The process in which fertile land becomes desert is referred as desertification. It is the gradual degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas leading to loss of soil productivity and the thinning out of the vegetative cover. Weather extremes – particularly drought and climate variations – and human activities that pollute or degrade land (including over-cultivation, overgrazing and deforestation, poor irrigation practices) convert arable land into desert. As ecosystems change and deserts expand, food production diminishes, water sources dry up and populations are pressured to move to more hospitable areas. Such over-exploitation is generally caused by economic and social pressure, ignorance, and drought.
Almost two billion people are affected by desertification and the degradation of land worldwide; 41 per cent of the landmass worldwide is prone to desertification turning millions of people to ecological refugees. However it is not just an ecological issue, as it impacts humanity with shrinking food and water supplies, a loss of jobs and mass migration, malnutrition, water and food borne diseases, respiratory diseases from wind erosion and air pollution.
• Unsustainable use of resource and lack of supportive infrastructure.
• Land practices that involve over-cultivation, logging, water scarcity, groundwater depletion, soil erosion, and salinization.
• Globalization amplify or attenuate the driving forces of desertification by removing regional barriers, weakening local connections, and increasing the interdependence among people and between nations and focus on raising production for exports.
• Irrigation without extensive public capital investment.
• Dry climate, long spells of droughts and heavy winds.
• Over-grazing, pressure of population, industrialization.
Steps to prevent desertification:
Increasing population and rise in food demand will drive expansion and intensification of cultivated lands. If unchecked, desertification and degradation of ecosystem services in dry lands will threaten future improvements in human well-being and dangerous threat to biodiversity. Effective prevention of desertification can only be achieved with local management and macro policy approaches that promote sustainability of ecosystem services. It is advisable to focus on prevention along, with rehabilitation.
• Societal and policy responses need to be reflected accordingly in National Action Programmes stipulated by the UNCCD and their subsequent implementation.
• Soil and land preservation efforts should be mainstreamed. The funds allocation should be prioritized in line with countries like China where investment in anti-desertification programmes is priority of government. Developing countries and regions like Africa, Asia need to integrate ongoing programs such as poverty eradication with strategies to fight desertification with effort based incentives and investment.
• Agro-forestry and farmer-managed natural regeneration should be promoted. Small community initiatives like closure of degraded lands for grazing, curtailing farming, growing fast-growing plants, raising tall trees that serve as a barrier against winds and sandstorms are very effective.
• Integrated land and water management such as use of traditional water-harvesting techniques, improving groundwater recharge through soil-water conservation, upstream re-vegetation.
• Protection of vegetative cover by avoiding deforestation, land encroachment, urbanization in forest areas etc. and promoting mixed farming in the dry sub humid and semiarid zones with a tighter cultural and economic integration between the livelihoods.
• Use of locally suitable technology and using knowledge of local communities by enabling policies that involves local participation and community institutions by creating awareness.
• Promoting alternative livelihoods that do not depend on traditional land uses such as Dry land aquaculture etc.
• Creating economic opportunities in dry lands urban centers and areas outside dry lands.
Steps to rehabilitation of deserted lands:
Rehabilitation is to repair damaged or blocked parts of ecosystem, with the primary goal of regaining ecosystem productivity and it has to be combined with restoration of degraded site to re-establish the ecosystem that is lost.
• Implementing policies and technologies and the close involvement of local communities such as establishment of seed banks, soil organic matter and organisms, reintroduction of selected species, control of invasive species, chemical and organic nutrient replenishment, and reforestation with coordination of capacity building, capital investment, and supportive institutions.
• Long-term monitoring and gathering of information about factors at sub-national and regional levels is to distinguish between the role of human actions and climate variability in vegetation productivity and implement necessary measures.
• Focus of community initiatives like closure of degraded lands for grazing, curtailing farming, growing fast-growing plants, raising tall trees etc. Adequate access to resources and markets, off-farm income, and technologies combined with due consideration of the needs of local communities.
• Government initiatives to consider building large green belts priorities forestry programmes and launch projects of fixing and stabilizing sands.
• Application of Scientific technologies such as remote sensing to better understand land specific degradation factors and measures.
Promotion of Leguminous plants, such as beans, which ‘fix’ nitrogen, Belts of trees and grass etc.
• Using alternate for wood as fuel to save trees by shifting towards using cheap, fuel-efficient ‘rocket stoves’ and solar cookers etc.
• Creating global awareness in international forums such as climate talks to build a focus and share responsibilities to build proper mechanism of regional specific mitigation.