It has been said that forests came before human beings, deserts followed them. Desertification is becoming a major problem as more and more of the world's land surface is turned into desert. The new deserts which are being created are not necessarily hot, dry sandy places, but are instead any areas where the soil has been so mistreated by humans that it is now useless for growing crops. You may think that this doesn't affect us here in Britain, after all, it's too wet and cold for a desert to be formed here. That may be true, but that doesn't mean that desertification won't affect us. Think about it. If our soil is not conserved, then our food supply and all our lives are threatened.
Soils can be ruined easily in areas where seasonal rainfall is unreliable. Cutting down forests and trees, over-cultivation of the soil and over-grazing can all contribute to desertification. In poorer countries, farmers often know what needs to be done, but they and their families live so near to starvation that they cannot even afford to buy what they need to keep their families healthy, let alone attempt to solve their problems.
In Europe and America too, some farmers have not acted wisely. They have sprayed their soils with chemicals to improve their crop yields. In many cases, the seeds they sow have been specially bred by a particular company to grow best when fed with the same companyÕs fertiliser. Soils have become dusty and are blown away by the wind, as they need natural fertilisers, rest from continual planting, and trees to shelter them from the wind.
But it is in Africa and India where the problems of desertification are worst. Here, the soils are often poorly-managed, which means that they store less water and produce less grain even when there is enough rainfall. This means that if there is a drought, the people have no stores of food to fall back on, as their soils do not produce surplus grain even in a good year. Perhaps only twelve of the fifty-one African countries are able to feed themselves. The population of Africa is increasing, and is set to double every twenty-four years, whilst the amount of food being produced to feed each person is falling.Read More: How Big a Problem is Desertification?