Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.
Sahel: a starving land
Today I found myself reading an article about the serious problems that afflict Africa’s Sahel region.
The columnist writes:
About 11 million people in the Sahel continue to suffer from severe food insecurity. The FAO reports that poor families have exhausted all the possible supplies of food and, waiting for the next harvest, they have to cope with high food prices. The U.N. agency has appealed to the international community to increase funding for aid to the most vulnerable populations in the region South of the Sahara….
Wait a minute, this is terrible and the funds are certainly needed, but do we want to take a step back and see how the problem raised?
Probably many know that the Sahel is one of the regions in the world most affected by desertification, but perhaps there are few who know that this problem is not due solely to temperature increase, lack of rain and climate change, but also to mismanagement of the land by man.
Until the end of the nineteenth century, people who lived there, mostly nomadic pastoralists, were free to move, chasing precipitation. They were able to migrate seasonally, along with small herd, to the North —to the Sahara— during the rainy season, and to return to the South when the dry season was beginning. At the end of World War II, however, the victorious states established a number of nations that in the ’60s became independent. The borders that were determined with these states severely restrict nomads’ movements, forcing the herd to remain within the same territory, regardless of rainfall. Grazing pressure, therefore, is greater than the resilience of Sahelian pastures, impoverishing areas that were once fertile.
In the ’70s, furthermore, as a result of an unusual period in which precipitation were well above-average, Western countries intervened to introduce cultivation of crops such as peanuts and cotton, which came to occupy almost all the population in large plantations. However, the intensive monoculture, widespread throughout the world, can’t be adapted to all environments because, in the long run, it may cause an almost irreversible soil deterioration —and once the soil is lost, desertification is an irreversible process.
Here are some of the most evident causes for soil loss in the Sahel due to industrial agriculture:
- The area’s natural vegetation is removed to make room for plantations. So, during the period of inactivity the soil is exposed to erosion without any defence.
- The intensive crops require an irrigation system that is disproportionate for the Sahelian region. In fact, since it far exceeds the ability of rain and streams to recharge groundwater, aquifers are drained.
- In countries with arid climate, a part of water used for irrigation is not absorbed by the ground, because it evaporates very quickly and during this process the minerals inside the water deposit themselves on the land. Moreover, groundwater abstraction induces the rising to the surface of salts dissolved in the water. These two factors cause a salinization of the soil until it is completely unproductive.
- The heavy agricultural machinery, essential for the cultivation of large plantations, decrease or eliminate the thin, fertile layer of the processed area.
So, funds are undoubtedly indispensable, and boosting rural resilience in the Sahel would be perfect but, first of all, it’s necessary an economic/agricultural (but also political) paradigm shift, so that future interventions will be not only effective, but also no further detrimental. And all in all, continuing to grow trees to create a dehesa-like system, remains one of the best solution… for the moment.
Aaron Miller by Olo Studio
If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.
I have lived
in my body
and still need
maps and lights
to find my way
to how I feel.
Eastern timber wolves (Canis lupus lycaon) by Jürgen Gschwender
I want to dance naked under the rain.
Have sex with the people I love.
Grow flowers and plants.
And have no fear of future.