Looking to the Sahel for Lessons in Pushing Back Deserts To Feed Billions

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct 17, 2011 (IPS)

Nearly all our food comes from the Earth’s limited food- producing lands, but those lands continue to be degraded, guaranteeing far higher food prices and less food in the future, experts warn.

But degradation and desertification can be halted and reversed, as evidenced by once barren parts of Africa’s dry Sahel Region that are now green and thriving thanks to local efforts.

“Without reversing ongoing land degradation, studies show food prices will be 30 percent [higher] and 12 percent less food available” by 2035, said Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which is meeting here in Changwon, South Korea.
We can’t afford to deplete our food-producing lands when there will be nine billion people by 2050,” Gnacadja said.

Food security is a major theme at this 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) under the UNCCD, the international governmental convention charged with finding ways to end desertification and land degradation.

Although the world can produce enough food for everyone, roughly one in seven people will go hungry. Why? They simply cannot afford to buy enough food. World food prices remain 15 percent higher than a year ago, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Food commodity speculation and climatic change that is bringing increased heat and changes in precipitation patterns, along with increasing demand for biofuels, have been blamed for rising food prices in recent years.

Largely unseen in the growing concern about feeding the world is the decline in the fertility of soils due to erosion and overuse. Every year, this results in the effective loss of some 12 million hectares of land. Continue reading