Today is World day to Combat Desertification
The United Nations predicts that over 50 million people will be forced to leave their homes by 2020 because their land will literally have turned to dust. This process, known as desertification, is one of the greatest environmental threats of our time, a potential catastrophe for communities and eco-systems across the globe. Yet most people have either never heard of it or don’t understand what it means.
The World Day to Combat Desertification, observed every year on 17th June, hopes to change that by bringing the issue to the attention of peoples and policy makers worldwide.
What do we need to combat?
In a recent BBC report on northern Senegal, cattle herder, Khalidou Badara, described how desertification has affected his own local area:
When I was a child, I did not even dare to walk up here because the vegetation was so dense. But in these past few years, the wind and sand have been taking over. There are almost no trees, and the grass does not grow anymore, and so each year, we have to go further and further away to find grazing for our cattle.
Badara summarises the problem nicely. Desertification, land degradation, and drought begin with the clearing of vegetation as trees and bushes are stripped for firewood and timber, or removed for farming. Animals eat away the grasses and erode the ground with their hooves, and wind and water aggravate the damage, carrying away topsoil and leaving behind a barren mix of dust and sand.
Fertile land can thus quickly turn to desert.
The UN estimates that 12 million hectares of land are lost in this way every year. That’s land that should be providing people with livelihoods, food, and water. Land that should be sustaining animals, plants, and insects. And land that the International Tree Foundation seeks to reclaim through the strategic planting of trees.
Protect Earth, Restore Land, Engage People
Protect Earth, Restore Land, Engage People is this year’s slogan for the World Day to Combat Desertification. The slogan would surely resonate with our founder, Dr Richard St. Barbe Baker, although he recognised the problem of desertification long before the 17th June became its designated day in 1994.
In fact, it was way back in 1952-53 that St. Barbe Baker led a survey team on a 25,000 mile journey across the Sahara and Sahel regions to carry out a ground-breaking ecological assessment of the area. The survey identified the need to reverse desertification as the biggest challenge facing the 24 Saharan countries, and St. Barbe Baker later visited each of the countries’ leaders to promote land reclamation by reforestation; he proposed a ‘Green front’ of trees 30 miles deep to contain the desert. Saharan reclamation and Sahel re-greening efforts have been a constant in the International Tree Foundation’s work ever since.
One such project is our Trees 4 Livelihoods initiative run in partnership with Sahel Eco. Issa Coulibaly from Kontza village in Mali is one of many people currently benefiting from the scheme which helps communities restore degraded land. Issa explains,
My family and I basically live off agriculture but in recent years agricultural production is very low because the land used to grow has become increasingly degraded…
…I am convinced that if the various restoration work is completed, food security will be guaranteed in my village.
How can you help?
St. Barbe Baker lived to see his greatest cause brought to global attention when he attended the first United Nations Conference on Desertification in 1977, and the World Day to Combat Desertification owes much to his efforts to heighten awareness of the problem. Since his death, his idea of a ‘Green Front’ has re-emerged and now real steps have been taken to make it a reality. In 2002, it was adopted by a special summit in N’Djamena (Chad) during the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought and in 2005 it was approved by the Conference of Leaders and Heads of States members of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States.
St. Barbe always saw trees as the solution and now the world is finally catching up with him.
In 2011, Mr Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, recognised that the protection and restoration of trees is the key to healing our drylands, those places most at threat from desertification.
If each of us makes the commitment and ensures that just one tree is planted in a degraded part of the drylands …we could have well over two billion trees in the drylands …That is a tree for every inhabitant…let us go forth and forest the drylands to keep them working for present and future generations.
ITF makes it easy for you to ensure that your tree is planted as we support several projects in dryland Africa.