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Desertification -- What Are The Options?

For a variety of reasons, some related to climate disruption, some not, the desert areas of the Earth's surface are growing. As many of the planet's poor live in the dry regions, the loss of economic and agricultural productivity is a particularly serious issue for reasons of both environmental sustainability and amelioration of poverty. Nature reports that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment addressed some of these issues, and has now released a more detailed report on their findings: Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Desertification Synthesis (PDF).

Two elements of the report stand out in particular for me. The first is the use of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment scenarios as a tool for examining the future course of desertification; too often, the scenaric aspects of a study end up standing alone, withering from lack of attention and integration into the ongoing findings. The second is the exploration of options for dealing with desertification as a development issue; the MEA recognizes that, no matter how aggressive our mitigation and amelioration efforts, human activity has profoundly changed the planet's environment. We cannot get back to a pre-industrial condition. Even as we adopt practices to limit the damage done, we have to be looking at ways to adapt to the changes that have happened, and will continue to happen.

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Rodale has been working on this for decades and got me thinking about desertification in their Regeneration Project of long ago. But more important is the work of Allan Savory (HolisticManagement.org) who offers us fascinating images of herds, even flerds, working around the deserts keeping the soils alive, even reclaiming the soil, inch by inch, bite by bite, flop by flop bringing in the dung beetles to ground the Mineral Cycle. Let us get those poor beasts out of the feedlots and moving again in form to ward off predators, us being conscious of the plants and the time it takes for recovery from a mow, protecting the ground, soil foodweb in tact and pushing, the way it does toward complexity. Jump starting this with aerobic compost and aerobic compost tea would also intensify the process.


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