Topic – Desertification

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What is Desertification?

Over time, land on which vegetation grows can be transformed into desert. This process is called desertification. Desertification is a growing global problem.

The term desertification can refer to the spread of existing deserts. Land around a desert usually does not receive much rainfall, but it is not as dry as a desert. Some types of plants can grow on this land as long as they get enough water to survive. If there is a drought, the plants die off and the land becomes desert. The desert that had already existed becomes larger.

Desertification does not happen only on land surrounding a desert. Any land where the climate is dry but vegetation still grows can be transformed into a desert.

What Can Cause Desertification?

There are many factors that can contribute to desertification. Some of the main factors are explained below.

Soil erosion after a heavy rainfall

Climate change: An increase in average temperatures can have a negative effect on vegetation. Warmer temperatures can cause more water to evaporate from the soil, making it drier. Plants that can normally survive in an area with little rainfall may not survive when the soil becomes drier. Increased evaporation can have the same effects as a drought.

Erosion: Dry land that is not covered by vegetation erodes easily. Wind can blow away the soil that provides plants with the nutrients they need to grow. Plants also help protect soil against water erosion. A plant’s roots are like fingers that hold soil in place. Even dry areas can sometimes receive a heavy rainfall. If plants are not helping to hold the soil in place, rainwater can wash away the soil. When an area does not have enough soil to support vegetation, desertification occurs.

Overgrazing: Animals graze when they eat vegetation that grows on the land. In many dry areas, farmers traditionally let animals graze for a time in one area, and then moved the animals to another area to graze. This allowed the plants in the first grazing area time to regrow. Overgrazing happens when animals graze too often in one area. The plants do not have time to regrow, leading to loss of vegetation and soil erosion.


Deforestation: In some places around the world, people depend on wood as fuel for cooking and heating. Forests become smaller as people cut down more and more trees for fuel. Forests may also be cut down to create more land for cattle to graze on or for growing crops. Cutting down forests can lead to soil erosion.

Effects of Desertification

Dry land can cause cornstalks to die

Desertification does not just affect land and vegetation. It also affects people. About 3 billion people around the world live on land that is at risk of desertification.

Many people in these areas run small, family farms. The farms provide families with food, and any extra can be sold to generate money for other needs. When the land becomes drier, it does not produce as much food. Famine (extreme shortage of food) can occur, forcing people to migrate to places where they will be better able to survive.

Desertification also has a negative effect on wild animals. Many animals depend on vegetation as a food source. When vegetation begins to die off, animals that feed on the vegetation will also start to die.

Fighting Desertification

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is a program to help stop desertification and to restore land affected by desertification so that it can once again be used for farming. Canada is actively involved in this program, working with countries from around the world to improve the living conditions of people in dry areas, lessen the impacts of drought, and improve land management practices to prevent further desertification.

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