Sample Research Paper on Desertification of the Sahel

Desertification of the Sahel

The term desertification refers to the degradation of land in arid, semiarid, and dry sub-humid areas, which has been caused by various factors, including climate change and human activities (Kharin 1). The phenomenon reduces land productivity, stability, and biodiversity of flora and fauna. Although the phenomenon has existed for years, the quite recent desire to control it emanated from increased national and internal awareness of its adverse consequences (Brauch 655).

Desertification is more evident in the Sahel region of Africa, which is situated along the southern border of the Sahara desert, between 14oN and 18oN, and includes parts of several countries, namely, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Ethiopia  (Ackerman and Knox 486; Heshmati and Squires 187). It is mainly characterized by the spreading of desert-like conditions towards the relatively fertile southern land, resulting in reduced land productivity, stability, and biodiversity. The condition was first realized in the early 1900s, for instance, in 1907, the French colonial foresters and administrators, such as J. Vuillet, recognized signs indicating the southward advancement of the Sahara desert, which they believed was caused by environmental mismanagement by the indigenous populations (Kannan 6). Using the Koppen system, the Sahel is associated with the climate type BSh, which is a semiarid region with pronounced wet and dry seasons (486). It is an intermediate between the desert and humid climates and is often dominated by grasses and/or shrubby vegetation. According to Ackerman and Knox, the region’s precipitation varies from one year to another because it largely depends on the movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) which also varies considerably (486). The Sahel region has experienced repeated climatic fluctuations of cold, warm, dry, and moist periods throughout its history (Moore 39). During the interglacial period more than 280 thousand years ago, the Sahel region had a wetter climate that extended from 14o N to 23oN, and its plains were interrupted by numerous dry lake basins (Chapman 222-223). The Sahara desert has been expanding southwards for the last 20,000 years, resulting in the drying up of rivers, vegetation, and the formation of sand dunes (Moore 39). According to Moore, the Sahel experienced favorable climatic conditions between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago (39). Since then, the desert-like conditions have continued to advance southwards, thus the desertification of the Sahel.

The desertification of the Sahel has been caused mainly by climatic variation and unsustainable human activities. The climatic changes evident in the Sahel region include a decrease in rainfall and a considerable rise in surface temperatures, which have resulted in the drying up of vegetation. The desertification process is worse when the region experiences drought conditions caused by failed rains, especially when human factors come into play. Human activities, such as over-cultivation, overgrazing, and deforestation have considerably increased the desertification pace of the Sahel region. These activities are being undertaken by the inhabitants of the region who comprise two distinct populations, namely, the pastoralists/nomads, and the sedentary farmers. The overstocking of livestock by the pastoralist groups resulted in overgrazing, a situation where the animals consume all the vegetation, leaving behind bare soil. After exhausting the vegetation, these nomadic groups advance southwards with their animals, where they cause similar damage, resulting in the southward advancement of the desert-like conditions. On the other hand, the sedentary farmers have continuously planted crops on their land, without giving it adequate time to recover its depleted nutrients. This condition referred to as over-cultivation eventually affects land fertility, thereby compromising the growth of crops and vegetation cover, turning the ground to dust. The exhaustion of these soils further enhances deforestation when farmers clear forests to establish new agricultural lands. The clearing of forests eventually leaves the soil open, exposing it to erosion agents, such as wind and rain, which causes land degradation through the removal of fertile top soils. Forests have also been cleared to provide wood fuel to its growing population and provide timber for the construction industry. This in turn affects vegetation growth, resulting in the scarcity of livestock pastures. The scramble for scarce pastures by the various nomadic communities has often resulted in armed conflict, where people are killed and property destroyed. The encroachment of agricultural lands by nomadic groups as they search for pastures has resulted in interethnic conflict due to the clash of cultures and livelihood interests. Desertification of the Sahel has far-reaching implications, including worsening the drought situation, thereby increasing the scarcity of pasture for livestock and food for human consumption. The devastating consequences include the death of thousands, if not millions of animals, and poor agricultural production, thus destroying thousands of livelihoods. Severe drought conditions often result in the loss of human lives.

The desertification problem in the Sahel region is being addressed through afforestation and reforestation programs, which strive to stabilize the soils by reducing their vulnerability to wind and rain erosion. Manure is increasingly being embraced as fertilizer to restore the land’s fertility. Wood fuel as the leading cause of deforestation is being substituted with cleaner and sustainable energy sources, such as biogas, solar energy, and wind. The population is increasingly embracing wood-burning stoves that consume fewer loads of wood. Traditional lifestyles, such as overstocking as a sign of wealth in nomadic communities, are being discouraged through education and training programs. The Sahel population is coping well with efforts for combating desertification in regions, as they are striving to alleviate the suffering they have experienced in decades since the phenomenon worsened.

Works cited

Ackerman, Steven A, and John Knox. Meteorology: Understanding the Atmosphere. Sudbury, Mass: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012. Print.

Brauch, Hans G. Security and Environment in the Mediterranean: Conceptualising Security and Environmental Conflicts. Berlin: Springer, 2003. Print.

Chapman, Jenny. The Great Ice Age: Climate Change and Life. New York, NY: Routledge, 2005. Print.  

Heshmati, Ali G, and Victor Squires. Combating Desertification in Asia, Africa and the Middle East: Proven Practices. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013. Print.

Kannan, A. Global Environmental Governance and Desertification: A Study of Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co, 2012. Print.

Kharin, Nikolai G. Vegetation Degradation in Central Asia Under the Impact of Human Activities. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 2002. Print.

Moore, Keith M. Conflict, Social Capital, and Managing Natural Resources: A West African Case Study. Cambridge, MA: CABI Publ, 2005. Print.