What is Desertification?


Desertification is land degradation resulting from the loss of biological productivity. It can occur naturally or be induced by human activities. As a result, fertile areas become increasingly arid. In some cases, this process can be a result of climate change. However, in many cases, it can also be caused by human activities.

Impact of climate change on desertification

A warming climate increases the chances of desertification. This is because warmer climates are more likely to evaporate moisture from land surfaces, which increases dryness. In addition, warmer climates tend to bring heavier rainfall, which can erode soil and cause waterlogging and subsidence. Both conditions can lead to higher desertification rates and a more significant population of people living in drylands.

Desertification is one of the most severe environmental problems facing the world. It is an ongoing process impacted by climate change and human activities. Global warming is expected to increase arid temperatures by about 1-3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, which will alter global arid patterns and the processing of desertification. Recent studies have highlighted the relationship between desertification and climate change.

Although climate change is the primary cause of desertification, many other factors also contribute to the process. For example, changes in the biodiversity of dryland plants have been linked to increased desertification. Degradation of these ecosystems reduces their capacity of these ecosystems to withstand climate extremes. Restoring the diversity of plant and animal species in degraded areas has immense environmental and economic potential.

Causes of desertification

Desertification has been described as one of our time’s most critical environmental issues. It is a global problem and is being exacerbated by climate change. It significantly impacts ecosystems and threatens over two billion people’s livelihoods and food security. The degradation of the land is making it difficult to grow crops and sustain livestock.

Human activities are significant contributors to desertification, reducing rainfall and increasing temperatures. However, they also contribute to the depletion of soils and water supplies. This creates a vicious cycle. The degradation of land leads to decreased soil productivity and lowered crop yields. This results in many other problems, including food insecurity and declining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

In some areas, too much human activity can lead to desertification. For example, too much grazing and over-cultivation cause the soil to become unproductive, destroying its vegetation and ecosystem. Moreover, excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers for farming can further contribute to desertification.


Globally, desertification is a major environmental problem that affects more than one billion people. It also affects nearly two billion hectares of land – an area about the size of the United States and Canada combined. It has severe effects in Africa, where 70 per cent of the continent is affected by desertification. In addition, nearly 40 per cent of the African population depends on marginal drylands for subsistence. However, there are several ways to help solve the problem.

One approach is to replant the land that is degraded by desertification. This practice is known as farmer-managed natural regeneration. It has been widespread across the Sahel region of northern Africa. It helps farmers by providing more firewood, improving water tables, and increasing crop yields.

Another method is to limit the amount of farming in a specific area. In this way, a country can control the land available to farmers. But in some areas, this is not feasible, as large land areas are no longer suitable for farming. Other approaches include using rainwater harvesting and direct use of seawater for salt-loving plants.

Impacts of desertification on people

Desertification affects people in many ways. For example, up to 6 million people suffer from food insecurity in Africa. In the Chad Basin, desertification has given rise to one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups, Boko Haram. They are reportedly made up of youth deprived of livelihood opportunities. As a result, the area has been the scene of mass migrations.

To tackle the challenges of desertification, the United Nations has designated the decade of 2010-2020 as the “Decade of Deserts.” This decade aims to safeguard the long-term sustainability of drylands as a source of value first. However, it is essential to take preventive action as desertification is a complex process to halt and reverse.

The causes of desertification can be grouped broadly into climate and land management issues. Land management issues include deforestation, overgrazing of livestock, and inappropriate irrigation. Climate issues include natural fluctuations of climate and global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Other causes include economic, demographic, technological, and cultural factors.

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