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Sahel Desertification – Informative Coursework

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  • Pages: 5
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  • Category: Ecosystem

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STATEMENT OF INTENT: This piece of coursework is a magazine article to be posted in National Geographic magazine. This article is intended for people of age 15 and above and who are inclined towards environmental conservation. It is hence the language used in this article is simple with occasional use of technical terms.


On the earth, land covers 15 billion acres. Out of the 15 billion acres, 6 billion is dry land and 17% of it is waterless and parched desert. The remaining dry land is being threatened by desertification. One fourth of the world’s population rely on dry land for their livelihood and have set up their homes in these arid places. People in the Sahel are a victim of desertification in these dry lands.

The misconception that the Sahel is widely vulnerable to the Sahara desert is widely accepted by all. People think that the Sahara blows strong winds into the Sahel and yearly washes away tons of hardworking farmer’s efforts. In reality the misconception is partly false. Although parts of Northern Africa and Mauritania are exposed to the Sahara, Niger and the pastoral zone to the north of Tanou has very good vegetation including bushes, trees etc. These parts of the Sahel are equipped with a green belt that shields them from the Sahara. This zone has a balanced ecosystem with abundance of perennials and varied fauna including gazelles, and a variety of reptiles. Vegetation in this area covers and protects the soil from various kinds of erosion. Hasty use of this environment could be disastrous to this area.

Even though the ecosystem of this part of the Sahel is balanced, it counts for only 20% of the Sahel – it cannot hide the true Sahel -. Dalli’s farmers remember when the land was rich with trees and animals. “Only 100 years ago,” says Malam Garba, aged 77 from Dalli, “villagers used to hunt many wild animals such as antelope, monkey, wolf, fox, squirrel, rabbit and even elephant.” (Quoted from case study) 40 years ago Malam Garba and his brother harvested a superfluous of food for both their families. Villagers did not have to worry, there village was surrounded by trees and shrubs, they had plenty of edible species. Deforestation was not needed; there was a surplus of wood. Hunting was a very big pastime and a traditional custom.

As the days have passed by, the top soil layer has been eroded by strong winds, this was due to hardly any vegetation. Locals claim that loose sand sometimes covers the roads. Rains that covered a 25-day period have now died away. Noumau says that farmers in the village only cultivate millet and winter crops and hunt a few deer. Malam Garba’s fields have increased by three times but the harvest is only 14% of what it was before. The perennials that sheltered the annual crops have been destroyed leaving the soil susceptible to erosion. And now the soil fertility has reduced drastically.

Decimation of vegetation is a widespread disease that has covered not only Dalli but villages that extend far beyond Dalli in the Sahel. In the Khuwei village (western Sudan), trees protected houses and other buildings but now they have been weathered away. Farmers claim that sand dunes reach the roofs of houses. In reality these dunes were not a repercussion of the raging wind storm of Sahara, but have formed due to erosion of soil in the agricultural zones of the Sahel due to deforestation. Unaware by the threat of desertification in their own agricultural zone, the farmers of Dalli and Khuwei suffer from food shortage and malnutrition. Desertification in these regions is due to slash and burn of forest and perennials for annual cultivation. Farmers themselves degrade their soil fertility by cultivating millet and other annual crops and then after harvesting, burn the land for fertility without realising that the strong wind takes away the blanket of fertile top soil. Officials in the area claim that yearly 250,000 hectares of prolific land is lost – an area equivalent of the size of Luxembourg- via desertification.

Many are aware of slash and burn in Amazon forest, Brazil; but little they know about the state of affairs in the Sahel and that the Sahelians are going through an equally bad time fighting desertification. Numerous case studies show that annual cultivation of crops promotes desertification. The rapid growth of cultivation in these crops has drastically reduced the number of perennials in these areas. Thick forests that once covered various regions of Sahel have been eradicated for annual crops, limiting the wild life.

Projects that have promoted yearly agriculture have cleared the green belt in the regions in order to grow annual crops. Also many farmers have grown millet to only realise that the land is unable to sustain the growth and leave the land bare for desertification. Various projects have supplanted the green belt with artificial growth of plants; this may lead to reduced growth of native plants. The artificially grown green belt may not be able to sustain the harsh weathers and die out leaving the land bare.

Since there is few vegetation lying on the desert floor, farmers cut perennials in order to feed their cattle which optimises the rate of desertification. People in the Sahel need to learn to blend into the ecosystem and be a part of it and not be the exploiter, they should learn how to live in a symbiotic relationship with the environment and make an efficient eco-system.

The most effective solution to the desertification in the Sahel is to grow perennials in areas and recultivate a strong and efficient green belt. Sahelians shouldn’t depend on green projects as their access to regions is very restricted and the projects are limited to certain regions. The best way to implement such a solution is for each farmer to do his part of the work in his land and this would help make a sustainable Sahel.

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