Desertification is the process by which land becomes drier, or more “desert-like.” Desertification is a problem in many countries around the world, particularly because it makes it difficult to grow crops. One proposed solution to help reduce desertification is to plant trees and prevent deforestation.
This article will discuss how planting trees helps prevent desertification.
Background Information: Desertification: Definition, Causes, Impacts and Solutions
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How Trees Help Reduce Desertification
Experts estimate that there are around 3.04 trillion trees covering the planet’s land surface today, but we’re losing around 15 billion of these trees (0.5%) to deforestation and other causes every year. While this percentage may sound relatively small, deforestation has devastating impacts on ecological health. These losses contribute to desertification, as trees provide vital nutrients to promote soil health and provide shade to maintain soil moisture.
Deforestation is also a major contributor to climate change, as trees store large amounts of carbon that are released when trees are cut down. Climate change worsens desertification, as it causes higher temperatures and increased droughts that lead to drier land. In this way, deforestation indirectly worsens desertification.
Tree planting, also known as reforestation, is one of the most common solutions to different impacts of climate change, including desertification. But the question is, how does planting trees help desertification?
When a tree is planted, its roots underground provide nitrogen that serves as food to different microbes and fungi, allowing them to grow and diversify. This keeps the soil healthy and fertile. Trees also shade the ground, reducing rapid evaporation, while dead leaves that fall to the ground can act as organic fertilizer and cover for the topsoil, preserving soil moisture. Increased soil fertility and moisture help to prevent desertification.
Tree Planting Projects to Prevent Desertification
The Great Green Wall Initiative
In 2007, the African Union established the Great Green Wall initiative as part of an ambitious campaign to rehabilitate desertified land. The goal is to plant trees that stretch around 8,000 kilometers across Africa by 2030. Through this initiative, the African Union plans to eliminate the continent’s problem of barren land, which causes millions of Africans to suffer from food insecurity and poverty.
The Great Green Wall initiative, spearheaded by the African Union Commission and Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall, is supported by 22 African countries in collaboration with several international organizations. So far, the Great Green Wall initiative has garnered more than $8 billion USD in funding.
The Great Green Wall aims to restore 100 million hectares of desertified land by planting trees across the continent (the land equivalent of almost 250 million football fields). This project is intended to contribute to global carbon sequestration by up to 250 million tons of carbon annually, as well as provide up to 10 million jobs for Africans.
The map below shows the Great Green Wall’s coverage. The new Great Green Wall path, as displayed in green highlights, is in accordance with the national action plans of participating countries.
The Green Legacy Initiative
In 2019, people in Ethiopia planted almost 350,000 trees in a single day as part of the “Green Legacy Initiative”, a national campaign spearheaded by the Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed that aims to battle desertification, which has been affecting their country’s food security for decades. This initiative not only holds the world record for the most planted trees in one day, but it also gives hope to the country’s future generations.
African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative
In 2015, The African Union’s NEPAD Agency established the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, also known as AFR100, a collaborative project run by 32 African governments and other partnering organizations. AFR100 aims to rehabilitate 100 million hectares of desertified land by 2030 through reforestation. The initiative intends to end food insecurity and poverty in African countries.
The map below shows all 32 participating countries in the AFR100 initiative.
The Challenge of Planting Trees as a Solution to Desertification
The regeneration of trees on desertified land has the potential to rehabilitate the soil. But, before trees can truly make an impact, they must first grow. In desertified areas where temperatures can reach up to 100 degrees, growing trees can be quite challenging.
After learning the difficulty of growing trees, farmers in Niger began to focus on rehabilitating existing trees naturally, rather than planting new trees. Not only can these rehabilitated trees begin to thrive, but they also improve soil fertility, helping other trees grow back stronger as well. This approach has rehabilitated up to 12 million acres of desertified land in Niger, which enables the community to increase their crop yields annually.
Fertile land is precious, especially for countries and communities that rely heavily on agriculture. As the world continues to warm and our natural resources become scarcer, many are becoming more aware of the importance of tree planting and the benefits it provides to humankind.