Desertification is not a word often used, even by those who work in the study of climate change. However, if one were to observe human history in the broadest of timeframes, it could be said that humans are the species responsible for deserts.
It seems as if the future of the planet may be determined in part by the rise of deserts, in places that were once filled with water and frequent rainfall.
Simply put, desertification is the process of creating and expanding the deserts of the world, encroaching into places that once supported life. This poses the question of what qualifies as a desert, as the term is rather broad. Deserts are defined most commonly as both political and environmental in nature: an area with increasing frequency and severity of droughts, poverty, social breakdown, mass emigration, violence, war and climate change.
For decades if not centuries, there was dogma associated with how and why desertification takes place. The simple answer was grazing. There was a belief that once people inhabit an area and begin to use it for grazing, it will inevitably turn into a desert.
For some time now, there has been a movement to do away with this dogmatic mindset–there is evidence that some areas become deserts even when grazing is not a factor. These include US national parks, and uninhabited regions of Africa.
Rotation grazing is an ancient practice used to deal with desertification. The process involves cattle being moved from one area to another, spending the same amount of time in each area. It is a way to preserve biodiversity, and has been successful in the past.
One way this approach can be used in the modern world is through holistic planned grazing: a brain child of ecologists, environmental scientists and sociologists. This kind of collaborative approach is needed, due to the significance of grazing across multiple communities.
Oftentimes, farmers are hesitant to accept any role the government could potentially play in their work. This is partly due to political reasons, and partly because working the land leaves you feeling responsible for your own profit and livelihood overall.
However, this approach to grazing isn’t something that can be easily done without government involvement. Management alone will require infrastructure made up of scientists and experts in the field, and only government institutions are large enough to set them up. The main program is set up by the federal Agricultural Department.
There are two main levels at which this process needs to take place: micro, and macro. Micro level involves individual farmers and their environmentally-centered mindsets. Macro level consists of the combined work of governments, corporations and NGO. They must create a policy framework that can allow farmers to change their ways successfully, over time.
Desertification is commonly defined as the effect humans have on the environment, creating deserts in their wake. Grazing is often considered to be a large part of this process. The ancient practice of crop rotation is one way to combat this.