The United Nations has warned that desertification and drought were a major threat to food security globally.
In a statement to mark the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought the UN described desertification as the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations.
The UN explained that the main motivation for setting this day was to help in changing public attitudes to the leading driver of desertification and land degradation: humanity’s relentless production and consumption.
Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland ecosystems, which cover over one-third of the world's land area, are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use, explained the UN.
The statement added that poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices are all undermining the productivity of the land.
While marking this year’s world desertification day, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) noted that “as populations become larger, wealthier and more urban, there is far greater demand for land to provide food, animal feed and fibre for clothing.”
“To have enough productive land to meet the demands of ten billion people by 2050, lifestyles need to change. Desertification and Drought Day, running under the slogan “Food. Feed. Fibre,” seeks to educate individuals on how to reduce their personal impact.”
Food, feed and fibre must also compete with expanding cities and the fuel industry. The end result is that land is being converted and degraded at unstainable rates, damaging production, ecosystems and biodiversity.
According to Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, under the theme ‘Food, feed and fibre’ countries must also compete with expanding cities and the fuel industry. “The end result is that land is being converted and degraded at unstainable rates, damaging production, ecosystems and biodiversity. If we keep producing and consuming, as usual, we will eat into the planet’s capacity to sustain life until there is nothing left but scraps. We all need to make better choices about what we eat and what we wear to help protect and restore the land.”
Meanwhile, the health and productivity of existing arable land is declining, worsened by climate change.
According to Edward Mungai, the CEO Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC), cultivating drought tolerant but nutritious crops such as millet and cassava is one way of supporting good nutrition and sustainable livelihoods.
“Such endeavors don’t only address food security and the challenge of climate change, they also provide jobs and contribute to the growth of our economy in line with our development strategies,” explains Mungai.
Locally the government plans to hold a national event in Moyale, Marsabit County to sensitize Kenyans on the need to mitigate desertification problems.
“As a country, we must address desertification and land degradation if we want to achieve food security. It’s clear that our soil is asking for help from us to enable it to regain its nutrients strength which is a catalyst in agricultural activities. We must change our public attitude towards conservation and realize that everyone has a role to play to ensure that desertification problem is solved,” says Dr John Chumo, Committee Secretary, National Environmental Complaints Committee (NECC).
NECC has been at the forefront in championing for the protection of the environment across the country.
Dr Chumo notes that during the COVID-19 situation there is need for action-based solutions in strengthening the resilience of our food and water systems.
“Urbanization has distanced us from the land yet food is essential to our daily life, and most of them are originated from the ground. However, in this digital age, everything can easily be purchased online, this is the reason why we humans mostly disregard the benefits given by our natural environment. It is time we tackle desertification and drought, we must make our citizens understand that there is a link between what they buy and the damage done to the earth.”
The sentiments echo Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification that “if we keep producing and consuming, as usual, we will eat into the planet’s capacity to sustain life until there is nothing left but scraps. We all need to make better choices about what we eat and what we wear to help protect and restore the land.”