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TOPIC INTRODUCTION

Land degradation is among the biggest environmental
challenges of our time1.
Sub-Saharan
Africa (SSA) has experienced the most severe land degradation in the world.
Given that livelihoods of the majority of the rural poor heavily depend on
natural resources, SSA countries have designed a number of policies and
strategies to address land degradation and to enhance productivity. However,
investment from both countries and their development partners has remained low,
especially for livestock, which accounts for the largest area degraded2. 

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Land degradation has a lot of
causes, including extreme weather conditions (particularly
drought) as well as human activities that pollute or degrade the quality of soils and land utility negatively. All these affect food production,
livelihoods and the production and provision of other ecosystem goods and services3.

 

 

DEFINITION OF KEY TERMS

 

Desertification

Desertification is
land degradation that occurs in drylands. The United Nations Convention to
Combat Desertification (UNCCD) defines it as “land
degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas resulting from various
factors, including climatic variations and human activities. When land
degradation happens in the world’s drylands, it often
creates desert-like conditions”. It may also refer to “the irreversible change
of the land to such a degree it can no longer
be recovered for its original use”4. Desertification usually results in the desertified
land losing its vegetation, water bodies (lakes, streams), and wildlife5.

 

Land Degradation

The UNCCD defines land degradation as
“any reduction or loss in the biological or economic productive capacity of the
land resource base. It is generally caused by human
activities, exacerbated by natural processes, and often magnified by and closely intertwined
with climate change and biodiversity loss”6. Land degradation can be viewed
as the reduction in the capability of the land to produce benefits from a
particular land use under a specified form of land management7.

 

Soil Erosion

Soil erosion is also more specific than both land and soil
degradation. It refers only to the absolute loss of topsoil and nutrients, the
most visible effect of soil degradation. Wind and
water erosion are the main processes affecting soils. It is normally a natural
process in mountainous areas, but poor management practices contribute to the
potential for
any soils to erode8. In soil climate is a key factor9. 

 

Soil degradation

The Soil Atlas of Africa describes soil degradation as
the “process that leads to a deterioration of soil properties and functions,
often accelerated by human activities”10. Soil
degradation could be described as the deterioration of soil quality, or in
other words: the partial or entire loss of one or more functions of the soil.
Quality should be assessed in terms of the different potential functions of the
soil11.

 

Sub-Saharan Africa

The term Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is used to describe the area of the African continent which
lies south of the Sahara
Desert. Geographically, the demarcation line is
the southern edge of the Sahara Desert12.

  

BACKGROUND
INFORMATION

AN
INCREASING SERIOUS THREAT

Soil is under increasing threat from a wide range of human
activities that are undermining its long-term availability and viability. It is worth noticing that 1/3 of the world’s agricultural
soils, or approximately 2 billion hectares of land are affected by soil
degradation. Water and wind erosion account for most of the observed damage,
while other forms such as physical and chemical degradation are responsible for
the rest. Appropriate soil and water conservation strategies are needed to
prevent and combat the effects of soil degradation in the field and at the
planning level.

Land degradation is already one of the major problems
affecting the world. Currently some 6–7 million hectares are lost annually
through soil erosion, desertification affects about one-sixth of the world’s
population and one-quarter of the world’s land, and salinization affects some
20 million hectares of irrigated land. Land degradation through
damage to the soil is a serious problem and its causes are often complex and
interwoven. Severe damage has already been done to the world’s soils, and the
impact of climate change needs to be considered in parallel with the effect of
the existing pressures on the land. It is difficult to separate the effects of
these various impacts and their cumulative impact on soils is often greater
than a simple summation15.

Land
degradation is the major consequences of direct interference of human
activities in the natural phenomenon. It has accelerated through the last years due to increasing and
combined pressures of agricultural and livestock production (over-cultivation,
overgrazing, forest conversion), urbanization, deforestation, and extreme
weather events such as droughts and coastal surges which salinate land.

Land degradation can affect human health through complex pathways16.
As land is degraded and in some places deserts
expand, food production is reduced, water sources dry up and populations are
pressured to move to more hospitable areas. The potential impacts of
desertification on health include:

·  
higher
threats of malnutrition from reduced food and
water supplies

·  
more water and food-borne diseases
that result from poor hygiene and a lack of clean water

·  
respiratory diseases caused by
atmospheric dust from wind erosion and other air pollutants

·  
the spread of infectious diseases as
populations migrate

Last but not least, it is worth
mentioning that there are many off-site effects related
to soil and land degradation. For example, dust storms or eroded sediment cause problems
such as damage by mudflows, siltation of dams, or pollution of drinking water in downwind or
downstream areas.

 

SSA – THE MOST AFFECTED AREA

It is worth noticing that nutrient depletion as a form of
land degradation has a severe economic impact at the global scale, especially
in SSA. The economic impact of land degradation is extremely severe in densely
populated SSA17. Land degradation
currently leads to the loss of an average of more than 3 percent annually of
agriculture Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the SSA region.

The
extent and rate of soil degradation in SSA is still under debate. Nevertheless,
certain soils are losing their ability to provide food and essential ecosystem
services, and we know that soil fertility depletion is the primary cause18.

An estimated 83% of Sub-Saharan Africans are dependent on the land for their livelihoods, yet 40% of
Africa’s land resources are
currently degraded19. In many African countries land degradation is higher than
65%. Land degradation erodes the productivity of
farming systems, thereby reducing incomes and food security. Land degradation
reduces the resilience of ecosystems and populations particularly in the face
of climate change. It also has negative impacts on populations at national/regional level (by reducing the capacity of land to
support economic development and negatively affecting the climate and water
cycle and ecosystem services), and at global level (greenhouse gases emissions
and climate change, biodiversity loss) potentially
driving increased poverty, hunger, unemployment, forced migration
and conflict.

According to the Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO), agricultural production in SSA is
falling by 3% a year as a result of land degradation20, with potentially disastrous
implications for sustainable development. This provides a strong justification
for governments to pro-actively mitigate the impacts of land degradation. In
Ethiopia, GDP loss from reduced agricultural productivity is estimated at $130
million per year. In Uganda land degradation in the
drylands threatens to wreck havoc on the country’s
economy and escalate poverty. This is because these drylands constitute
the Uganda cattle corridor, which accounts for over 90% of the
national cattle herd and livestock production
contributes 7.5% to the GDP and 17% to the
agricultural GDP”21.

The
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) points out that
land degradation is intricately linked to poverty and that addressing this
problem requires the participation of the resource
users and, where appropriate, providing them with alternative
livelihood
options22.

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