You are on page 1of 32

Desertification in Africa

Africa is facing a large problem called desertification. Desertification is an increase in the desert like conditions in arid or semi-arid lands, or more easily said, the spreading of the deserts. It can be caused by the climate, humans, and animals. Climate causes desertification because Africa goes through droughts which makes it pretty much impossible for vegetation to survive, thus, creating desert like conditions. Humans continue to expand their area, cutting down trees and building buildings which is again killing of vegetation but also ruining the environment of the animals that may live in that area pushing them farther out and leaving them with less to eat. Which brings in the problem of overgrazing. Because there isn’t a whole lot of vegetation it is causing animals to continue to eat over and over the vegetation that is available which is not giving the vegetation enough time to grow back. Desertification is the degradation of land in any drylands.[2] Caused by a variety of factors, such as climate change and human activities, desertification is one of the most significant global environmental problems.[3]

Contents
[hide]
• • • • • • • • • •

1 Definitions 2 History 3 Areas affected 4 Causes 5 Desertification and poverty 6 Countermeasures and prevention 7 See also 8 References 9 Bibliography 10 External links

[edit] Definitions
Considerable controversy exists over the proper definition of the term "desertification" for which Helmut Geist (2005) has identified more than 100 formal definitions.[2] The most widely accepted[2] of these is that of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification which defines it as "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities"[4] The earliest known discussion of the topic arose soon after the French colonization of West Africa, when the Comité d'Etudes commissioned a study on desséchement progressif to explore the prehistoric expansion of the Sahara Desert.[5]

[edit] History
The world's great deserts were formed by natural processes interacting over long intervals of time. During most of these times, deserts have grown and shrunk independent of human activities. Paleodeserts are large sand seas now inactive because they are stabilized by vegetation, some extending beyond the present margins of core deserts, such as the Sahara, the largest desert.[6] Desertification has played a significant role in human history, contributing to the collapse of several large empires, such as Carthage, Greece, and the Roman Empire, as well as causing displacement of local populations.[3][7]

[edit] Areas affected

Global Desertification Vulnerability Map Drylands occupy approximately 40-41% of Earth’s land area[8][9] and are home to more than 2 billion people.[9] It has been estimated that some 10–20% of drylands are already degraded, the total area affected by desertification being between 6 and 12 million square kilometres, that about 1–6% of the inhabitants of drylands live in desertified areas, and that a billion people are under threat from further desertification.[10][11] The Sahara is currently expanding south at a rate of up to 48 kilometres per year.[12]

[edit] Causes

A herd of goats in Norte Chico, Chile. Overgrazing of drylands is one of the primary causes of desertification.

A shepherd guiding his sheep through the high desert outside of Marrakech, Morocco. Dryland ecosystems are already very fragile, and can rarely sustain the increased pressures that result from intense population growth. Many of these areas are inappropriately opened to development, when they cannot sustain human settlements.[13] The most common cause of desertification is the over cultivation of desert lands.[14] Overcultivation causes the nutrients in the soil to be depleted faster than they are restored. Improper irrigation practices result in salinated soils, and depletion of aquifers.[13] Vegetation plays a major role in determining the biological composition of the soil. Studies have shown that, in many environments, the rate of erosion and runoff decreases exponentially with increased vegetation cover.[15] Overgrazing removes this vegetation causing erosion and loss of topsoil.[13]

[edit] Desertification and poverty
At least 90% of the inhabitants of drylands live in developing nations, where they also suffer from poor economic and social conditions.[10] This situation is exacerbated by land degradation because of the reduction in productivity, the precariousness of living conditions and the difficulty of access to resources and opportunities.[16] A downward spiral is created in many underdeveloped countries by overgrazing, land exhaustion and overdrafting of groundwater in many of the marginally productive world regions due to overpopulation pressures to exploit marginal drylands for farming. Decision-makers are understandably averse to invest in arid zones with low potential. This absence of investment contributes to the marginalisation of these zones.When unfavourable agro-climatic conditions are combined with an absence of infrastructure and access to markets, as well as poorly adapted production techniques and an underfed and undereducated population, most such zones are excluded from development.[17] Desertification often causes rural lands to become unable to support the same sized populations that previously lived there. This results in mass migrations out of rural areas

and lack of funding to support land reclamation and anti-desertification programs. particularly in Africa.[citation needed] . Environmental organizations[23] work in places where deforestation and desertification are contributing to extreme poverty. such as those shown. Another issue is a lack of political will. which they transfer to severely deforested areas during the rainy season.[18][19] [edit] Countermeasures and prevention Anti-sand shields in north Sahara. however there are numerous barriers to their implementation. particularly in relation to the protection of endangered flora and fauna. There they focus primarily on educating the local population about the dangers of deforestation and sometimes employ them to grow seedlings.[20] Desertification is recognized as a major threat to biodiversity. Techniques exist for mitigating or reversing the effects of desertification. there are often large numbers of unemployed people who end up living in slums. even while they are socially and environmentally beneficial. have played a role in combating edge effects of desertification in the Thar Desert.[21][22] Reforestation gets at one of the root causes of desertification and isn't just a treatment of the symptoms. One of these is that the costs of adopting sustainable agricultural practices sometimes exceed the benefits for individual farmers. Because of these migrations into the cities.and into urban areas. Jojoba plantations. Tunisia. Some countries have developed Biodiversity Action Plans to counter its effects. India.

An example for this is the salt-flats in the Rub' al Khali desert in Saudi-Arabia. this method to reforest degraded landscape has been applied with some success in Niger. and food crops/trees as grains. Some soils (for example. Some techniques as zaï or tillage are then used to still allow the planting of crops.[26] Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is another technique that has produced successful results for desert reclamation. clay).000 square kilometers in Niger. due to lack of water can become consolidated rather than porous (as in the case of sandy soils). Additionally. The process involves enabling native sprouting tree growth through selective pruning of shrub shoots.[25] As there are many different types of deserts. They were widely encouraged by development agencies from the middle of the 1980s in the Sahel area of Africa. These salt-flats are one of the most promising desert areas for seawater agriculture and could be revitalized without the use of freshwater or much energy. which supports projects that sequester or conserve carbon in forests or agricultural ecosystems.[27] [edit] See also Environment portal Ecology portal Earth sciences portal Biology portal Global warming portal Sustainable development portal • BioGrout. This simple and low-cost method has enabled farmers to regenerate some 30. The residue from pruned tress can be used to provide mulching for fields thusincreasing soil water retention and reducing evaporation. and fixation and hyperfertilizing soil.Techniques focus on two aspects: provisioning of water. Of these. another possible technique for reducing desertification[28] . The Humbo Assisted Regeneration Project which uses FMNR techniques in Ethiopia has received money from The World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund. Windbreaks are made from trees and bushes and are used to reduce soil erosion and evapotranspiration. there are also different types of desert reclamation methodologies. woodlots and windbreaks. Fixating the soil is often done through the use of shelter belts. barley. the Leguminous plants which extract nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil. Since 1980. properly spaces and pruned trees can increase crop yields. Sand fences can also be used to control drifting of soil and sand erosion.[24] Enriching of the soil and restoration of its fertility is often done by plants. beans and dates are the most important.

google. http://books. famines. p. Adapting to drought: farmers.com/books?id=G_0qg0f49GQC&pg=PA58.google.google. ^ Mayell. p. Longjun & Yang. World Bank Publications. ^ Mares. p. ^ a b Geist (2005). http://books. 1997 7. ^ a b c Geist (2005). deserts of". 58.google.com/books? id=OZ4hZbXS8IcC&pg=PA277. ^ a b Johnson et al (2006). 4 4. John Wiley & Sons. ^ Bauer (2007). p. (2002). Gender in agriculture sourcebook. http://books. Ecology of desert systems. 2001). Michael (1989). 12. Desertification and Its Control in China.google. p. 12. National Geographic News. ISBN 9780521323123. 8. ISBN 9780821375877. ISBN 9780127472614. "Middle East. ^ United States Geological Survey. 78 9. 277. (1999).com/news/2001/04/0426_lakechadshrinks.• • • • • • • • • Desert greening Arid Lands Information Network Aridification Deforestation Ecological engineering Global warming Green Wall of China Oasification Water crisis [edit] References 1. pp. ISBN 9780806131467. and desertification in west Africa. ed. http://books. University of Oklahoma Press. http://news. Academic Press. ISBN 9780470844489. Encyclopedia of deserts. Michael S. Mediterranean desertification: a mosaic of processes and responses. Springer. 2 3. p. 454. 10.com/books?id=g3CbqZtaF4oC&pg=PA362. Nichola et al (2002). ISBN 9787040257977. http://books.com/books? id=XxBrq6hTs_UC&pg=PA454. "Shrinking African Lake Offers Lesson on Finite Resources". 1 10. http://books. ^ World Bank (2009).html.nationalgeographic. ^ UNCCD (1994).google. ^ a b c Ci.com/books? id=Dx89AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA12. p. 6. ^ Hunger is spreading in Africa 13. 15. Hillary (April 26. Retrieved 20 June 2011. 362. p. "Desertification".Article 1 5. ^ Whitford.. ^ a b Holtz (2007) 11. . 2.com/books?id=agd8MFDYLXEC&pg=PA10. Xiaohui (2010). Cambridge University Press. ^ Geeson. Walter G. p. 14. ^ Mortimore. Part I .

^ Arid sandy soils becoming consolidated. Ashgate Publishing.. . http://books. 237. Johannesburg. ^ For example. & A. 2002.J. Bauer. ^ Techniques for Desert Reclamation by Andrew S. ISBN 9780792360711. Barbault R. 20.“Poverty and the drylands. ^ Briassoulis.. Ministère des Affaires étrangères/adpf. Baltes (eds. ^ List of plants to halt desertification. Helen (2005). Elsevier Press. Nicol-André Berdellé July 2011 H2O magazine 27.. ISBN 9780306466328.com/books?id=B-i8-DPf6xgC&pg=PA20. ^ Briassoulis.. some of which may be soil-fixating 26. et al. Nairobi (Kenya) 16 p. Mégie G. ^ Desert reclamation projects 23. 19. Handbook of globalization and the environment. Challenge paper. Ashgate Publishing. Rangeland Desertification. Helen (2005). 161. in N. 18.columbia. Batterbury. Springer. The causes and progression of desertification. Desertification and its relationship to the environment and development: a problem that affects us all. ^ Cornet A. In: Ministère des Affaires étrangères/adpf. Combating desertification with plants.com/books?id=mR3E4xJFNw0C&pg=PA77. Arnold (2001)..google. zai-system 25. World Summit on Sustainable Development.) International Encyclopædia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Cornet A. http://books. Khi V. p.google. World Summit on Sustainable Development. What is at stake? The contribution of scientists to the debate. Ólafur & Archer.ei..com/books? id=CpYnV45hVRsC&pg=PA237. In Thai. ^ http://blogs.google.16. ^ Rethinking landscapes. Policy integration for complex environmental problems: the example of Mediterranean desertification.com/books?id=E7kaBkPlJfAC. http://books.. Jouzel J. 2002. 17. http://books.Warren (2001) Desertification. 2001. 20. Eden Reforestation Projects. Springer. S. (2002). http://books.” in Global Drylands Imperative. 3526–3529 Geist.com/books? id=acbWdynlU3cC. Smelser & P. ISBN 9780754643234. http://books. p. Weber J. Johannesburg. "Desertification". What is at stake? The contribution of scientists to the debate: 91-125.google. CRC Press. Steffan (2007). Goudie 22. Undp.edu/2011/10/18/sprouting-trees-from-theunderground-forest-a-simple-way-to-fight-desertification-and-climate-change/ 28. ^ Dobie. ISBN 9781574445534. ISBN 9780754642435. Ph. ^ Pasternak. ^ BioGrout [edit] Bibliography • • • • • Arnalds. 24. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 2002. Helmut (2005).google. 21. ISBN 9780754642435. Policy integration for complex environmental problems: the example of Mediterranean desertification.google. Dov & Schlissel. Sachs I. Steve (2000).com/books? id=CpYnV45hVRsC&pg=PA161. p.P.

ed. Pierre Marc et al. Hinman. or vice-versa? Or are they parts of a feedback loop? This issue is controversial. Berlin: Dahlem University Press UNCCD (1994) Poverty and desertification Does poverty cause land degradation and desertification.. In Philander.. Holtz. In Leonard. Jerme 2010. Springer. W. Land Use. Lucke. "Desertification".• • • • • • • • • • • • Hartman. "Desertification". http://books. Ashgate Publishing. John E.. James F.com/books?id=3mE04D9PMpAC&pg=PA452. Whether the poor are major agents of desertification or not.google. Vincent N. Joseph (2006). ed. Encyclopedia of social problems. it is clear that they suffer especially from its consequences because they are highly dependent on the land's productivity for their livelihoods (Hazell et al.. and E. Oliver.com/books?id=mNoW858izZcC&pg=PA312. overpopulation and land degradation create a selfreinforcing downward spiral leading to ever-greater misery and land degradation. Encyclopedia of global warming and climate change. Cleaver and Schreiber (1994) hypothesized that poverty. (1992). Encyclopedia of the developing world. "Desertification". Volume 1. Governing global desertification: linking environmental degradation. http://books.. and Climate.com/books?id=mRGr_B4Y1CEC&pg=PT271. poverty and participation.G. (2006). Volume 1. Past and Present Desertification in the Context of Soil Development. Jack W. ISBN 9781402032646. (2008). Encyclopedia of world climatology. C.” In: Warf.com/books?id=da6vhzHEpf0C.Critical assessment and challenges ahead Johnson. Volume 2. S. Farmers may be 'mining' their soils .google. http://books. Wiley & Hinman.) (2002) Global Desertification – Do Humans Cause Deserts? Dahlem Workshop Report 88. B. http://books. and D. ed. George. Parrillo. Thomas M. Volume 2. Uwe (2007) Implementing the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification from a parliamentary point of view . Online at [1] Mensah. Ingrid (2008). http://books. 2002). Reynolds.google. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Desertification Synthesis Report Moseley. "Desertification". Colombia University Press. Bernhard (2007): Demise of the Decapolis. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781412958783. Encyclopedia of Geography.google. SAGE. (ed). Mark Stafford Smith (ed. ISBN 9780415976626. ISBN 9780231066129. 715–719. “Desertification. SAGE. (2005).com/books?id=mwbAsxpRr0C&pg=PA319. pp. The plight and promise of arid land agriculture. http://books. ISBN 9780754643593. ISBN 9781412941655. Sage Publications.google.com/books?id=dMmEjsySvrUC.google.

even if it is sustainable does not necessarily imply that poverty will be reduced. In the 'induced innovation' concept of Boserup (1965). Tiffen and Mortimore (2002). Kates and Haarmann (1992). increasing populations stimulate increasing demand for agricultural products. Leonard (1989). Kuyvenhoven and Ruben 2002. Templeton and Scherr (1999). incentives emerge for more intensive.) The use of technologies that increase land and labor productivity faster than population growth. Mortimore and Harris 2004. Mazzucato and Niemeijer 2002. climate. market development. biodiversity. Lopez (1998). Comparing the downward-spiral vs. Both downward-spiral and induced-innovation scenarios have been reported under different situations (Pender 1998). Scherr 2000). Tiffen and Bunch (2002) suggest a general pattern of development in Africa which begins from extensive. Intensification of land use. technological change. Induced innovation has been reported by Leach and Mearns (1996). low-intensity animal herding.although the extent and importance of soil mining is still an issue of debate. Niemeijer and Mazzucato 2002a. But the opposite dynamic has also been proposed. Jodha 1998. gradually degrading the land as populations of humans and animals increase. 2001a. globalization. and Wiggins (1995). climate change. (1999) and White and Jickling (1995). and agro-ecological conditions (Heath and Binswanger 1996. (1994). Mink (1993). Lopez 1998. Tiffen et al. Ram et al.of nutrients and vegetative cover without replacing them. then wages cannot increase or may decrease due to the increased availability of labor. yet sustainable land management in order to reap the benefits of the enlarged market opportunity year after year. Prakash 1997. Cases of the downward spiral were described by Durning (1989). Tiffen (2002). labor. Lele and Stone 1989. induced-innovation evidence. Pender et al. etc. it appears that outcomes largely depend on how well societies adapt to rapid population growth. Both of these models may be true at different times for the same area of land. and . triggering soil erosion and productivity decline . If more labor-productive systems are not employed. As land becomes more costly compared to labor. but ultimately recovering as dense human populations create markets for agricultural produce that must be met by rehabilitating the limited remaining land area available for farming. This is why the cases of successful poverty escape exhibit productivityincreasing dynamics such as: • • The exploitation of local comparative advantages (soil. Mortimore and Adams (1999).

1989. and Mearns. 1998. A. pp. Pender.C. K. S. 5-12. and Kuyvenhoven. R. The World Bank.C. Portsmouth (NH). Economic and Political Weekly. 1992. 2001. Sept. Hazell. and Binswanger. Washington. U. Kates. World Bank. 1998. Durning. M. Worldwatch Paper 92. J. Ruben. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure. Return to "What causes desertification? References Boserup. and Ruben. and Stone. M. Heath. Cleaver. Pender et al. Leach.. (eds. Paper prepared for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Economic conditions for sustainable agricultural intensification. and Schreiber. and the Environment Discussion Paper 34. 2001b). .S. African Issues. the environment. 1994. 58-70 in Uphoff. H. Aldine. The Lie of the Land: Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment. R. 1996. A. Pp. Agriculture and Environment Nexus in Sub-Saharan Africa. and agricultural intensification in sub-Saharan Africa: variations on the Boserup hypothesis.• Improved access to growing markets (Hazell and Haddad 2001. 2384-90. Kuyvenhoven.1989. P. The International African Institute in association with James Currey. A. DC: International Food Policy Research Institute. D. MADIA Discussion Paper No.C. Jansen. Where the poor live: Are the assumptions correct? Environment 34:4-28. D. Agriculture. Agricultural Research and Poverty Reduction. Washington. 4. and Haarmann. 2002. Hazell.) 1996. Agroecological Innovations. R. Oxford. Washington. H.). Jodha. Reversing the Spiral: The Population. D. Population pressure. E. Natural resource degradation effects of poverty are largely policy-induced: The case of Colombia. Poverty and the environment: reversing the downward spiral. and Heinemann. L. Environment and Development Economics 1: 65-84. Poverty and environmental resource degradation: An alternative explanation and possible solutions. Chicago. London: Earthscan. G. V.. (ed. 2002. Lele. Investing in poor people in poor lands. 1965. P. Washington. Food. N. and Haddad. P. Worldwatch Institute. R. A. N.

population and the environment. Mink. Washington. 189. London: Routledge. and Harris. Such regular stock movement prevented overgrazing of the fragile plant cover. Population growth and the environment in Africa: Local informal institutions. Lopez. Early human pastoralists living in semi-arid areas copied this natural system. large. 285-306 in Pleskovic.C.) 1997 Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics. the missing link. D.Leonard. In modern times. NJ: Transaction Books. 1998. the desert moved 100 km southwards between 1950 and 1975. H. J. D. Mazzucato. WHAT CAUSES DESERTIFICATION? * Overgrazing is the major cause of desertification worldwide. D. M. V. and Adams. E. Where development can or cannot go: the role of povertyenvironment linkages. D. 2004. Working the Sahel: environment and society in northern Nigeria. Economic Geography 78:171193. and Niemeijer. 1999.C. and . Washington. for example. F. (eds. The World Bank. Desertification occurs mainly in semi-arid areas (average annual rainfall less than 600 mm) bordering on deserts. New Brunswick. Mortimore. E. 1993. Do smal • sUnited Nations Convention to C Desertification is the process which turns productive into nonproductive desert as a result of poor land-management. In the Sahel. J. grazing mammals which move in response to the patchy rainfall common to these regions. B. M. S. World Bank Discussion Paper No. Pp.) 1989. Mortimore. R. Poverty. the use of fences has prevented domestic and wild animals from moving in response to food availability. 2002. W. (ed. (the semi-arid area south of the Sahara Desert). They moved their small groups of domestic animals in response to food and water availability. Environment and the Poor: Development Strategies for a Common Agenda.: The World Bank. Plants of semi-arid areas are adapted to being eaten by sparsely scattered. M. and Stiglitz.

some parts of South Africa where maize is grown. provision of drinking water has contributed to the massive advance of deserts in recent years as animals gather around waterholes and overgraze the area. * Poor grazing management after accidental burning of semi-arid vegetation. A reduction in plant cover also results in a . i. for example. The reduction in plant cover that accompanies desertification leads to accelerated soil erosion by wind and water.e lands on which there is a high risk of crop failure and a very low economic return. the rate of desertification increases dramatically. when used correctly. domestic animals. often for fuelwood. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF DESERTIFICATION? Desertification reduces the ability of land to support life. fencing is a valuable tool of good veld management. The use of boreholes and windmills also allows livestock to stay all-year round in areas formerly grazed only during the rains when seasonal pans held water. Where not correctly planned and managed. affecting wild species. without the ability to plan for the long term effects of their actions.overgrazing has often resulted. rain drop impact and run-off increases. As vegetation cover and soil layer are reduced. Where livestock has a social importance beyond food. people might be reluctant to reduce their stock numbers. When the practices described above coincide with drought. South Africa losing approximately 300-400 million tonnes of topsoil every year. However. Increasing human population and poverty contribute to desertification as poor people may be forced to overuse their environment in the short term. Even long-lived plants that would normally survive droughts die. * Incorrect irrigation practices in arid areas can cause salinization. * Destruction of vegetation in arid regions. (the build up of salts in the soil) which can prevent plant growth. agricultural crops and people. Water is lost off the land instead of soaking into the soil to provide moisture for plants. * Cultivation of marginal lands.

e. This is equal to 10% of the total area of South Africa or 87% of the area of cultivated lands in our country. Desertification is self-reinforcing. floods become more frequent and more severe. It is possible that desertification of the Karoo began in the last century. 61% of the 3257 million hectares of all productive drylands (lands where stock are grazed and crops grown. Worldwide. In recent years the introduction of artificial water points into the Kalahari within Botswana. Similar schemes have had the same effect in the southern Kalahari within South Africa and Bophuthatswana. together with the widespread erection of veterinary fences. when sheep were first introduced. As protective plant cover disappears. The area at risk to desertification is thus large and likely to increase. The area already transformed into desert-like conditions is not accurately known because uncertainty surrounds the precise definition of a desert. once the process has started. conditions are set for continual deterioration. HOW CAN DESERTIFICATION BE HALTED? . and what the original state of the vegetation was in the semi-arid areas of southern Africa.reduction in the quantity of humus and plant nutrients in the soil. desertification is making approximately 12 million hectares useless for cultivation every year. The areas which are known to have deteriorated this century are mainly on the edges of the southern Kalahari. worldwide. without irrigation) were moderately to very severely desertified. HOW WIDESPREAD IS DESERTIFICATION? About one third of the world's land surface is arid or semi-arid. and before good records were available for the area. has led to the rapid desertification of huge areas. It is predicted that global warming will increase the area of desert climates by 17% in the next century. DESERTIFICATION IN SOUTHERN AFRICA About half of southern Africa is semi-arid and thus at risk of desertification. i. The problem is clearly enormous. and plant production drops further. In the early 1980s it was estimated that. The deterioration of the Karoo is less well established.

the only realistic large-scale approach is to prevent desertification through good land management in semi-arid areas. H. 012-3197685. mulching. on a very large scale and so it is difficult for individuals to take action. allowing plants to regrow. Mulch (a layer of straw. Mulching and reseeding are expensive practices. World Resources Institute. New York. Cape Town. FURTHER READING WORLD RESOURCES 1988-89. Diamond. Tel. However. WHAT YOU CAN DO? Desertification often occurs over many generations. enriches soil as it rots. 0001. 1991. The National Botanical Institute. Tel. Some ideas for combatting this problem include: * Take part in the activities of conservation groups. Soil conditions must be made favourable for plant growth by. 1988. Burnham and H. 012-319 7327 Director: of Resource Conservation. and prevents runoff and hence erosion. Private Bag X144. Department of Agriculture. YOUR HEART YOUR PLANET. * Bring overgrazing and land mismanagement to the attention of the Directorate of Resource Conservation (address below). AFRICA IN CRISIS. Earthscan. Reseeding may be necessary in badly degraded areas. leaves or sawdust covering the soil) reduces evaporation. Taylor. Private Bag X7. Claremont . suppresses weed growth. USEFUL ADDRESSES Director: of Agricultural Information.To halt desertification the number of animals on the land must be reduced. Basic Books. Department of Agriculture. J. London. Eartheart. Lloyd Timberlake. 1991. Pretoria. P/Bag X120. Pretoria 0001. for example.

It occurs because dryland ecosystems. Poverty. land use and land degradation were thought to be the primary causes. and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the land's fertility. Created and maintained by: Jocelyn Collins Last Updated: • s Desertification In The Sahel Introduction You read in the chapter on Land Degradation that: Desertification is the degradation of land in arid. 021-762 1166. was it the result of natural changes in climate. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations.7735. and led to the emphasis on land degradation as the cause of desertification. or was it the result of both? Answers to these questions have not come easily. Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. Beginning in the 1960s. Since then. From Food and Agricultural Organization web page on Desertification. deforestation. we have found that the issue is more complicated. Was the devastation the result of human misuse of the land. What is the Sahel? The Sahel is the semi-arid transition region between the Sahara desert to the north and wetter regions of equatorial . semi-arid. are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. You also read that both nature and humans influence desertification. which cover over one third of the world's land area. political instability. the area became very dry and hundreds of thousands died of starvation. Here we look at one region that has captured the attention of the world for at least the past 40 years— the Sahel of north Africa. and dry sub-humid areas. Tel. overgrazing. The United Nations Conference on Desertification focused attention on land use. At first.

From Ewan Robinson Rural Visit as shown in NASA Earth Observatory article on Desertification. and the land consists of stabilized ancient sand seas. It extends from the Atlantic in the west to the Indian ocean in the east. Map of the sahel in north Africa. Near Wolof village of Ndiagene in Senegal in the Sahel. It has high variability of rainfall.Africa to the south. It is one of the poorest and most environmentally degraded areas on earth. . Some scientists include Eritrea in the sahel.

It appears that many who left the Sahara settled in the Nile valley about 5. the Saharan desert was void of any settlement outside of the Nile valley and extended about 400 km farther south than it does today.000 BC (5. One of the most striking climate changes of the past 11. From ScienceDaily article on Sahara's Abrupt Desertification Started By Changes In Earth's Orbit.000 years ago).500 BC) the Sahara had returned to full desert conditions. The changing climate first attracted people to the Sahara as rainfall increased abruptly throughout the region beginning about 10. By 5. white dots indicate isolated settlements in ecological refuges and episodic transhumance.500 years ago (3. and vegetation. ocean. changing the course of civilizations. (A) During the Last Glacial Maximum and the terminal Pleistocene (20. employing a new climate system model. setting the stage for the First Dynasty starting with the reign of King Narmer in 3. History of Desertification in Sahara and Sahel Climate of the Sahel and the Sahara has changed greatly over the past 11. Red dots indicate major occupation areas. (B) With the .200 years ago. archaeozoological. The resulting loss of the Sahara to agricultural pursuits may be an important reason that civilizations were founded along the valleys of the Nile.500 BC) at the end of the Younger Dryas (See Abrupt Climate Change). German scientists.500 years ago. Rainfall zones are delimited by best estimate isohyets on the basis of geological. Accelerated By Atmospheric And Vegetation Feedbacks.000 years since the end of the last ice age. sea ice.500 years ago (8. and archaeobotanical data.From Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report on Ecosystems and Human Well-Being Desertification Synthesis.000 years caused the abrupt desertification of the Saharan and Arabia regions midway through that period. they report. The timing of this transition was. Then increasing drought drove them southward into the modern Sahel as the rains became less frequent beginning about 7.000 to 8500 BC). mainly governed by a global interplay among atmosphere. have concluded that this desertification was initiated by subtle changes in the Earth's orbit and strongly amplified by resulting atmospheric and vegetation feedbacks in the subtropics. and the Euphrates. The Sahara has expanded and contracted. the Tigris. Climate-controlled occupation in the Eastern Sahara during the main phases of the Holocene.

Sahel rainfall from 1900 to 2007 averaged over June. oceanographers.500 ± 500 years. the hyper-arid desert was replaced by savannah-like environments and swiftly inhabited by prehistoric settlers. and geographers have sought to understand what caused the drought. and October JJASO.000 BC the Sahel has had periods of more rain followed by periods of drought at intervals of 1. Click on the image for a zoom. (D) Retreating monsoon rains caused the onset of desiccation of the Egyptian Sahara at 5300 BC Prehistoric populations were forced to the Nile valley or ecological refuges and forced to exodus into the Sudanese Sahara where rainfall and surface water were still sufficient. July. were followed by drought in the sahel starting in the late 1960s. Sahel Rainfall . meteorologists. The drought has had a devastating impact on this ecologically vulnerable region and was a major impetus in the establishment of the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification and Drought. fostering the development of cattle pastoralism. During the early Holocene humid optimum.abrupt arrival of monsoon rains at 8500 BC. September. University of Washington. The return of full desert conditions all over Egypt at about 3500 BC coincided with the initial stages of pharaonic civilization in the Nile valley. From Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. August. Since then. (C) After 7000 BC. Recent Climate Change and Rainfall Years of above average rainfall from the 1950s to the 1970s. The more recent changes are tied to changes in north Atlantic ocean temperatures. human settlement became well established all over the Eastern Sahara. Since 3. Click on image for a zoom. the southern Sahara and the Nile valley apparently were too moist and hazardous for appreciable human occupation. From Kuper and Kröpelin (2006).

there is less vegetation. Sahel rainfall increases. When these areas are cool. Rains return when the gulf is cooler. . The oceanic forcing of Sahel rainfall is amplified by land-atmosphere feedbacks. Recent work by meteorologists and oceanographers has shown that much of the recent year-to-year changes in Sahel rainfall are forced by changes in sea-surface temperature in the Gulf of Guinea (on the equator near the prime meridian) and by El Niño in the Pacific. Click on image for a zoom. As the land dries out. and the African monsoon strengthens. When the gulf is warm. less sunlight is reflected. and rainfall shifts north watering the Sahel. Land-atmosphere feedbacks amplifying climate change in the Sahel. Evaporation from the land increases. From Dryland Systems in Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Current State and Trends. This positive feedback also involves land degradation due to human interactions with the land. These processes further weaken the monsoon. the Intertropical Convergence Zone shifts south away from the Sahel reducing the African monsoon that draws moist air into the Sahel. and more sunlight is reflected from the land. part of the Millennium Assessment. Longer term changes in rainfall from decade to decade are forced by changes in sea-surface temperature in the western Indian and tropical Atlantic oceans.Index. less evaporation from the land.

However. resulting in the deterioration of the soil and . including the United Nations Conference on Desertification (UNCOD) in Nairobi. continuous cropping and overgrazing). lack of coherent environmental policies and misplaced development priorities. the 2006 International Year of the Desert and Desertification. Climate is nothing but one element in a complex combination of processes that has made agriculture and livestock farming highly unproductive.Changes in Sahel rainfall are forced by changes in sea-surface temperature in the Gulf of Guinea. From Zeng (2003). the 1993 Convention to Combat Desertification. land degradation (deforestation. blaming the ‘environmental crisis’ on low and irregular annual rainfall alone would amount to a sheer oversimplification and misunderstanding of the Sahelian dynamics. Kenya in 1977. Human Dimensions of Sahel Land Degradation The drying of the Sahel in the late 20th century caused widespread famine that attracted world-wide attention. have contributed to transform a large proportion of the Sahel into barren land. but it is only part of the story: Rainfall variability is a major driver of vulnerability in the Sahel. The studies show that climate change strongly influences the Sahel in recent decades. the combined effects of population growth. and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. reduced and erratic rainfall. The response is amplified by land-atmosphere feedbacks in the Sahel. Over the last half century.

the per capita income in France.000/year. and the UK is about $35. The traditional Parkland system (integrated crop-tree-livestock systems). 2. Area devoted to crops in the Sahel since 1960. The growth rate of population (3% per year) exceeds the growth rate of food production (2% per year).000 people.000. and soil fertility is declining from already low levels through exhaustive cropping practices and soil erosion. has led to expansion of agriculture into areas poorly suited for crops. Climate Change and Variability in the Sahel Region: Impacts and Adaptation Strategies in the Agricultural Sector. From From United Nations Environmental Programme. Population is doubling every 20 years. All are estimates for 2007. From United Nations Environmental Programme. which is the predominant land use system and the main provider of food. Over grazing. In contrast. Poverty. The human influences include: 1. . Per capita income varies from $500/year in Burkina Faso to $1. leading to land degradation in dry years. income. Climate Change and Variability in the Sahel Region: Impacts and Adaptation Strategies in the Agricultural Sector.000/year in Mali to $2. The total population is around 260. The area includes three of the four poorest countries on earth.water resources. World Agroforestry Center. both for export and for local use. Population increase. Overgrazing and poor agricultural practices lead to soil erosion. German. poor farming methods. and environmental services. 3. nutrition. and use of trees and vegetation for firewood. is rapidly degrading— woody biodiversity and cover is being lost. further degrading the land. World Agroforestry Center. From West Africa Drylands Project.000/year in Nigeria. The need to grow more crops.

The new countries began to enforce boundaries limiting the ability of nomads to move their herds in response to changing rain. From United Nations Environmental Program. and in dry years their herds overgrazed the area around villages and cities. The boarders were set by political processes that mostly ignored the local people and their use of the land. The Sahel was divided into countries by European nations. Now the borders with Chad and the Central African Republic are closed. nomads were forced into villages.4. Major historical migration routes used by nomadic herders in the past. Colonial Influence. The closing of the borders causes environmental and political problems. . and herders must stay within their own province. As a result. from dry to wet areas. and even borders between provinces in the Sudan are closed. Click on the map for a zoom.

Click on the image for a zoom.Desertification in Bara. . Sudan due to restrictions on movement of herds of animals.6 MByte pdf file). Notice the devegetated areas around Bara. From United Nations Environmental Programme Natural Disasters and Desertification (a 0.

and Eritrea have caused mass migration of people from rural areas to refugee camps to nearby countries. Mali. Click on image for a zoom. 5. Conflicts in Niger. Mali. Migration due to political instability and war. The End .Cattle concentrated around a waterhole near Bamako. Darfur. Africa. Nigeria. From Manfred Schweda.

safeguarding biodiversity. F. global drylands face a myriad of problems that present tough research. amplified by land-atmosphere interaction. and policy challenges. Oceanic forcing of Sahel rainfall on interannual to interdecadal time scales. weaken the continental convergence associated with the monsoon and engender widespread drought from Senegal to Ethiopia. based on an ensemble of integrations with NSIPP1 (version 1 of the atmospheric general circulation model developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in the framework of the Seasonal-to-Interannual Prediction Project) forced only by the observed record of sea surface temperature from 1930 to 2000. J. which. In this millennium. supported by a growing and welldocumented set of tools for policy and management action. Completely degraded land in northern Darfur. Science 302 (5647): 1027–1030.. poverty.. The recent drying trend in the semiarid Sahel is attributed to warmer-thanaverage low-latitude waters around Africa. Recent advances in dryland development. and Chang. Science 316 (5826): 847–851. Jens. Serigne Tacko. R. Global Desertification: Building a Science for Dryland Development.6 MByte pdf file). S. D. and Mackensen. Verchot. suggest that concerns about land degradation. A. References Kandji. Smith. (2003). Louis. The DDP. Climate Change and Variability in the Sahel Region: Impacts and Adaptation Strategies in the Agricultural Sector. management. Giannini. (2007). M. Saravanan. and protecting the culture of 2. the Drylands Development Paradigm (DDP). From United Nations Environmental Programme Natural Disasters and Desertification (a 0. We present evidence.5 billion people can be confronted with renewed optimism. together with the integrative approaches of global change and sustainability science. to suggest that variability of rainfall in the Sahel results from the response of the African summer monsoon to oceanic forcing. 2006. We review recent lessons about the functioning of dryland ecosystems and the livelihood systems of their human residents and introduce a new synthetic framework. Reynolds. et al. however. by favoring the establishment of deep convection over the ocean. helps navigate the inherent complexity of desertification and .The end result of land degradation. United Nations Environmental Programme and World Agroforestry Centre. just outside a large refugee camp.

(2003). the desert and the coast January 4-18. N.dryland development. 2010 • Atlas home || Conferences | Abstracts | about Atlas "Rapid and catastrophic environmental changes in the Holocene and human response" first joint meeting of IGCP 490 and ICSU Environmental catastrophes in Mauritania. identifying and synthesizing those factors important to research. wetlands and rivers · a reduction in species diversity and plant biomass in dryland ecosystems. Introduction: Desertification is land degradation in arid. and Sylvain Philip (Hommes et Montagnes travel agency) View Abstracts Conference Homepage Desertification in Africa. Mauritania Organizers Suzanne Leroy. solutions by Williams. Martin Geographical & Environmental Studies. Mohamed Salem Ould Sabar. semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from climatic variations and human activities. Australia. and policy communities. consequences. . Adelaide. ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE: Drought in the Sahel. Zeng. Consequences include · accelerated soil erosion by wind and water · salt accumulation in the surface horizons of dryland soils · a decline in soil structural stability with an attendant increase in surface crusting and surface runoff and a concomitant reduction in soil infiltration capacity and soil moisture storage · replacement of forest or woodland by secondary savannah grassland or scrub · an increase in the flow variability of dryland rivers and streams · an increase in the salt content of previously freshwater lakes. Revised on: 2 March. management. University of Adelaide. 2004 Field conference departing from Atar Atar. South Australia 5005. Asia and Australia: Causes. Science 302 (5647): 999-1000. Aziz Ballouche.

there have been a number of severe droughts. and the occurrence of sporadic but severe droughts over large tracts of Alashan have resulted in widespread and locally severe desertification. Mountains occupy roughly 10. the capacity of the Roseires reservoir had been reduced by almost 60 In order to achieve a more sustainable form of agriculture. In one region in Gojjam Province the area cultivated rose from 40 Removal of forest in Ethiopia and other tropical uplands can alter the local hydrological balance. 000 km2. or some 5-10 times more than in non-mountainous areas. increasing runoff and soil erosion. trees and grasses. drawn from three continents. 000 km2. the local farmers need to be actively involved in soil and water conservation measures and a programme of long-term re-afforestation of steeplands and interfluves initiated as a matter of urgency. However. 000 km2. 000 km2 of the area and are flanked by gently sloping sand and gravel alluvial plains. being richly endowed with deep. These cover about 91. Since that time the human population has doubled and livestock numbers have tripled. Within ten years of its completion. In addition. Rainfall declines from about 300 mm in the east to less than 50 mm in the west. demonstrate the importance of maintaining the native vegetation cover and provide the basis for deducing three principles of sustainable land use. including the exceptionally severe 1989 drought. but attain rates of over 300 t/ha (15 mm/a) during cultivation years. 000 km2 and are the areas most vulnerable to desertification. the influx of immigrants from the south. a range of microclimates and a great diversity of natural ecosystems. By 1996. Mean annual rates of soil loss amount to about 40 t/ha (2 mm/a) on mountain slopes. Overgrazing and desertification in northern China The Alashan region of Inner Mongolia in northern China is one of the driest regions in China and covers an area of about 270. Fixed and semi-active dunefields cover about 90. The combination of greatly increased stock numbers. Official local estimates . rapid rates of forest clearing this century in areas of steep slopes and seasonally torrential rains have resulted in accelerated loss of soil from many upland regions.Three case studies. The downstream effects are not always confined to the country of origin. There are three major active dunefields that cover a total area of about 81. Traditional farming methods recognized that soil losses during cultivation were high and so allowed long years of fallow for the soils to recuperate. Until the 1950s many of these low dunefields and sandsheets were covered in a relatively dense cover of shrubs. fertile volcanic soils. Deforestation and accelerated soil loss in Ethiopia Ethiopia has the potential to be one of the most successful agricultural nations in Africa. and reducing infiltration and the perennial maintenance of springs and stream headwaters. The increasing demand for land has meant a reduction in fallow to virtually zero and an expansion of the area under cultivation. The Roseires dam was built on the Blue Nile near the Ethiopia-Sudan border to provide irrigation water for the central Sudan.

Once cleared. 000 km2 each year. removal of the plant cover of previously vegetated and stable dunes through overgrazing by goats and sheep has reactivated many of the dunes. In 1990 Australia cleared 650 000 ha (more than half the area cleared in the Amazon Basin). Accelerated soil erosion by wind and water has increased since the 1950s. The key issue is to minimise grazing pressure and not to exceed the carrying capacity of the vegetated dunefields. equivalent to two football pitches a minute. The dunes along an 80 km long stretch of the left bank of the Yellow River opposite the industrial city of Wuhai are currently advancing from the northwest at rates of up to 10 m/a. In terms of land degradation. There is widespread concern over the perceived increase in sand and dust storms and the decline in quality of pasture. Under wheat cultivation it is 40-120 mm/a. One insidious consequence of this tree clearing only became apparent many years later. bringing dissolved salts to the surface. Tree clearing and dryland salinity in southern Australia Clearing of the deep-rooted eucalyptus trees from extensive regions of southern Australia since the onset of European settlement some 200 years ago has caused local and regional water-tables to rise. slowly but inexorably. improved pasture and other crops widely grown in the southern third of the continent. the groundwater levels rose. a single tree is all that remains of the 1950s riparian woodland. and the process continues. This process of dryland salinization has resulted in massive loss of productive agricultural land in many parts of southern Australia.5 million ha of former . Former agricultural settlements immediately west of the Helan Shan ranges have been abandoned and the fine-grained alluvial soils are extensively gullied. Control of sand movement into the Yellow River is an important element of China’s national plans to combat desertification. Half the original woodland and forest that grew 200 years ago has now gone from Australia. Monitored rates of dune advance range from more than 10 m/a near the Yellow River to less than 1 m/a further inland. In places. Dune stabilisation using the straw mulch chequer-board technique combined with forest shelter-belt planting is both feasible and desirable in areas of potentially high agricultural and economic productivity or major strategic and environmental importance such as close to the Yellow River and along the main railway line. 000 km2 of land are now severely degraded and that the rate of desertification is increasing by about 1. More than 2.suggest that some 30. In the sand deserts north and west of these mountains. Groundwater recharge under native vegetation is 1-2 mm/a. An estimated 80 million m3 of sand is being blown into the river each year. resulting in widespread dryland salinization. the repercussions have been equally dramatic. Major re-afforestation of the active dunes in this sector has now begun. The deep-rooted eucalyptus trees acted as natural groundwater pumps and kept the local water table well below the rooting depths of wheat. Australia cleared an average of 500 000 ha of woodland and scrub. In the ten years before 1993. bringing dissolved salts to the surface. barley.

regardless of the climatic zone. Throughout the continent. anyone who has travelled through the continent has observed that land degradation is widespread and serious. In Africa. The author(s) of this document and the organizers of the conference have granted their consent to include this abstract in Atlas Conferences Inc. The wealth of Africa depends on her ability to conserve and manage her land resources. meteorological records show that unpredictability of rains is a common feature. . The sub-humid zone with annual rainfall between 600 and 1. The cost to the Australian economy is nearly Date received: January 27.Next file Little reliable data is available on the extent of land degradation in Africa. In most cases. Even. the rainfall is rarely gentle and even. ecological imbalance and consequent degradation of the quality of life. It usually comes as torrential downpours.Previous file . The semi-arid zone with an average rainfall equaling or less than 600 mm. the most conspicuous symptoms of the negative impact of land degradation on food production are stagnating and declining yields and increasing levels of poverty. of degraded forests and grazing lands are obvious. Document # camu-33. variations in total annual rainfall can be up to 30 or 40 per cent. although the effects of sheet erosion and declining soil fertility are less noticeable. However. The magnitude of the problem Back to contents . It is a well known fact that soil degradation not only results in decreased food production but also in droughts. and The arid and desert zone with an erratic rainfall of between O and 100 mm and having the greatest share (47 per cent) of the total land area.agricultural land in Australia are now unusable because of dryland salinity. which covers 8 per cent of the total land area. which are destructive to soils and harmful to plants. In the Sahel. the humid and sub-humid zones are subject to rainfall fluctuations of 15 to 20 per cent. The presence of gullies and sand dunes.200 mm and covering 31 per cent of the land area. The continent can be divided into four major climatic zones: • • • • The humid zone with an annual rainfall exceeding 1. 2004 Copyright © 2004 by the author(s).500 mm and covering 14 per cent of the land area.

Ghana. most of the soils in Africa are characterized by a low proportion of clay. African rocks are among the oldest in the world. At the same time. The relationship between the parent soils and the soil forming factors are very complex because the land surface has undergone a series of shifts in vegetation and climate. and hence its pace is governed primarily by the speed at which population pressure mounts. 2 billion tones of Phosphorus and 41 billion tones of potassium per year. fuel and shelter have. grazing animals on arid and semi-arid lands.7 million people left dependent on relief assistance. Human activities in obtaining food. are particularly vulnerable to drought. . A recent volcanic activity occurred mainly in the eastern and southern parts of the continent. For this reason. Central African Republic. the desert is said to be moving at an annual rate of 5 km in the semi-arid areas of West Africa. The 1982/85 drought. Nigeria. For example. therefore. Guinea. Not only is Africa geologically old and afflicted with a harsh climate. significantly altered the soil. exposing them to severe hunger. Desertification is a serious problem in the continent. The result has been widespread malnutrition. irregular natural events. It has been estimated that 319 million hectares of Africa are vulnerable to desertification hazards due to sand movement. Nearly one-third of the central plateau of Africa is of Pre-Cambrian age (over 600 million years old). This is roughly equivalent to a loss of about 20 billion tones of Nitrogen. Mauritania. Niger. drought in 1991 and 1992 forced the nomadic pastoralists of the central region to sell off their herds at a time of escalating food prices caused by ethnic and tribal armed conflicts and civil wars. Many areas in the continent are said to be loosing over 50 tones of soil per hectare per year. An FAO/UNEP assessment of land degradation in Africa suggests that large areas of countries north of the equator suffer from serious desertification problems. making them easy to work. In Somalia. principally between Ethiopia and Lake Victoria. Ethiopia. had a dramatic effect on the speed of land degradation and desertification. Liberia. fibre. but also large parts of the continent have been occupied by human beings much longer than in other continents. such as droughts. Nomadic herders. forcing herders to sell cheaply to local traders. Serious erosion areas in the continent can be found in Sierra Leone. In northern and eastern Kenya. shortages of cereals forced 4p prices of food staples. we saw the drought of 1992 decimate the livestock herds of pastoral communities. Essential though food aid is in such emergencies. the Sudan and Somalia. for example. Many African countries have already lost a significant quantity of their soils to various forms of degradation. Though degradation is largely man-made. since it depletes their most precious assets: their livestock herds. but also easy to lose. exacerbate the situation. The rest of the surface is covered with sand and alluvial deposits of Pleistocene age (less than 2 million years old). Senegal. Zaire.Africa also suffers from geologically induced and inherently low soil fertility as the bedrock consists of mostly granites and gneiss. it clearly does nothing to alleviate environmental damage. with an estimated 1.

Thirty-seven million hectares of forest and wood lands in Africa are said to be disappearing each year (FAO. available evidence leaves no doubt that soil degradation caused by erosion. of crusts that water cannot penetrate. 1986). Soil degradation caused by deforestation is also a serious threat in Africa. As the vegetation has been removed or reduced. the manifestations of this calamity include the creation of deep gullies. and shifting sand dunes that swamp villages and fields. trees play an important role in protecting the environment. millions of hectares of grazing land and rangeland are also threatened with degradation.until the next drought reduces livestock numbers again. The 1983-85 and recent droughts killed huge numbers of livestock there.Desertification. They are the principal source of rural energy. Archaeological records suggest that Africa's arid areas have been getting progressively drier over the past 5 000 years What is new is the coincidence of drought with the increasing pressures put on fragile arid and semi-arid lands by mounting numbers of people and livestock. . the semi-arid south. the wind has also winnowed out the small amount of silt that the soil contains. In the wetter areas. with many of the perennial grasses being replaced by nutritionally poorer annual grasses. which are crucial for protecting productive land from erosion. When it does rain. directly and directly. desertification. This has permanently Impaired the rangeland's potential for recovery and decreased its carrying capacity. with the result that good breeding stock was lost and the structural balance of herds distorted. This is basically what is accelerating land degradation throughout much of Africa. To summarize. Africa's forests and woodlands are also being depleted. Deforestation exposes the soil to high temperatures which break down the organic matter. of course. Ethiopia. In the drier parts of Africa. Kenya and Nigeria. deforestation. laterite that handtools and plant roots cannot pierce. UNEP has estimated that more than a quarter of the African continent is at present in the process of becoming useless for cultivation due to degradation.in the arid north. however. and provide countless medicinal and industrial products used in both the home and in small-scale industry. are a source of employment and income for many rural Africans. rock-hard layers. are the main source of building materials in the countryside and. More serious still is the gradual removal of trees in farms and pastures. the chances of the range recovering are correspondingly reduced. increase evaporation and make the soils vulnerable to erosion. the herds are now recovering. there is a better chance that degradation can be halted and the land restored. The rangeland itself has been changed for the worse. but within five or ten years the trend of increasing overgrazing could be re-established . In many areas of Africa. threatening one of the continent's most important resources. the Sudano-Sahelian countries and in the drier parts of Cameroon. Nevertheless. reducing its ability to retain moisture. In Africa. and poor agricultural practices is undermining the very resources on which African farmers and their families depend for their very survival. They often supply food and feed. did not begin with the recent drought.

Thus erosion is threatening the future of one of the few countries in Africa that is successfully feeding itself. Namibia and the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius. If we consider only production from land that is likely to be actually cultivated. largely in humid and sub-humid West Africa. Rwanda. it would be able to feed only 40 per cent of its population. the number of countries that will be unable to feed themselves from home production using the present low level of inputs will rise from 22 out of 49 in 1975 to 32by the end of the century and to 35 by the year 2025. escarpment land that has a slope of more than 12 per cent . in Côte d'lvoire and in Nigeria. The rate of destruction is alarmingly high in the Cameroon. and the situation of stream beds and irrigation canals. fire and overgrazing are also taking their toll. Burundi. and will continue to account. Consequently.Nearly 4 million hectares of this resource are now being deforested or degraded annually. . even as early as the year 2000. These predictions are based on the assumption of using every scrap of suitable and marginal land to grow nothing but crops. rainfed cultivation accounts.and that should therefore be forested . gathering for fuelwood. the flooding of fertile crop land below. In Malawi. for instance. As most of Africa has little tradition of irrigation. Niger. the current trend cannot be continued indefinitely: in some places.is being cultivated. Reunion and the Comoros. In most parts of Africa. According to the study. deforestation rates exceed planting rates by a factor of 30:1. By 2000 A. By 2025. it is likely that its rapid expansion will not happen soon and certainly not under conditions in which the practice is fully managed by the farmers themselves. Africa would be able to feed only 55 per cent of its population with low inputs. Lesotho. 16 countries will have a critical food shortage even if they use intermediate inputs. for any increase in food production in Africa. Kenya.D. only one-sixth has so far been developed. Despite the great potential in Africa for irrigation estimated by FAO to be about 27 million hectares. causing erosion. Somalia. They include the five North African countries together with Mauritania. One of the causes of degradations is that population pressure is forcing farmers to cultivate increasingly marginal land. FAO's 1985 study of the carrying capacity of land in developing countries compared Africa's projected future population with its food production potential. Indeed. and deduct one third for non-food crops and unequal food distribution. The cause of deforestation is mainly clearing for agriculture but uncontrolled logging. the results are very alarming. Nigeria and Ethiopia would be close to being in a critical state.