What Is Desertification And Why It Needs Our Attention


Excluding Antarctica, the process referred to as desertification is creeping into every continent on the planet – so what is it, and what can we do about it? 

According to the United Nations, desertification is defined as “land degradation in arid, semi arid and dry sub humid areas as a result of varying factors, including climatic variations and human activities.” In turn, the consequences of these activities predominantly include the loss or reduction of the biological or economic productivity of dryland regions. 

In simpler terms, when soil is damaged, carbon heads up into the atmosphere instead of into the dirt. The soil dries out, and turns to dust, with the process called desertification – and is predicted to displace over 50 million people globally in the next decade. 

Why Desertification Is A Big Deal

As an issue that is affecting two thirds of the globe, one would think that desertification would be getting a lot more attention than it actually is – and perhaps if more people realised it’s undeniable connection to climate change, then perhaps it would. 

In regards to world wide agricultural practices, we haven’t changed much in the last few centuries. Tilling and the use of chemical based pesticides and weed killers have been the go-to solution for many farmers with little to no regard for the consequences. After all, if we get a good crop and we get it quickly – not much else matters right? 

Unfortunately, when we continuously take from the earth without giving much back, it’s inevitably that the soil gives up. Most of us assume that global carbon dioxide emissions are the major issue with climate change, when in fact – it’s not. It’s because the carbon isn’t able to be absorbed back into the soil where it belongs via sequestration. 

However, if the soil is continuously disturbed without any organic matter returning to it, then the sequestration process doesn’t get a chance to work it’s magic. While 90% of the world’s rainfall comes from the ocean, 10% comes from transpiration – or the water held by plants and trees inland. As we continue to clear land at an unprecedented rate globally, temperatures are increasing while rainfall drops, resulting in land that was once fertile giving into the pressures of common stressors that we humans inflict on it, and in turn transforms into desert lands. 

According to Zimbabwean ecologist Allan Savory, “poor land leads to poor people, and poor people leads to social breakdown. Poor land also leads to increasing frequency of floods, droughts, and mass immigration across international borders.” If we have a hope of ever stemming this mass exodus, then a new approach to land management and farming practices on a global scale is crucial. 

How Can We Stop Desertification 

The answer is simple – perhaps too simple. While it makes sense, the solution hasn’t yet received the traction that it deserves. The good news is that you can learn all about it in under two hours via Netflix. 

Narrated by American actor and environmentalist Woody Harrelson, “Kiss The Ground” is the latest offering from the streaming giant. It focuses on the relationship between traditional agricultural practices, ongoing soil degradation, and how it relates to global warming. The film also argues that regenerative farming practices, carbon sequestration and ultimately healthier soil can not only help to reduce global emissions, but to press rewind on the damage that humans have inflicted on the planet, such as the growing problem of desertification. 

The good news is that the method to combat desertification is actually quite simple, and can be tweaked to be effective anywhere in the world via regenerative farming and agricultural practices. With the concept being to conserve and rehabilitate the land use, the four primary techniques administered include:

Limited Tilling – Plowing and tillage dramatically erode soil and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The practice also encourages bare or compacted soil, creating a hostile environment for important soil microbes to thrive. 

Promote Diversity – By increasing the plant diversity of their fields, farmers help create the rich, varied, and nutrient-dense soils that lead to more productive yields. Different plants release different carbohydrates (sugars) through their roots, providing food for the soil microbes. 

Using Cover Crops – If left exposed to the elements, soil will erode and the nutrients necessary for successful plant growth will either dry out or quite literally wash away. Instead, farmers are now planting cover crops to keep the earth in tip top shape year round. 

No Chemicals – Along with minimizing the physical disturbance of the soil, farmers also seek to avoid adding chemical based foreign or third party products. Along with damaging the long term health of the soil microbes, it’s also not a viable long term solution for a functional ecosystem. 

Want To Learn More About Sustainable Land Management?

As more of us start to ask questions about what we bring into our homes, gardens and bodies, educational and insightful documentaries such as “Kiss The Ground” become more mainstream. The good news is that changing the world often starts small, and usually at home. 

Whether you’re on the hunt for more tips with how to start gardening more efficiently at home, or further insights regarding an alternative for chemical based plant food, fertilisers or weed killers – then it’s always worth speaking to the professionals. 

Here at Bioweed, we specialise in environmentally friendly gardening products, including herbicides, plant probiotics, and natural alternatives to traditional gardening solutions. Should you have any questions about how to improve the sustainability of your home, garden or agricultural crop, get in touch with us today.