What exactly is desertification? Unfortunately, there are many responses andmany contradicting definitions. Some say that it is permanent, others say it isa reversible process. There are even debates on whether the definition shouldinclude human involvement or not. It seems that all that can be agreed on isthat it is “the most serious environmental problem facing Africatoday” (Nsiah-Gyabaah, Kwasi. Environmental Degradation and Desertificationin Ghana pg 27). At the United Nations Conference on Environment andDevelopments (Earth Summit, 1992) desertification was defined as “landdegradation in arid, semi-arid and dry semi-humid areas, resulting from variousfactors, including climate variations and human activities.
When pondering the terms’desertification’ or ‘desertified land’ our culture forms mental images of largedunes with sand slowing moving over them like in an ocean. Perhaps a camel ortwo, baking in the sun. This romanticized idea is far from what scientists calldesertification. In real life desertification looks like an area of hard andcracked earth with sand blowing above. In this scene you are more likely to seea nomad with emaciated cattle wandering the deserted plane in search ofsomething to eat.
Not too romantic, huh? Desertification is more the”destruction of the biological potential of the land or the creation ofdesert-like conditions in previously productive areas” (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 28).
There are many reasons for desertification. The two most substantial are therecent droughts in Africa and humans trying to sustain themselves on marginallands (Glantz, Michael H. Drought Follows the Plow pg 35). More specifically,the reasons for desertification and land degradation include “climatechanges, overgrazing, over-cropping, deforestation, and over-exploitedwater” (Mainguet, Monique Desertification pg 66). Although it is hard tosay exactly how much area has already been turned to desert, there is a basicconsensus among most scholars that estimates somewhere around 60 percent of theworld and between 65 and 73 percent in Africa alone (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 3)(Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. www.uia.org/uiademo/str/j0180.htm).
Some places are worse than others are, for instance Ghana’s forests have beendegraded into savanna, and the savanna areas are fast turning to deserts. Theinvasion of desert through over-cultivation, forest clearing, and overgrazinghas been worsened by extreme changes in climate of West Africa since the recentsevere persistent drought (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 10). Most people do not know this, butdesertification has been around since the Mediaeval period, perhaps even fartherback in history (Middleton, Thomas Desertification: Exploding the Myth pg 2). Itdid not receive very much public interest, however, until a series of droughtsplagued the West African Sahel between the years 1968 and 1974. This droughtcaused a widespread famine, killing approximately 100,000 to 200,000 people andabout 12 million cattle (Glantz, 35).
What are people doing to cope with losingtheir land, homes and jobs? It all depends on how much of the farmland they cansalvage. If they are still able to grow some crops on it then they can switch tosubstitute foods (tree fruits) and share what they can grow between houses. Ifthere is little or nothing that can be saved, the situation changes into that ofthe Dust Bowl. These people sell whatever livestock and possessions they haveleft and perhaps migrate to other areas to farm or try to sell themselves aslabor (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 162). There are general ways to fix desertification aswell. These involve either modifying each individual’s farming methods ormassive restoration efforts that would have to be coordinated and funded by thegovernment. One way that the government could help rectify the situation isfairly simple and cost efficient.
The theory is based on the idea that peoplewould be more concerned with the negative effects on the land if they owned theland themselves and got something from it. Because of local interest in certainareas, some countries are considering land title registration (Nsiah-Gyabaah,171). There are also two major undertakings that a government can try in orderto not only prevent and slow, but to actually restore pastoral areas andeventually farming areas that are currently desert. They are natural andartificial recovery. “Natural recovery may be obtained by exclusion ofhuman influence: neither people nor cattle can penetrate the fenced area” (Mainguet,209). Some examples of where natural recovery has worked are Southern Tunisiaand Iran. “Natural recovery can work in poor soil, coarse sandy soils,saline soils, even with rainfall lower than 80 mm” (Mainguet, 204).
Naturalrecovery does have drawbacks though. First of all, the area that is beingrecovered must be fenced in. The size of the land fenced in could cause problemsfor nomadic farmers who would have to detour the area. Other modes oftransportation may also be affected and disrupted. There are two types ofartificial recovery. The first is intervention on “topography and soils:contour terracing, scarification, plowing, water-spreading techniques, andfertilization. The second type of intervention is seeding” (Mainguet, 204).
In the second type seeds are first covered with clay and sand then driven intothe sand by sheep. The clay makes the seeds heavier and helps them to germinate.
Improvement of the situation in West Africa and more specifically Ghana may liemore in the hands of the individual farmers than on the government as a whole.
Some of the ways that farmers can help is by implementing crop rotation andmulti-crop agriculture. Crop rotation means to change from season to season whattypes of plant are grown on an area of land. Cereal farmers should try to rotatewith groundnuts and cowpeas to keep fertility up and the need for fertilizers ata minimum. (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 180). “Multi-crop agriculture, also called theinter-cropping system, or alley or strip cropping, is the simultaneous cultureof two or more crops in the same plot” (Mainguet, 220). This come inseveral different variations from growing crops separated by rows of trees(alley cropping) and growing two or more types of plants in alternating rows.
Both of these methods help to control soil erosion. Trees help trap soil andprevent it from washing or blowing away. If fruit trees are planted they arealso an alternate food source and a source of vitamins that a person may lack ifthey only take in one specific food. Obviously, desertification is a majorproblem with not only many causes but also as many solutions. The answer,however, lies in the hands of each country and its citizens. Those that try toactively make a difference have a high possibility of success, while those whocontinue to try to do everything the tradition way will soon find themselvestrying to farm or drive cattle on rock and sand.
Cite this Desertification In Ghana
Desertification In Ghana. (2019, May 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/desertification-in-ghana/