestock to mimic nature in order that soil is ready to store rain and prevent desertification.
 
Mimicking nature is just one way to counter desertification. Other methods of action include reforestation and desertification is gradually being reversed to ensure that problems of poverty, overpopulation and climate change are addressed. 
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