Originally published on The Guardian

by

David R Montgomery is professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington, and author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations and Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life

his summer’s record-setting heatwaves and dramatic fires in southern Europe and the American west were stark reminders that the climate crisis has arrived. But as the world warms, there is also a quieter, lesser-known crisis unfolding underfoot. Desertification, long seen primarily as a threat to developing nations, is coming for Europe and North America too, as worsening droughts bake soils already degraded by conventional farming and grazing practices.

In Spain, for example, about a fifth of all land is now at high risk of desertification, as is much of the agricultural land across Italy, Greece, and western North America.

Desertification is a process that turns fertile farms into barren land through the interacting effects of human activity and climate extremes. Soil degradation is the diminishment of a soil’s capacity to support crops and livestock, either because of the erosion of fertile topsoil or the loss of water-holding, nutrient-rich soil organic matter and the life it supports. Semi-arid grasslands like the Sahel and western plains of North America are most vulnerable because loss of drought tolerant native vegetation can trigger rapid soil degradation and loss of agricultural productivity.

A changing climate, however, is not the only cause behind desertification. How we treat the land – how we farm and ranch – matters too. Healthy, life-filled soils better retain the moisture that falls on farmers’ fields.

 

Read the rest here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/02/desertification-barren-solution-famine-agriculture