Desertification is when once fertile lands degrade and become extremely dry and unproductive. It is known to be caused by human acitivies like overgrazing as well as by climate change. It is a huge problem worldwide with many negative consequences.
|Vegetation can stabilise sand dunes.|
Dryland ecosystems are extremely fragile. As populations increase and more people need to be fed, communities in dryland areas place increasing demands on the land by overgrazing and overcultivation – more people need to be fed from less arrable land. The soil can become increasingly salty, leading to poorer crop yeilds – malnutrition is often the outcome. Stressed soil is less able to absorb water, which in turn leads to an increase in erosion, which makes the land even less useful for often already marginalised communities.
In many countries where meat consumption has traditionally been low, there has been a push to increase their meat consumption either by importing cattle or increasing the size of their own herds.
Cattle trample fragile grasslands and the lack of vegetation leads to erosion and further loss of topsoil when there is rain. Cattle also muddy and foul precious drinking water as fencing in many developing nations is often inadequate.
When grasses are inadequate to feed the cattle, grain intended for human consumption is fed to the cattle which represent the families wealth. Land which wasn’t particularly productive at the best of times is degraded even further leading to subsistence lifestyles or displacement – peoples move to cities hoping to find work which is increasingly scarce.
Cattle and other ruminants also emit a huge amount of methane (ie they fart) which contributes substantially to the greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere. It’s estimated that cattle emit similar levels of greenhouse gasses as does industry.
Even in wealthy countries like Australia, there are problems with salinity and erosion due to overgrazing and inappropriate farming methods in the past. The problems in developing countries are even greater due to lack of political interest in marginalised groups and the scale of the problem.
Last year I wrote about Danger, Depression and Doctors for D in my theme of workplace bullying. Here.