Desertification – Description, Causes, and Impacts (Essay)

free essayThe term desertification is, as a rule, explained as the land degradation process that leads to the reduction or loss of biological or economic productivity of the territory. It usually takes place in arid, semi-arid and dry types of areas. Furthermore, it is frequently a result of a variety of factors which comprise different human activities and the process of climate change. No doubt, people’s actions, i.e. excessive cultivation of arable land, including deforestation and poor irrigation, are the main causes of the issue. In accordance with the statements of the United Nations Environment Program, the third of the planet’s surface has already been despoiled, which, accordingly, affects the lives of more than 1 billion people in more than 100 countries (Fleskens and Stringer 2).

A Problem Statement

Desertification is acclaimed to be one of the most harmful effects on land caused by human activities. Due to this phenomenon, the economic and environmental losses result in numerous inevitable consequences for both economics and ecology of different countries. Hence, it is significant to evaluate and find the most optimal ways to struggle against it.

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Discussion of the Issue

The European Community recognizes that soil is the main natural resource, extremely complex in its composition, mostly not renewable, but despite this, some human activities lead to its serious damage. Soil consists of mineral and organic substances such as carbon, nutrients, water, air and living organisms and is a source of food, biomass and natural materials (D’Odorico et al. 331). It serves as a platform for the activities of mankind, constitutes an important element of the landscape and world heritage. The soil structure is extremely diverse: only in Europe, 10,000 types have been identified and grouped into 320 main categories. Any deterioration of soil conditions affects other natural environments and ecosystems. The formation of one centimeter of soil can take place over the centuries, and its destruction only because of wind or water is possible in a few years.

At present, the level of soil degradation is increasing. In part, this is a natural phenomenon, but the activity of mankind also leads to the deterioration of natural resources (Symeonakis et al. 1571). In particular, inappropriate agricultural management accelerates erosion processes, reducing the content of organic substances, and, consequently, bringing about the decrease of the fertility of land. Moreover, intensive grazing and unreasonable use of heavy machines lead to excessive compaction of soils. Additionally, irregular irrigation can cause salinization of land (Brandt and Geeson 121). The increase in the population, tourism, and irrational use of lands increase the risk of landslides in some regions of Europe and the US. Industry pollutes the soil as well. Approximately 10% of the surface of the European Community is covered by roads and concrete structures, which accompanies the disruption of the circulation of gas, water and energy, and consequently, reduces the fertility of the land (Bestelmeyer et al. 30). The European Union estimates the annual damage from soil degradation amounts to 38 billion euros (Bestelmeyer et al. 30). In addition, the deterioration of the soil condition is associated with climatic changes which can eventually lead to desertification of the territories.

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It is known that approximately 110 countries of the world are currently under threat of the mentioned above issue (Bisaro et al. 9). Every year, humanity loses 12 million hectares of land that could produce up to 20 million tons of grain annually (Bisaro et al. 9). Consequently, the possible income lost due to desertification and dreadful state of land is approximately $43 billion yearly (Bisaro et al. 9). The most dangerous state of affairs can be observed in arid lands. Here, the soils are predominantly unbalanced, the plant life is insuffiient, and the environment is for the most part severe; thusly, desertification occurs (Symeonakis et al. 1571).

Lastly, it should be stated that droughts and loss of land productivity are the main factors driving people to move from arid regions to other areas. The influx of migrants can negatively affect the population’s ability to use natural resources sustainably (Symeonakis et al. 1571). It can exacerbate the problem of urban overpopulation and, due to the competition for the right to use scarce natural resources, cause domestic, social, ethnic and political conflicts.

Existing Strategies of Coping with the Challenge

The humanity should remember that there is an inextricable relationship between livelihoods, a rich ecosystem of bio diversity and soil. Fertile soil is capable of giving life, and its state basically depends on the cultivation methods. These influence the yield, and the quality of food individuals consume, as well as the mechanisms of interaction with ecosystems. People’s growing dependence on ecosystems means that by improving the fertility of the soil, humanity should thereby improve the quality of their lives (Fleskens and Stringer 2). Therefore, it is necessary to promote the development of the biodiversity of ecosystems which are an inexhaustible natural storehouse of stocks and services which have not been discovered yet by mankind for the future generations.

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The biggest challenge of desertification consists in the fact that the process cannot be turned back: one can only try to stop it or do everything possible so that it does not develop. That is why it is a global problem of mankind, which affects each country in a particular way. Nevertheless, no matter the state, it always has negative consequences. People from arid regions are forced to move to other places because of the shortage of food that arises from the degradation of soils, which leads to serious social and economic consequences. In order to avoid this, every person should use rationally all the resources that nature gives them because a serious change in one component, for example, a forest or a vegetation cover, inevitably leads to a change in the rest, and this can result in many disasters including desertification.

The international community makes many attempts to succeed in solving the problem; however, these measures still do not provide an exact guarantee that the threat will be fully stopped. One should improve the governance structures to address this issue, and it is significant to reconsider the funding spent on the technological advancements that can help to tackle the issue. In 1994, the General Assembly proclaimed 17 June as World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought with the aim to raise awareness to the problems of drought and desertification (Bisaro et al. 9). This measure has been relevantly successful; however, it cannot fight the consequences of the phenomenon to the fullest extent.

How It Works

Unfortunately, at present, the European Union has not yet come to a single decision regarding the policy to protect soil although the processes of soil degradation are significant, and this problem has been under consideration for several decades. Nevertheless, some regions have adopted separate documents on soil conservation (the European Union’s Alpine Convention) (Bestelmeyer et al. 30). They have done that realizing that the increase in the population and the growing demand for food can lead to the intensification of land cultivation. Under such a scenario, desertification and degradation of ecosystems in dry lands will jeopardize the prospects for improving people’s well-being and, possibly, negate the success achieved in the development of some regions (Bestelmeyer et al. 30). In order to make a reasonable choice, individuals need to understand the consequences of alternative actions or inaction. It means that possible development scenarios should have been developed and presented in the form of verbal descriptions and illustrated with the help of numerical indicators demonstrating what the future may be in this or that case.

To continue, strategies that lead to unsustainable use of resources and a lack of supporting infrastructure are among the main causes of land degradation (Brandt and Geeson 121). Accordingly, it turns public policy and physical infrastructure into useful tools for solving the problem. Special attention is paid to agriculture as it can play both a positive and negative role depending on how it is done (Bisaro et al. 9). This, in turn, depends on available socioeconomic resources, the conduct of policy and the quality of management. Local institutions, such as community policymakers, that determine land use patterns and social networks, help prevent desertification allowing individuals to make better use of eco-system by increasing access to land, capital, labor and technology.

Lastly, a multi-country development project was implemented during 2010-2012 as a part of the activities of the Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management Program (generally abbreviated to CACILM). It is aimed at enhancing various states’ capacity to address problems related to land degradation. The main objectives of the project are to integrate the principles of sustainable land management (generally abbreviated to SLM) into national policies and legislation, and effective mobilization of resources for implementation.

Examination of Alternative Solutions

There are a number of possible solutions to the issue of desertification and its consequences that can be developed and implemented. Firstly, it is necessary to introduce the drought-resistant varieties of agricultural plants (D’Odorico et al. 331). Among the agro- and technical measures in combating droughts, the development of proper crop rotations with pure vapors in arid and occupied pairs in better humid areas is of great importance. Pure steam (with backstage) in arid regions is equated to fields with water-charging irrigation (watering to create reserves (charging) of water in the soil).

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To continue, the priority task of geo-ecological research is the development of measures aimed at restoring the natural potential of lands lost as a result of natural and/or anthropogenic factors. Bio resource potential (productivity of natural vegetation cover) is reduced as a result of desertification (Symeonakis et al. 1571). To overcome the problem, one can turn to the main deep plowing that is the most effective when working on soils with a highly compacted sub-plow horizon (chestnut, solo nets, etc.). As for the soils located on the slopes, special methods of tillage, regulating surface run-off should be implemented. They include plowing across the slope, contour plowing (horizontally), and techniques that change the micro relief of the arable land. To reduce the evaporation of moisture, the soil in pairs and broad-row crops should be kept in a loose state, preventing the formation of a soil crust (D’Odorico et al. 331). To this end, harrowing, cultivation, row-spacing, etc. are used. Of great importance are also techniques for the destruction of weeds, regulation of snow melting, fertilization, pre-plant preparation of soil and sowing in the shortest possible time. It is effective to combine sowing of winter crops that use autumn precipitation well and are resistant to spring-summer droughts, sowing early spring cereals that need precipitation in the first half of summer, as well as corn, millet, sorghum and other late crops that use sediments of the second half of the summer and are relatively easy to bear the spring drought (Brandt and Geeson 121).


The fight against desertification and related economic challenges in dry lands is likely to be more effective when using an active approach to management. With its implementation, management of economic resources should take into account changes and raise the resilience of ecosystems, which also contributes to increasing the protection of society from the problems created by desertification. As a result, measures such as adaptation to climate change and the refusal to expand irrigated areas may together lead to a slowdown in the rate of desertification. It should be remembered that the benefits of this approach can only fully manifest themselves after a while because, first, it is necessary to introduce and consolidate the relevant changes in the development of society and its ability to master new approaches to land use. In contrast, with a reactive approach to management, the current pressure on eco-system services (climate change, overgrazing and large-scale irrigation) is likely to remain at the same level or even increase, leading to further desertification. It means that to stop the desertification, it is significant to take active measures which are expected to be dictated by the international community.

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