World Day to Combat Desertification

The demand for life’s essentials will rise significantly in the next 20 years. About 50% more food will be needed, 40% more energy and 35% more water. How will these demands to be met and with what resources? Past trends show that land, the foundation of these goods and services, is not only being destroyed, but is not on the radar screen of policy-makers because there is no political will to get something done.

How serious is the problem? By 1992, estimates showed that only 3% of the Earth was fertile land. But every year, 75 billion tons of fertile soil is getting lost for good, slowly eating away at the six-inches or so of topsoil that stands between humanity and extinction. Every year, 12 million hectares of productive land that could produce 20 million tons of grain is lost to land degradation and drought alone. Without healthy soils and productive land, there is no sustainable development. There is no green economy and no secure future for most.

Land degradation and drought

 Land belongs to the future, let’s climate proof it!

Desertification, defined as ‘land degradation in drylandsGlobal temperatures are rising – but climate change is not only about the planet heating up. Global warming brings more extreme weather events such as prolonged droughts and floods. As a result, farmers produce less food, livestock herders have less grass to feed cattle, and communities become more vulnerable. Building up resilience is particularly important in the drylands where people living in poverty depend heavily on the productivity of their land and the many benefits it provides. Desertification, defined as ‘land degradation in drylands’ is a major challenge being exacerbated by climate change.

Promoting solutions

While we must continue to reduce our carbon footprint, we must also learn to adapt. The good news is that with the right interventions, the vicious cycle of climate change and desertification can be turned into a virtuous cycle of productive land and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. By strengthening biodiversity and eco-system services through sustainable land management, people can adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. For ecosystem-based adaptation, land and soil play an important role. Healthy soil not only ensures steady food production, but increases resilience in the face of incremental changes in temperature and rainfall as well as disasters and extreme weather events. Healthy soil also stores more carbon which helps mitigate climate change impacts.

Implementing ecosystem-based adaptation through sustainable land management practices does not have to be difficult or expensive. For example, Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is a low-cost, sustainable land restoration technique which promotes the regeneration of trees and shrubs and thus increasing productivity and resilience. Holistic Management is another example that facilitates the natural recovery of grasslands through livestock planning and monitoring. There are many success stories of land restoration and its sustainable management that support the effectiveness of ecosystem-based adaptation and even have other co-benefits like increasing food security. In many cases eco-system based adaptation strategies are potentially more cost-effective than other hard engineered adaptation options, yet they are often overlooked.

On Environment Day, children in Lesotho plant tree

On Environment Day, children in Lesotho plant tree on Africa Environment Day, children in Lesotho plant trees under the theme of combatting desertification in Africa.

The theme of 2014 World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) is ecosystem-based adaptation. With the slogan ‘Land Belongs to the Future, Let’s Climate Proof It’, the 2014 WDCD highlights the benefits of mainstreaming sustainable land management policies and practices into our collective response to climate change. Sustainable land management increases both community and ecosystem resilience while improving the human condition particularly in the drylands. The objectives of the 2014 WDCD are to:

  1. Increase the attention given to land and soil within climate change adaptation;
  2. Mobilize support for sustainable land management;
  3. Call for the inclusion of land and soil and their significance in food security into national climate change adaptation policies.

Many claim that we have entered a new geological period in our planet’s history, the anthropocene. For the first time, the major driver of change on Earth is human activity, specifically the unsustainable use of our natural resources. We still have time to reverse these trends, and for this to happen, sustainable land management is our pathway to change. We, as consumers and land users, have contributed to the acceleration of climate change. We now need to be part of the solution.

What can you do?

Do you have any other suggestions to help combat desertification? Do let us know.

Conserving Land and Water


photo credit: TREEAID via photopin cc
photo credit: via photopin cc
photo credit: UNCCD