What Is Desertification?
Desertification is the process by which land turns into a desert. In other words, desertification is when land degrades over time and becomes more arid, causing the land to be less fertile and productive.
Desertification threatens human subsistence, as it makes natural resources including food and water much more difficult to obtain. This article will review where desertification is happening in Namibia, why it’s happening, how it’s impacting the country and potential solutions to desertification in Namibia.
Learn more: What Is Desertification?
Table of Contents
Fast Facts about Desertification in Namibia
- 92% of land coverage in Namibia is identified as semi-arid, arid, or hyper-arid (Chioreso et al 2015).
- 60% of Namibians rely on wood for fuel (Ashley et al 1997). This, along with land clearing for farming, are the primary causes of deforestation in the country, which contributes greatly to desertification (de Blécourt et al 2018).
- 90% of the land coverage in Southern Namibia is considered to be overgrazed, accelerating desertification in the region (Quan et al 1994).
Where Is Desertification Happening in Namibia?
Desertification occurs in drylands, which are areas that get less rain than is evaporated or consumed by plants through part of a year or the entire year. Drylands have very limited water and soil moisture.
Namibia is the driest country in Africa’s south Sahel region. As a result, the country is more likely to experience desertification. Furthermore, livestock overgrazing, deforestation, and other poverty-related factors are increasing desertification, affecting Namibia and its growing population (Seely et al 1994).
The map below shows the areas in Namibia that are prone to land degradation and desertification. As can be seen on the map, the majority of the country’s land area is moderately vulnerable to land degradation and desertification (shown in yellow).
Read more about desertification in Africa: Desertification in Africa
Why Is Desertification Happening in Namibia?
Desertification is caused by multiple factors, including natural causes and human activities. In Namibia, desertification is primarily driven by climate change, overuse of resources, and population growth.
As climate change continues and temperatures rise, land in Namibia becomes more arid and more vulnerable to desertification. The amount of precipitation that is occurring in deserts today is generally much lower than the amount of rain a half-century ago (UNFCCC 2020).
Extreme weather events like drought are a major driver of desertification and are becoming more intense and more frequent as a result of climate change (UNFCCC 2020). Drought is one of the greatest challenges in Namibia, as it is considered to be the driest country in the Sahel region. The climate in Namibia is expected to become warmer and drier in the future, which would increase the risk of drought, resulting in more land degradation and desertification. Because of this, many people in the country’s agricultural livelihoods may be affected, and the country’s annual GDP may decrease by up to 3.5% (Reid et al 2007).
Ineffective Land Management & Resource Use
There are many agricultural practices that degrade land and contribute to desertification. Because so much of Namibia’s population depends on agriculture to make a living and to provide enough food for their families, oftentimes sustainability is not the first priority when it comes to producing food.
Namibia has approximately 6.9 million grazing animals, including cattle, sheep, and goats (WSPA International 2013). This huge amount of livestock results in overgrazing, which accelerates land degradation and desertification in Namibia (Bai et al 2007).
Additionally, overuse of natural resources such as using wood for fuel destroys natural vegetation cover, allowing for wind to pick up dirt and sand and create wind-driven (Aeolian) desertification (Tao et al. 2014). This activity is common in Namibia, as 60% of the Namibian population relies on wood for fuel (Ashley et al 1997).
Population Growth and Urbanization
As the population increases in an area, so does the pressure on land usage. People will need more farmland to support food supply, and more land area to develop shelter in order to sustain a growing population. Land conversion for agricultural purposes is the main cause of deforestation in Namibia (de Blécourt et al 2018). As deforestation increases in the country, desertification tends to intensify.
According to a 2004 study, population pressure is a primary cause of the annual land degradation in some regions in Namibia (Klintenberg et al 2004).
The graph below shows that Namibia’s urban population expanded by more than 10% in ten years. Continued population growth will likely significantly contribute to the country’s rising desertification.
Impacts of Desertification
Desertification is already having severe impacts and will continue to cause harm both to human economies and subsistence styles, and the environment.
Reduced Food Security
Land degradation caused by overgrazing in Namibia promotes long-term decreases in agricultural production (Bai et al 2007). This will impact the country’s food security as well as the livelihood of people that depends on farming for a living.
Desertification may lead to an increased risk of water and food-borne diseases. This is partially due to a lack of clean water (Mirzabaev et al. 2019).
Increased dust in the air as a result of desertification can result in respiratory problems or heart disease (Zhu et al. 2022). In 2005, dust storms were linked with the global cardiopulmonary mortality of around 402,000 people. This is a prevalent issue in Namibia, as desertification has resulted in several dust storms recorded in the country, with the most recent occurring in 2019 and 2020.
Restricted Economic Development
Much of Namibia’s population depends on agriculture for a living; approximately 70% of Namibia’s population works in agriculture, producing primarily rain-fed crops and livestock. As desertification increases, it becomes more difficult for farmers and ranchers to make a living growing food or supporting livestock.
Land degradation in Namibia costs around $1.6 billion USD each year, which is around 19% of the country’s entire annual GDP (Muñoz et al 2018)
Solutions to Desertification in Namibia
Many solutions have been developed and some have been implemented to try and address desertification in Namibia. This article discusses a few solutions, but a wide variety of community-based approaches are needed to address the problem of desertification.
Implementation of Regenerative Agricultural Practices
Regenerative agriculture refers to farming practices that regenerate the land rather than deplete it of essential resources. Regenerative practices that restore soil health include agroforestry (planting trees among crops), low or no-till farming, planting cover crops, and using natural, chemical-free fertilizers and pesticides.
In 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water, and Forestry worked together with Namibian Farmers Unions and several experts worked to fund the National Rangeland Management Policy and Strategy. This promotes a regenerative agricultural framework and guidelines for farmers and ranchers in the country.
This collaborative initiative between the Namibian government and community aims to rehabilitate the degrading land in Namibia by 2030 and to provide access to sufficient land and natural resources for all.
Government Involvement & Solutions
In 2014, the Ministry of Agriculture of Namibia collaborated with UNDP and the Global Environment Facility to establish the NAFOLA project, a sustainable forest management effort that aims to protect approximately 2.8 million hectares of forest from land degradation and desertification. In 2018, The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture, Water, and Forestry (MAWF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to co-host an event commemorating the “World Day to Combat Desertification”, and to celebrate the drive of Sustainable Land Management Steering Committee in fighting desertification in Namibia. MAWF also donated 200 tree seedlings during the event to be planted in desertified areas to help in restoring soil health.
Learn more about how desertification is impacting people around the world: