WHAT IS DESERTIFICATION AND WHY IS IT A PROBLEM?
What is desertification?
The United Nations (UN) defines desertification as: “destruction of the biological potential of the land which can lead ultimately to desert-like conditions.” In other words, desertification happens when any ecosystem is degraded to the point where the land turns into a desert. Although it can include the encroachment of sand dunes on land, it doesn’t refer to the advance of deserts. It actually refers to the degradation of dryland ecosystems by climate change and human activities.
Desertification is a global issue. It has worldwide implications for biodiversity, eco-safety, poverty eradication, socio-economic stability and sustainable development.
Where is desertification happening?
According to UNESCO, one-third of the world's land surface is threatened by desertification. Many countries suffer from problems caused by desertification, but it’s most common in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2030, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that over two-thirds of Africa’s fertile, productive soil will be lost to desertification.
Nêô Sephiri’s Kalahari Melon Oil originates from the Kalahari Desert. The broader Kalahari region is a large, semi-arid and sandy savannah in South Africa that is at risk of desertification.
What causes desertification?
Desertification is mostly caused by human activities, which are exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
Deforestation happens when humans cut down too much natural vegetation for wood used for fuel, cooking, building materials, and to clear the way for agricultural land. The increase of wildfires, as a result of climate change, has also contributed to the loss of forests and desertification. When the land is cleared of trees, the roots of the trees no longer hold the soil together, so it’s more vulnerable to soil erosion which leads to desertification.
Not all agricultural practices lead to desertification, and we can’t live in a world without agriculture. However, unsustainable farming puts pressure on the land by altering its soil chemistry. Unsustainable practices include; the expansion and intensive use of agricultural lands, poor irrigation, overgrazing and lack of conservation.
Globally our climate is getting warmer and drier. This means drylands and deserts are expanding and becoming even more uninhabitable. On average there is less rain now in desert regions than there was 50 years ago and a rise in global temperatures is likely to accelerate desertification even further.
What are the effects of desertification?
Desertification ranks among the greatest environmental challenges of our time. There are many knock-on effects of desertification, from simply the loss of agricultural land to more complex issues such as social and political conflict.
The loss of fertile land and resources leaves many who are indigenous to dryland areas without the means to support their families. Every year, Africa loses approximately 280 million tonnes of cereal crops to desertification, contributing to poverty and food insecurity across the continent.
5 Solutions to Desertification
Thankfully there are methods to address desertification, and fantastic initiatives around the world already addressing this mammoth challenge.
1. The Great Green Wall
The Great Green Wall is an initiative from the African Union to plant a wall of trees at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The strip of land, from Dakar to Djibouti, is 15 km wide and 7,100 km long and will help battle desertification.
2. Action Against Desertification
Action Against Desertification is an initiative to help six African countries (Ethiopia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Niger and Nigeria) that struggle the most with desertification. It educates farmers about sustainable agricultural practices, plants millions of seedlings and rehabilitates desertified forests.
3. Sustainable Farming
By harnessing the drought-resistance of the Kalahari Melon we're helping to reverse desertification. At Nêô Sephiri each drop of our Kalahari Melon Oil is produced on our sustainable farm. The Kalahari Melon is native to the Kalahari Desert where it grows wildly in abundance, so doesn’t risk over-harvesting. It's the last plant standing during a drought, meaning no irrigation and a production process in sync with ecology.
4. UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
To prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide the UN launched a Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The innovation will last from 2021 to 2030. This is a globally coordinated political response to the loss of habitats, which focuses on restoring our relationship with nature.
5. World Desertification and Drought Day
To raise awareness the UN has implemented a World Day to combat desertification and drought. The 2021 desertification and drought day held on 17th of June focuses on turning degraded land into healthy land.
The time to take climate action is now
Taking better care of our Earth should always have been a big priority for us, but now it is even clearer in light of the effects of climate change and the pandemic on our natural, social and economic systems.
Fixing damaged ecosystems mitigates against climate change and bolsters nature’s defences against disasters and extreme weather events. Restoring natural landscapes brings economic resilience, creates jobs, raises incomes and increases food security.
Avoiding, slowing and reversing the loss of natural ecosystems is important for guaranteeing the long-term survival of our planet.