Desertification In Ghana

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Desertification In Ghana
What exactly is desertification? Unfortunately, there are many responses and
many contradicting definitions. Some say that it is permanent, others say it is
a reversible process. There are even debates on whether the definition should
include human involvement or not. It seems that all that can be agreed on is
that it is "the most serious environmental problem facing Africa
today" (Nsiah-Gyabaah, Kwasi. Environmental Degradation and Desertification
in Ghana pg 27). At the United Nations Conference on Environment and

Developments (Earth Summit, 1992) desertification was defined as "land
degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry semi-humid areas, resulting from various
factors, including climate variations and human activities"
("Desertification," Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential
(S J0180). When pondering the terms'desertification' or 'desertified land' our culture forms mental images of large
dunes with sand slowing moving over them like in an ocean. Perhaps a camel or
two, baking in the sun. This romanticized idea is far from what scientists call
desertification. In real life desertification looks like an area of hard and
cracked earth with sand blowing above. In this scene you are more likely to see
a nomad with emaciated cattle wandering the deserted plane in search of
something to eat. Not too romantic, huh? Desertification is more the
"destruction of the biological potential of the land or the creation of
desert-like conditions in previously productive areas" (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 28).

There are many reasons for desertification. The two most substantial are the
recent droughts in Africa and humans trying to sustain themselves on marginal
lands (Glantz, Michael H. Drought Follows the Plow pg 35). More specifically,
the reasons for desertification and land degradation include "climate
changes, overgrazing, over-cropping, deforestation, and over-exploited
water" (Mainguet, Monique Desertification pg 66). Although it is hard to
say exactly how much area has already been turned to desert, there is a basic
consensus among most scholars that estimates somewhere around 60 percent of the
world and between 65 and 73 percent in Africa alone (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 3)
(Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.

Some places are worse than others are, for instance Ghana's forests have been
degraded into savanna, and the savanna areas are fast turning to deserts. The
invasion of desert through over-cultivation, forest clearing, and overgrazing
has been worsened by extreme changes in climate of West Africa since the recent
severe persistent drought (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 10). Most people do not know this, but
desertification has been around since the Mediaeval period, perhaps even farther
back in history (Middleton, Thomas Desertification: Exploding the Myth pg 2). It
did not receive very much public interest, however, until a series of droughts
plagued the West African Sahel between the years 1968 and 1974. This drought
caused a widespread famine, killing approximately 100,000 to 200,000 people and
about 12 million cattle (Glantz, 35). What are people doing to cope with losing
their land, homes and jobs? It all depends on how much of the farmland they can
salvage. If they are still able to grow some crops on it then they can switch to
substitute foods (tree fruits) and share what they can grow between houses. If
there is little or nothing that can be saved, the situation changes into that of
the Dust Bowl. These people sell whatever livestock and possessions they have
left and perhaps migrate to other areas to farm or try to sell themselves as
labor (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 162). There are general ways to fix desertification as
well. These involve either modifying each individual's farming methods or
massive restoration efforts that would have to be coordinated and funded by the
government. One way that the government could help rectify the situation is
fairly simple and cost efficient. The theory is based on the idea that people
would be more concerned with the negative effects on the land if they owned the
land themselves and got something from it. Because of local interest in certain
areas, some countries are considering land title registration (Nsiah-Gyabaah,

171). There are also two major undertakings that a government can try in order
to not only prevent and slow, but to actually restore pastoral areas and
eventually farming areas that are currently desert. They are natural and
artificial recovery. "Natural recovery may be obtained by exclusion of
human influence: neither people nor cattle can penetrate the fenced area" (Mainguet,

209). Some examples of where natural recovery has worked are Southern Tunisia
and Iran. "Natural recovery can work in poor soil, coarse sandy soils,
saline soils, even with rainfall lower than 80 mm" (Mainguet, 204). Natural
recovery does have drawbacks though. First of

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