Tag Archives: desertification

It's all about Google Images.

A Slice of Hope

It’s easy to get bogged down with the enormity of the problems that taunt humanity in the 21st century. Climate change, environmental degradation,  resource scarcity, species loss, pollution, environmental injustice, animal suffering, poverty, hunger, human rights violations, inequality, discrimination  corrupt governments, economic recession… The list goes on.

But over the last couple of days I’ve come across a couple of ideas that really lend weight to the “it’s all gonna be okay” dialogue.

Firstly, this newspaper article by The Guardian claimed that if everyone ate a plant-based diet, we’d be able to feed 9 billion people. Today we have 7 billion people but 925 million go hungry*. To be honest I think it’s a shocking waste that all this perfectly good food is fed to cows and other livestock just so people can eat meat. Within the article it says:

Vegfam, which funds sustainable plant food projects, estimates that a 10-acre farm can support 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat or 10 people by growing maize – but only two by raising cattle.

People tend to get very upset when I start talking about this kind of stuff, and I’m well aware that it pushes many buttons regarding free-will and personal choice for meat eaters. I don’t want to alienate any of you lovely readers, but I will just say this: don’t you think all this seems highly inefficient? In a world where so many children are starving to death every day, shouldn’t we be going for the sixty people per farm rather than the two? There, I’m done.

It's all about Google Images.

It’s all about Google Images.

More positively, I actually took this as a huge piece of good news. I’ve often heard people sigh and say ‘‘well the planet just can’t support this many people…” But this suggests that in terms of food at least, it actually can. I think the idea that there is actually enough food for everyone is greatly encouraging! It’s backed up by www.worldhunger.org as well.

The other thing I found out about was this dude’s TED talk about reversing desertification. Basically he reckons that desert-like areas in Africa and America can be brought back to fertile grasslands not by reducing grazing as ecologists thought, but by changing grazing patterns to mimic nature. Allen Savory says that in wild savannas, buffalo and other grazing mammals wander over vast areas in huge herds. They graze the grass continuously but over a huge area, so no one part gets overly trampled or over-grazed and all of it gets manured. He says it’s only when humans make their cattle and goats graze in small enclosed areas that they are forced to overgraze. The bare soil is vulnerable to wind and rain erosion and the land gets degraded.

www.savoryinstitute.com. Photo by David Nicola.

www.savoryinstitute.com. Photo by David Nicola.

Crucially, vegetation also takes carbon out of the air and locks it up in the biosphere. Allen suggests that desertification (a huge loss of vegetation occurring over 2/3 of the global landmass) is a huge contributor to climate change. He’s been working on this natural grazing method throughout 5 continents and has had some stunning results. There are some impressive pictures in his video, linked above.

The really exciting thing here is this: he says climatologists have estimated that if his method was carried out on all desertified land, atmospheric CO2 would be brought down to pre-industrial levels!

The transformation of the land is also hugely beneficial to local people who can make a living from their land again, and of course for biodiversity as well.

These two little discoveries may not be accurate. I have no guarantee that either of these people  are actually right. But they might be. And just take a moment to fully imagine how great it would be, if we  totally reversed climate change and eradicated world hunger…?

Those two achievements would really go down in the history books.
They’d be right up there with abolishing slavery and women getting the vote.

They’d make me proud to be human.


* Statistic from www.worldhunger.org

The Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is a long term project in Africa that involves planting a huge ‘wall’ or trees along the Southern edge of the Sahara desert. The picture below is a bit blurry in terms of the key, but you can clearly see the sandy colour representing the desert region and the emerald green line symbolizing the proposed wall.

The wall of trees would be 4,300 miles long and 9 miles thick, so it would essentially be a long thin forest. Encouragingly, Senegal is really keen on the project and has already planted 50,000 trees (The Guardian, 2012). However the Great Green Wall would need to touch 11 countries so co-operation on a massive scale is necessary here, which can pose a challenge when tensions are high due to a lack of resources.

What’s really cool though is the African governments and the local groups involved are really psyched for this to be a multi-faceted project. Not only will the trees hold the top soil in place with their roots, mulch it with their leaves and physically block encroaching sand, they’ll have other productive benefits as well. Native trees of different species are going to be used, with many of them producing food and medicines that the people of the Sahel region can benefit from. As the trees mature into a resilient forest ecosystem, animals and other plants will be supported and the biodiversity of the region will be increased. The trees will also, when they’re mature, help to recharge the water table and stabilize weird weather patterns. Due to all of this, it’s being talked about as a huge poverty-alleviating developmental scheme as well as a tactic for holding back desertification.

Just for clarification, the Great Green Wall is planned for the border between the Sahara desert in the North of Africa and the Sahel region below it. The Sahel is the huge savannah and semi-arid shrubland that spans many countries and is above the tropical region in the South of Africa, which is over the Equator. I’m only saying this because I wasn’t too clear on the geography before I researched it for a new essay.

There are people from many different tribes and nations living in the Sahel region, and the population has been on the rise in recent years. The fertile land in this area is rapidly turning into desert, sometimes due to overgrazing and sometimes due to drought. This is understandably escalating poverty, hunger, the further degrading of land and conflicts over land and resources.

The Great Green Wall is an ambitious but well thought-out strategy for dealing with many different issues at once. This is the kind of systems thinking we need! The main challenge is the great deal of international co-operation that is needed. I first heard about it at least a year ago and it seems to be getting under way now, but as trees take ages to grow and people take ages to sort things out, this will be a very long term achievement. The World Bank have allegedly put 1.8 billion dollars towards this so it seems on the way to success. I just hope all the nations involved can see how brilliant it is!

Go trees!




Picture credit: http://www.luxecoliving.com/the-great-green-wall-vs-the-great-sahara-desert/