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World Environment Day 2006: Deserts and Desertification
Sarah Rich, 5 Jun 06

unep051_1.jpg Today is UNEP's World Environment Day, an annual event dedicated to raising awareness and action around environmental challenges. Each year, UNEP selects a different theme and hosting city; last year's San Francisco celebration centered on water issues, and this year in Algiers the focus is "Deserts and Desertification."

The problem of desertification -- the spread of arid desert into formerly fertile land due to human activity and climate change -- plagues many parts of the world. At WC, we've focused several times on desertification in China, where environmental degredation and worsening droughts threaten to make millions of people refugees, but where, on the hopeful side, reforestation (the so-called "Green Wall of China") has begun to hold back the advancing sands.

Huge sections of Africa also face desertification, which not only contributes to poverty and starvation from loss of farmland, but also fuels civil unrest and violence, and can send environmental refugees fleeing as cracked earth and dust storms begin to dominate the landscape.

In other words, though desertification itself seems simple, the problems it causes can become complex and severe. Fighting desertification, therefore, can become a holistic tool for preseving the environment while addressing people's needs. A 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report entitled "Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Desertification Synthesis" outlined methods of prevention or reversal:

* The development of a “culture of prevention,” which would involve changing attitudes and practices through incentivized alternatives

* Integration of land and water management to prevent erosion and soil degradation

* Maintenance of healthy vegetation to keep ground layers from exposure

* Use of land for both pasture and cropping simultaneously to alleviate damage done by livestock and create a more efficient system for recycling nutrients back into the agricultral process

* Establishment of economic opportunities that do not overtax the land as heavily as traditional livelihoods

Plenty more info can be found through links at the UNEP website. Happy World Environment Day!

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Please also remember the biological image that Allan Savory offers ( of well managed tightly herded and paddocked mixed flerds (flock + herd) can keep brittle lands alive by their movement along the edges of the deserts. Contrary to and deeper than both the citified environmentalists wanting to 'rest' the land AS WELL AS tired ranchers lazily letting their cows spread out and only eat what they want, HM puts people, carefully crafted technology and our decisions smack at the center of this edgy work. For good stories also see Let us use strong mammal biology and the microherds that they carry and manage to hold our places from blowing away. When we humans take over those functions, we do not do it as well as the intelligent biology on this planet.

Posted by: Kim McDodge on 6 Jun 06

Thanks for a great post Sarah. Excellent points Kim. I've long admired the work of Allan Savory and the other folks of Managing Wholes. For their management techniques to work, I think there'd need to be an incentive, financial or otherwise, for the land to become healthier. In most of our current farming and grazing practices, healthy land is a means, not a goal. Subsistence or commodity agriculture is usually the goal, and land often suffers for it.

Posted by: David Foley on 6 Jun 06



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