Global Food Shortages? Learn More this World Day to Combat Desertification (June 17)

Global Food Shortages? Learn More this World Day to Combat Desertification (June 17)



What is desertification?

Desertification simply pertains to the process wherein a fertile land becomes a desert. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification explains it as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities.” Furthermore, desertification is an ongoing process that is typically observed in dry and fragile ecosystems. It typically impacts terrestrial areas (earth, topsoil, groundwater reserves, and surface runoff), animal and plant populations, and even human communities and their facilities (dams, terraces, etc.)[1] . 


What causes desertification?

desertification causes

  • Climatic variations – climate change, consistent increases in average temperatures, and moisture loss on a global level have caused many areas around the globe to experience severe drought and loss of vegetation [2].
  • Human activities – this includes overgrazing, deforestation, and removal of natural vegetation cover, and agricultural activities in vulnerable ecosystems of arid and semi-arid areas [2]. Population growth, economic impacts, and poverty typically boost such activities especially in countries where the major economic resources are dependent on agriculture. When farmers neglect or reduce fallow periods, the soils become damaged because of heavy use. The soil loses organic matter, consequently, plant growth becomes limited, and vegetation cover is reduced. These bare soils then become more vulnerable to the effects of erosion [4]. 


Why should I care about desertification?

care about desertification
    • Food Shortages. Farming or cultivating substantial crops is almost impossible in desert or drought-stricken areas without the use of special technologies – which could be very expensive. Many people who depend on the land to grow food in drought-stricken areas are suffering food shortages and economic strains. Food-production zones are shifting, crops are failing, livestock are dying, and water resources such as ponds, lakes and rivers are drying up. Such conditions have led to migration and conflict in areas such as India, Bangladesh, Mauritania, Senegal, Morocco, and Eritrea. Aside from internal struggles, some of these countries are also major contributors in the world food production, which is also thus threatened by such conflicts [3].
    • Higher Global Food Costs. Past studies have found that approximately 12 million hectares of productive land are becoming barren every year due to desertification and drought alone, this corresponds to a lost opportunity of around 20 million tons of grain [3]. We have to note that most of our food products come from grains and other kinds of vegetation. The dwindling farmlands could lead to smaller agricultural production yields. This, plus rising population numbers could lead to food scarcity or higher food costs for the world – because the demand for food is high while the supply is low.
    • Hunger for more than just us. The loss of farms and farming lands could lead to food scarcity. Aside from humans, this could also affect animals – which could further aggravate the food shortage.
    • Flooding could occur more frequently. Plants play a role in minimizing flooding, and without plant cover to stop water from gathering and inundating everything, areas could experience more frequent flooding.
    • Water quality could deteriorate. Aside from preventing flooding, plant life also plays a significant role in filtering and keeping the water clean and clear. Therefore, the water quality in an area that becomes a desert would get worse compared to what it would have been.
    • Migrations. When areas start to become desert, affected animals and people would move to areas where they could thrive – which could lead to crowding and overpopulation. An endless cycle thus begins.
    • Poverty. All these desertification effects could result to poverty. People would not thrive without food or water [5].
    • Conflicts and wars. A number of intrastate conflicts happening today can be linked to the state's’ control and allocation of natural resources. The failure of fragile states and regional conflicts become more inevitable when more and more people get exposed to water scarcity and hunger [3]. 


      What can I do about it?

      do something about desertification
      • Plant and Conserve Local Vegetation – wherever and whenever possible. Conserve and save existing vegetation as much as possible. At the same time, when planting in new areas, try to select fauna species that are native to the area. Vegetation cover helps protect the soil from erosion and salinity.
      • Grow Your Own Food. To offset the strain on food suppliers and to promote a culture of sustainability, we could consider growing our own food - such as a number of vegetables in our own backyards. There are a number of salad greens that can be cultivated in even limited spaces. Aside from helping a bit in the world food supply, doing so could be healthier for you and your family (because you will be growing vegetables organically - without pesticides), and could reduce your environmental impact.
      • Get Educated and Help Educate Others. Try to learn more about sustainable land management practices, such as organic farming, that could be used in your area. Then, share your knowledge with everyone! At the same time, share how what you are doing is helping combat global desertification with the techniques you have learned.
      • Join or Support Organizations Handling Desertification. Lend your hand and voice to worldwide organizations handling desertification, such as The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, UNESCO, and OurSoil.
      • Reduce your carbon footprint. Doing so will also reduce your contribution to climate change. Try to pick environment-friendly alternatives whenever possible, and support green initiatives. Save energy and minimize your trash.
      • Minimize your waste. Waste in the environment also plays a factor in land degradation. Organize and participate in clean ups, and look for ways to reduce the amount of waste you produce in your home.
      • Conserve water. Doing so will help prevent unsustainable water extraction. Identify ways you can conserve water, and educate other people in how to do so.
      • Learn and adapt. A number of community initiatives have successfully tackled desertification, learn, and benefit from them [6].


      What is World Day to Combat Desertification?

      world day to combat desertification

      Image Source

      The World Day to Combat Desertification has been observed every June 17 to promote public awareness and cooperation to combat desertification and the effects of drought [7].

      This year’s theme of “Protect Earth. Restore Land. Engage People” advocates the cooperation of all sectors to restore and rehabilitate degraded land, and ultimately achieve sustainability [8].

      Aside from the implementation of relevant policies in countries that are already experiencing serious drought or desertification such as Africa, the commemoration of the day reminds everyone that we can also contribute in our ways to tackle and stop desertification. Awareness of the problem and the possible solutions to it will go a long way in strengthening community participation and cooperation at all levels.