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Global desertification vulnerability map Desertification map.png
Global desertification vulnerability map
Lake Chad in a 2001 satellite image, with the actual lake in blue. The lake has shrunk by 94% since the 1960s. ShrinkingLakeChad-1973-1997-EO.jpg
Lake Chad in a 2001 satellite image, with the actual lake in blue. The lake has shrunk by 94% since the 1960s.

Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes a desert, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. [2] It is caused by a variety of factors, such as through climate change (particularly the current global warming) [3] and through the overexploitation of soil through human activity. [4] When deserts appear automatically over the natural course of a planet's life cycle, then it can be called a natural phenomenon; however, when deserts emerge due to the rampant and unchecked depletion of nutrients in soil that are essential for it to remain arable, then a virtual "soil death" can be spoken of, [5] which traces its cause back to human overexploitation. Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem with far reaching consequences on socio-economic and political conditions. [6]

Land degradation

Land degradation is a process in which the value of the biophysical environment is affected by a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land. It is viewed as any change or disturbance to the land perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. Natural hazards are excluded as a cause; however human activities can indirectly affect phenomena such as floods and bush fires.

Drylands are defined by a scarcity of water. Drylands are zones where precipitation is balanced by evaporation from surfaces and transpiration by plants (evapotranspiration). The United Nations Environment Program defines drylands as tropical and temperate areas with an aridity index of less than 0.65. The drylands can be classified into four sub-types: dry sub-humid lands, semi-arid lands, arid lands, and hyper-arid lands. Some authorities consider Hyper-arid lands as deserts although a number of the world's deserts include both hyper arid and arid climate zones. The UNCCD excludes hyper-arid zones from its definition of drylands.

Climate change Change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns for an extended period

Climate change occurs when changes in Earth's climate system result in new weather patterns that last for at least a few decades, and maybe for millions of years. The climate system is comprised of five interacting parts, the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water), cryosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere. The climate system receives nearly all of its energy from the sun, with a relatively tiny amount from earth's interior. The climate system also gives off energy to outer space. The balance of incoming and outgoing energy, and the passage of the energy through the climate system, determines Earth's energy budget. When the incoming energy is greater than the outgoing energy, earth's energy budget is positive and the climate system is warming. If more energy goes out, the energy budget is negative and earth experiences cooling.



Considerable controversy exists over the proper definition of the term "desertification" for which Helmut Geist (2005) has identified more than 100 formal definitions. The most widely accepted [2] of these is that of the Princeton University Dictionary which defines it as "the process of fertile land transforming into desert typically as a result of deforestation, drought or improper/inappropriate agriculture". [7]
Desertification has been neatly defined in the text of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities." [8]

Princeton University University in Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The institution moved to Newark in 1747, then to the current site nine years later, and renamed itself Princeton University in 1896.

Deforestation removal of forest and conversion of the land to non-forest use

Deforestation, clearance, clearcutting or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land which is then converted to a non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. About 31% of Earth's land surface is covered by forests.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification International treaty on environmental protection

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD) is a Convention to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements.

Another major contribution to the controversy comes from the sub-grouping of types of desertification. Spanning from the very vague yet shortsighted view as the "man-made-desert" to the broader yet less focused type as the "Non-pattern-Desert". [9]

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. [10]

West Africa Westernmost region of the African continent

West Africa is the westernmost region of Africa. The United Nations defines Western Africa as the 16 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo, as well as the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The population of West Africa is estimated at about 362 million people as of 2016, and at 381,981,000 as of 2017, to which 189,672,000 are female, and 192,309,000 male.


The world's most noted deserts have been 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 hot desert. [11]

Sahara desert in Africa

The Sahara is a desert located on the African continent. It is the largest hot desert in the world, and the third largest desert overall after Antarctica and the Arctic. Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi) is comparable to the area of China or the United States. The name 'Sahara' is derived from a dialectal Arabic word for "desert", ṣaḥra.

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. [6] [12] [13] [14] [15] Historical evidence shows that the serious and extensive land deterioration occurring several centuries ago in arid regions had three epicenters: the Mediterranean, the Mesopotamian Valley, and the Loess Plateau of China, where population was dense. [12] [16]

Loess Plateau 640000 km² plateau around the Wei River valley and the southern half of the Ordos Loop of the Yellow River in central China, covering almost all of Shaanxi and Shanxi and parts of Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia

The Loess Plateau, also known as the Huangtu Plateau, is a 640,000 km2 (250,000 sq mi) plateau located around the Wei River valley and the southern half of the Ordos Loop of the Yellow River in central China. It covers almost all of the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi and extends into parts of Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia. It was enormously important to Chinese history, as it formed one of the early cradle of Chinese civilization and its eroded silt is responsible for the great fertility of the North China Plain, along with the repeated and massively destructive floods of the Yellow River. Its soil has been called "most highly erodible... on earth" and conservation efforts and land management are a major focus of modern Chinese agriculture.

Areas affected

Sun, moon, and large telescopes above Chile's Atacama Desert Sun, Moon and Telescopes above the Desert (ESO).jpg
Sun, moon, and large telescopes above Chile’s Atacama Desert

Drylands occupy approximately 40–41% of Earth’s land area [18] [19] and are home to more than 2 billion people. [19] 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. [20] [21]

As of 1998, the then-current degree of southward expansion of the Sahara was not well known, due to a lack of recent, measurable expansion of the desert into the Sahel at the time. [22]

The impact of global warming and human activities are presented in the Sahel. In this area, the level of desertification is very high compared to other areas in the world. All areas situated in the eastern part of Africa (i.e. in the Sahel region) are characterized by a dry climate, hot temperatures, and low rainfall (300–750 mm rainfall per year). So, droughts are the rule in the Sahel region. [23] Some studies have shown that Africa has lost approximately 650,000 km² of its productive agricultural land over the past 50 years. The propagation of desertification in this area is considerable. [24]

Sahel region of Mali Village Telly in Mali.jpg
Sahel region of Mali

Some statistics have shown that since 1900 the Sahara has expanded by 250 km to the south over a stretch of land from west to east 6,000 km long. [25] [26] [27] The survey, done by the research institute for development, had demonstrated that this means dryness is spreading fast in the Sahelian countries. 70% of the arid area has deteriorated and water resources have disappeared, leading to soil degradation. The loss of topsoil means that plants cannot take root firmly and can be uprooted by torrential water or strong winds. [24] [28]

The United Nations Convention (UNC) says that about six million Sahelian citizens would have to give up the desertified zones of sub-Saharan Africa for North Africa and Europe between 1997 and 2020. [24] [28]

Another major area that is being impacted by desertification is the Gobi Desert. Currently, the Gobi desert is the fastest moving desert on Earth; according to some researchers, the Gobi Desert swallows up over 1,300 square miles (3,370 km²) of land annually. This has destroyed many villages in its path. Currently, photos show that the Gobi Desert has expanded to the point the entire nation of Croatia could fit inside its area. [29] This is causing a major problem for the people of China. They will soon have to deal with the desert as it creeps closer. Although the Gobi Desert itself is still a distance away from Beijing, reports from field studies state there are large sand dunes forming only 70 km (43.5 mi) outside the city. [30]

Vegetation patterning

As the desertification takes place, the landscape may progress through different stages and continuously transform in appearance. On gradually sloped terrain, desertification can create increasingly larger empty spaces over a large strip of land, a phenomenon known as "Brousse tigrée". A mathematical model of this phenomenon proposed by C. Klausmeier attributes this patterning to dynamics in plant-water interaction. [31] One outcome of this observation suggests an optimal planting strategy for agriculture in arid environments. [32]


Preventing man-made overgrazing
Goats inside of a pen in Norte Chico, Chile. Overgrazing of drylands by poorly managed traditional herding is one of the primary causes of desertification.
Wildebeest in Masai Mara during the Great Migration. Overgrazing is not caused by nomadic grazers in huge populations of travel herds, [33] [34] nor by holistic planned grazing. [35]

The immediate cause is the loss of most vegetation. This is driven by a number of factors, alone or in combination, such as drought, climatic shifts, tillage for agriculture, overgrazing and deforestation for fuel or construction materials. 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. [36] Unprotected, dry soil surfaces blow away with the wind or are washed away by flash floods, leaving infertile lower soil layers that bake in the sun and become an unproductive hardpan.

Many scientists think that one of the most common causes is overgrazing, too much consumption of vegetation by cattle. Controversially, Allan Savory has claimed that the controlled movement of herds of livestock, mimicking herds of grazing wildlife, can reverse desertification. [37] [38] [39] [40] [41]

A shepherd guiding his sheep through the high desert outside Marrakech, Morocco Morroco-arid-climate.jpg
A shepherd guiding his sheep through the high desert outside Marrakech, Morocco

Scientists agree that the existence of a desert in the place where the Sahara desert is now located is due to a natural climate cycle; this cycle often causes a lack of water in the area from time to time. There is a suggestion that the last time that the Sahara was converted from savanna to desert it was partially due to overgrazing by the cattle of the local population. [42]

One of the major causes of desertification in the 20th-21st centuries is probably climate change [3]


At least 90% of the inhabitants of drylands live in developing countries, where they also suffer from poor economic and social conditions. [20] 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. [43]

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. [44]

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 into urban areas, particularly in Africa. These migrations into the cities often cause large numbers of unemployed people, who end up living in slums. [45] [46]

Agriculture is a main source of income for many desert communities. The increase in desertification in theses regions has degraded the land enough where people can no longer productively farm and make a profit. This has negatively impacted the economy and increased poverty rates. [47]

Countermeasures and prevention

Anti-sand shields in north Sahara, Tunisia North Sahara. Anti-sand shields.jpg
Anti-sand shields in north Sahara, Tunisia
Jojoba plantations, such as those shown, have played a role in combating edge effects of desertification in the Thar Desert, India. GreeningdesertTharIndia.jpg
Jojoba plantations, such as those shown, have played a role in combating edge effects of desertification in the Thar Desert, India.

Techniques and countermeasures exist for mitigating or reversing the effects of desertification, and some possess varying levels of difficulty. For some, there are numerous barriers to their implementation. Yet for others, the solution simply requires the exercise of human reason.

One proposed barrier is that the costs of adopting sustainable agricultural practices sometimes exceed the benefits for individual farmers, even while they are socially and environmentally beneficial. [49] Another issue is a lack of political will, and lack of funding to support land reclamation and anti-desertification programs. [50]

Desertification is recognized as a major threat to biodiversity. Some countries have developed Biodiversity Action Plans to counter its effects, particularly in relation to the protection of endangered flora and fauna. [51] [52]

Reforestation gets at one of the root causes of desertification and is not just a treatment of the symptoms. Environmental organizations [53] work in places where deforestation and desertification are contributing to extreme poverty. There they focus primarily on educating the local population about the dangers of deforestation and sometimes employ them to grow seedlings, which they transfer to severely deforested areas during the rainy season. [54] The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations launched the FAO Drylands Restoration Initiative in 2012 to draw together knowledge and experience on dryland restoration. [55] In 2015, FAO published global guidelines for the restoration of degraded forests and landscapes in drylands, in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs and the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. [56]

The Green Wall of China is a high-profile example of one method that has been finding success in this battle with desertification.[ according to whom? ]. This wall is a much larger-scale version of what American farmers did in the 1930s to stop the great Midwest dust bowl. This plan was proposed in the late 1970s, and has become a major ecological engineering project that is not predicted to end until the year 2055. According to Chinese reports, there have been nearly 66,000,000,000 (66 billion) trees planted in China's great green wall. [57] Due to the success that China has been finding in stopping the spread of desertification, plans are currently be made in Africa to start a "wall" along the borders of the Sahara desert as well to be financed by the United Nation's Global Environment Facility trust. [58]

Techniques focus on two aspects: provisioning of water, and fixation and hyper-fertilizing soil.

Fixating the soil is often done through the use of shelter belts, woodlots and windbreaks. Windbreaks are made from trees and bushes and are used to reduce soil erosion and evapotranspiration. They were widely encouraged by development agencies from the middle of the 1980s in the Sahel area of Africa.

Some soils (for example, clay), due to lack of water can become consolidated rather than porous (as in the case of sandy soils). Some techniques as zaï or tillage are then used to still allow the planting of crops. [59] Waffle gardens can also help as they can provide protection of the plants against wind/sandblasting, and increase the hours of shade falling on the plant. [60]

Another technique that is useful is contour trenching. This involves the digging of 150 m long, 1 m deep trenches in the soil. The trenches are made parallel to the height lines of the landscape, preventing the water from flowing within the trenches and causing erosion. Stone walls are placed around the trenches to prevent the trenches from closing up again. The method was invented by Peter Westerveld. [61]

Enriching of the soil and restoration of its fertility is often done by plants. Of these, leguminous plants which extract nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil, and food crops/trees as grains, barley, beans and dates are the most important. Sand fences can also be used to control drifting of soil and sand erosion. [62]

Some research centra (such as Bel-Air Research Center IRD/ISRA/UCAD) are also experimenting with the inoculation of tree species with mycorrhiza in arid zones. The mycorrhiza are basically fungi attaching themselves to the roots of the plants. They hereby create a symbiotic relation with the trees, increasing the surface area of the tree's roots greatly (allowing the tree to gather much more nutrients from the soil). [63]

As there are many different types of deserts, there are also different types of desert reclamation methodologies. An example for this is the salt-flats in the Rub' al Khali desert in Saudi-Arabia. 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. [64]

Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) is another technique that has produced successful results for desert reclamation. Since 1980, this method to reforest degraded landscape has been applied with some success in Niger. This simple and low-cost method has enabled farmers to regenerate some 30,000 square kilometers in Niger. The process involves enabling native sprouting tree growth through selective pruning of shrub shoots. The residue from pruned trees can be used to provide mulching for fields thus increasing soil water retention and reducing evaporation. Additionally, properly spaced and pruned trees can increase crop yields. The Humbo Assisted Regeneration Project which uses FMNR techniques in Ethiopia has received money from The World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund, which supports projects that sequester or conserve carbon in forests or agricultural ecosystems. [65]

It is argued that managed grazing methods are able to restore grasslands. Cow female black white.jpg
It is argued that managed grazing methods are able to restore grasslands.

Managed grazing

Restoring grasslands store CO2 from the air into plant material. Grazing livestock, usually not left to wander, would eat the grass and would minimize any grass growth while grass left alone would eventually grow to cover its own growing buds, preventing them from photosynthesizing and killing the plant. [67] A method proposed to restore grasslands uses fences with many small paddocks and moving herds from one paddock to another after a day or two in order to mimic natural grazers and allowing the grass to grow optimally. [67] [68] [69] It is estimated that increasing the carbon content of the soils in the world’s 3.5 billion hectares of agricultural grassland would offset nearly 12 years of CO2 emissions. [67] Allan Savory, as part of holistic management, claims that while large herds are often blamed for desertification, prehistoric lands used to support large or larger herds and areas where herds were removed in the United States are still desertifying; [66] range scientists have however not been able to experimentally confirm his claims. [70] [71]

See also

Wind erosion outside Leuchars Soil erosion, Southfield - - 367917.jpg
Wind erosion outside Leuchars


Other related portals:

Related Research Articles

North Africa Northernmost region of Africa

North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Morocco in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to the countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by Arabs as the Maghreb. The most commonly accepted definition includes Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, "North Africa", particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.

Sahara Desert (ecoregion) ecoregion

The Sahara Desert ecoregion, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), includes the hyper-arid center of the Sahara, between 18° and 30° N. It is one of several desert and xeric shrubland ecoregions that cover the northern portion of the African continent.

Geography of Mauritania

Mauritania, a country in the western region of the continent of Africa, is generally flat, its 1,030,700 square kilometres forming vast, arid plains broken by occasional ridges and clifflike outcroppings. It borders the North Atlantic Ocean, between Senegal and Western Sahara, Mali and Algeria. It is considered part of both the Sahel and the Maghreb. A series of scarps face southwest, longitudinally bisecting these plains in the center of the country. The scarps also separate a series of sandstone plateaus, the highest of which is the Adrar Plateau, reaching an elevation of 500 metres. Spring-fed oases lie at the foot of some of the scarps. Isolated peaks, often rich in minerals, rise above the plateaus; the smaller peaks are called guelbs and the larger ones kedias. The concentric Guelb er Richat is a prominent feature of the north-central region. Kediet ej Jill, near the city of Zouîrât, has an elevation of 1,000 metres and is the highest peak.

Soil erosion washing or blowing away of the top layer of soil

Soil erosion is the displacement of the upper layer of soil, one form of soil degradation. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolean) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion. Soil erosion may be a slow process that continues relatively unnoticed, or it may occur at an alarming rate causing a serious loss of topsoil. The loss of soil from farmland may be reflected in reduced crop production potential, lower surface water quality and damaged drainage networks.

Sahel transition zone in Africa

The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south. Having a semi-arid climate, it stretches across the south-central latitudes of Northern Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. The name is derived from the Arabic word sāḥil meaning "coast" or "shore" in a figurative sense, while the name in Swahili means "coastal [dweller]" in a literal sense.

Desert farming

Desert farming is the practice of developing agriculture in deserts. As agriculture depends upon irrigation and water supply, farming in arid regions where water is scarce is a challenge. However, desert farming has been practiced by humans for thousands of years. In the Negev Desert, there is evidence to suggest agriculture as far back as 5000 BC. Today, the Imperial Valley in southern California, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are examples of modern desert agriculture. Water efficiency has been important to the growth of desert agriculture. Water reuse, desalination, and drip irrigation are all modern ways that regions and countries have expanded their agriculture despite being in an arid climate.

Great Green Wall initiative against desertification in Africa

The Great Green Wall, or Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel, is Africa's flagship initiative to combat the effects of climatic change and desertification. Led by the African Union, the initiative aims to transform the lives of millions of people by creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa.

Allan Savory Zimbabwean scientist

Clifford Allan Redin Savory is a Zimbabwean ecologist, livestock farmer, and president and co-founder of the Savory Institute. He originated Holistic management (agriculture), a systems thinking approach to managing resources. Savory advocates using bunched and moving livestock to what he claims mimics nature, as a means to heal the environment, stating "only livestock can reverse desertification. There is no other known tool available to humans with which to address desertification that is contributing not only to climate change but also to much of the poverty, emigration, violence, etc. in the seriously affected regions of the world." "Only livestock can save us." He believes grasslands hold the potential to sequester enough atmospheric carbon dioxide to reverse climate change. Praised by cattle farmers, his controversial ideas have sparked opposition from other academics; ranging from debate on evidence for treatment effects to the scope of the potential impact for carbon sequestration.

Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) is a low-cost, sustainable land restoration technique used to combat poverty and hunger amongst poor subsistence farmers in developing countries by increasing food and timber production, and resilience to climate extremes. It involves the systematic regeneration and management of trees and shrubs from tree stumps, roots and seeds.

Agriculture in Niger

Agriculture is the primary economic activity of a majority of Niger's 17 million citizens.

Desert Area of land where little precipitation occurs

A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of denudation. About one-third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid. This includes much of the polar regions where little precipitation occurs and which are sometimes called polar deserts or "cold deserts". Deserts can be classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the causes of desertification or by their geographical location.

World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought

The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is a United Nations observance each June 17. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the presence of desertification and drought, highlighting methods of preventing desertification and recovering from drought. Each year's global celebration has a unique, novel emphasis that had not been developed previously.

Desert greening

Desert greening is the process of man-made reclamation of deserts for ecological reasons (biodiversity), farming and forestry, but also for reclamation of natural water systems and other ecological systems that support life. The term "desert greening" is intended to apply to both cold and hot arid and semi-arid deserts. It does not apply to ice capped or permafrost regions. Desert greening has the potential to help solve global water, energy, and food crises. It pertains to roughly 32 million square kilometres of land.

Michael Mortimore was a British geographer and a prolific researcher of issues in the African drylands. He was an academic in Nigerian universities for over 25 years. He ran a British research consultancy, Drylands Research. He is best known for an anti-Malthusian account of population-environment relationships, More People, Less Erosion, and field-based studies of adaptation to drought.

Andrew Warren is a British physical geographer. He is Emeritus Professor of Geography at University College London, UK.

Desertification is defined as “the rapid depletion of plant life and the loss of topsoil at desert boundaries and in semiarid regions, usually caused by a combination of drought and the overexploitation of grasses and other vegetation by people.” There is a common misconception that desertification spreads from a desert core. The truth is that land degradation can occur far away from deserts, and the presence of a desert has no effect on desertification. Another misconception is that droughts cause desertification. This is only true if the land had been abused before the drought occurred, and continued to be exploited during the dry season. If the land is well managed however, the land will recover from a drought once it rains again.

Large swathes of the Sahel region, which were once covered by grasslands, savannah, woodlands and scrub, suffer from land degradation. Soils have become degraded in locations where farmers have cleared perennial vegetation to grow crops and graze animals, exposing the soil to erosion by wind and water. In total, one-third of the world's population lives in drylands where land degradation is reducing food supplies, biodiversity, water quality and soil fertility.

Caroline King-Okumu is a senior researcher for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Her major areas of research are dryland ecosystems, economic and environmental assessment, and climate change. She is considered an international expert on land and water management, particularly drylands agriculture. King-Okumu is based in Kenya but is involved in research and projects throughout the world.


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