A Form of Land Degradation
(Page 1)

Most published pictures of deserts are from areas with sand dunes and many people therefore believe that desertification is synonymous with the spreading of dunes, which can bury villages. Although the dunes have increased and in some areas caused great harm, there is more to the formation of deserts than the creation of sand dunes. And the degeneration of land into deserts is a much bigger threat to humankind, because not only sandy soils but also more fine-grained soils can be deteriorated.

Below, Professor Nils Nykvist shared his knowledge of desertification, it causes and its impact on our land.


By Professor Nils Nykvist

What is desertification

It is a gradual degradation of land that occurs when vegetation is too heavily utilized in relation to the carrying capacity of the land.
When people and livestock do not go beyond what is necessary to cultivate the soil, graze the land, or collect firewood, the plant cover becomes less and less and finally the plants can hardly get out of the ground during the rainy season before being grazed. The original plant community is converted to a desert, which spreads out more and more around the villages (Fig. 18).
Figure 18. Only a few trees remain of the vegetation around a village in Sudan.

Impact of desertification

Livestock animals must graze further and further away from the villages, and people are forced to devote increasing time and energy to reach their cultivations and to collect firewood. For cattle that are dependent on being able to drink water daily, there is a limit of 8–10 kilometers of distance to grazing.

When the vegetation cover is reduced, more raindrops reach the soil surface and break soil aggregates into smaller particles that clog the pores of the soil, resulting in a lower infiltration rate and increased surface runoff and erosion.

Wind erosion also increases when fewer plants protect the soil from blowing out of the area. Less vegetation also means less dead plant residue to protect soil surface from raindrops and less raw material for the humus that improves the capacity of the soil to retain water and nutrients.

And the smaller the rainfall is, the longer it takes for vegetation to repair the damage caused by cultivation, animal husbandry, and collection of firewood. The deterioration of vegetation and soil is therefore more pronounced in arid areas (Fig. 19).
Figure 19. Vulnerability to desertification. From U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Survey Division, World Soil Resources.

Nonetheless, as long as the utilization of the vegetation is not too great, plants can repair the damage, even if it takes a longer time in dry areas compared to that in more productive land.

But unfortunately in most places, little care is made to help or ensure that the land is renewed through vegetation.

See the references for this article.

>> Page 2

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