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A 12 Step Program to Stopping Drought and Desertification

Author: Green Prophet

Soaring temperatures and low precipitation could not occur at a worse time for many farmers in the United States, and around the world. Intensifying drought conditions are affecting corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, raising grain prices as well as concerns about future food prices.

The US Drought Monitor reports that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop are now affected by the most severe drought since 1988. In response the Worldwatch Institute launched a 12 step guide to combatting drought and desertification. These tips can be used by policy makers around the world and in dry climates in the Middle East. Read on for the list.

1. Agroforestry: Planting trees in and around farms reduces soil erosion by providing a natural barrier against strong winds and rainfall. Tree roots also stabilize and nourish soils. The 1990 Farm Bill established the USDA National Agroforestry Center with the expressed aim of encouraging farmers to grow trees as windbreaks or as part of combined forage and livestock production, among other uses. See Green Prophet’s feature on the Nabateans to see how this idea can be applied in the Middle East.

2. Soil management: Alternating crop species allows soil periods of rest, restores nutrients, and also controls pests. Soil amendments, such as biochar, help soils retain moisture near the surface by providing a direct source of water and nutrients to plant roots, even in times of drought.

Keep Reading on Green Prophet

From Dust Bowl to Bread Basket: Digging the Dirt on Soil Erosion

Author: Caspar van Vark

Can we achieve a 70% increase in food production by 2050? It’s often quoted as an objective, but some areas of Africa have seen agricultural productivity decline by half due to erosion and desertification. If productivity is ever to go up, we may need to start by looking down: at the soil.

This is the International Year of Soils, so policy attention is likely to shift to this resource. It’s not a moment too soon, according to Bashir Jama, director of African agriculture body Agra’s Soil Health Program (SHP).

“Around 65-70% of arable land in Africa is degraded in one form or another,” he says. “Farmers are on average getting a tonne of maize from a hectare of land, where a similar size plot in Asia gets three tonnes per hectare. Soils have been cultivated for many years with little or no inputs, and this is compounded by problems of erosion. So the challenge is how to replenish soil and mitigate degradation.”

A recent report on conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soils recommends a holistic approach to soil management called Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). This includes adding organic matter such as crop residues and manure into the soil, applying small (and therefore affordable) amounts of mineral fertilisers and planting legume crops such as cowpea that naturally deposit nitrogen into the soil.

SHP has taught farmers about these methods via 130,000 demonstrations in 13 countries over the past five years. “The demos are on farmers’ land, school fields, churchyards or roadsides,” says Jama. “One plot might have little or no inputs, with a second plot showing the microdosing of fertiliser – very small amounts placed in the planting hole, along with manure – and another plot might have legumes where, in the next season, they can put sorghum where previously they had legumes.”

Keep Reading on The Guardian

Climate and Desertification

Carbon sinks mean lower atmospheric CO2, more fertile land

For decades now mankind has been at the fore in creating a vicious cycle with critical environmental consequences as a result. By degrading the atmosphere with greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation has risen. This in turn is worsening the degradation of the atmosphere. Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have been increasing for some two centuries, mostly a result of human activities, spearheaded primarily by the rapid rise of industrialization. The degradation of land, however, through unviable agricultural practices also has resulted in emissions of greenhouse gases. As governments, NGOs and corporations around the globe set limits on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by automobiles, factories and power plants into the atmosphere, a way to “recycle” CO2 into the ground, carbon sequestration, has received less attention and international support. Little recognized is the fact that the world’s soils hold more organic carbon than that held by the atmosphere as CO2 and vegetation combined (see Fig. 1). Carbon sequestration is the process by which CO2 sinks (both natural and artificial) remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, primarily as plant organic matter in soils. Soil carbon sequestration is an important and immediate sink for removing atmospheric carbon dioxide and mitigating global warming and climate change. Organically managed soils can convert carbon dioxide from a greenhouse gas into a food-producing asset. Combined with sequestration in non-agricultural soil, the potential for land to hold carbon and act as a sink for greenhouse gases is unparalleled. This should help put a new value on land, the value of its capability to sequester and to literally “breathe in” the excess blanket of CO2 and help cool the planet. And when mixed with water and sun, CO2 enriches the soil, giving life to trees and vegetation, which then can generate more carbon sinks.

Download the Fact Sheet from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

Holistic Management: Portfolio of Scientific Findings

Holistic Management Grounded in Evidence

For many years, large areas of grasslands around the world have been turning into barren deserts. This process, called desertification, is happening at an alarming rate and plays a critical role in many of the world’s most pressing problems, including climate change, drought, famine, poverty and social violence. One major cause of desertification is agriculture—or the production of food and fiber from the world’s land by human beings for human beings. In the past, large wild herds of grass-eating herbivores migrated and were pushed along by predators over the grasslands. These herds grazed, defecated, stomped and salivated as they moved around, building soil and deepening plant roots. Over time, the wild herds were largely replaced by small numbers of domestic, sedentary livestock and populations of predators were mostly destroyed. Without the constant activity of large numbers of cattle, the cycle of biological decay on the grasslands was interrupted and the once-rich soils turned into dry, exposed desert land.

Forty years ago, Allan Savory developed Holistic Management, an approach that helps land managers, farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, policymakers and others understand the relationship between large herds of wild herbivores and the grasslands and develop strategies for managing herds of domestic livestock to mimic those wild herds to heal the grasslands. Holistic Management is successful because it is a cost-effective, highly scalable, and nature-based solution. It is sustainable because it increases land productivity, livestock stocking rates, and profits.

Today, there are successful Holistic Management practitioners spread across the globe, from Canada to Patagonia and from Zimbabwe to Australia to Montana. More than 10,000 people have been trained in Holistic Management and its associated land and grazing planning procedures and over 40 million acres are managed holistically worldwide.

Evidence Supporting Holistic Management

The Savory Institute empowers people to properly manage livestock by teaching them how to use Holistic Management, connecting them in ways that have benefits for everyone, and removing barriers along the path to success. Many of our key audiences such as policymakers, landowners and investors want evidence that shows Holistic Management works to achieve large-scale environmental, economic, and social benefits.

To meet this need, the Savory Institute is working to measure impact by monitoring the health of ecosystem processes, sequestration of atmospheric carbon into soil carbon, well-being of our communities, as well as our financial vitality. The following portfolio that proves the principles behind Holistic Management includes peer-reviewed journal articles, theses and dissertations, and reports.

View the Savory Institute Evidence Portfolio Online

Download the Savory Institute Portfolio of Scientific Findings (PDF)

Special Report: Cows Save the World

Author: Allan Savory

I write to offer a constructive way forward in the tragic cultural genocide unfolding in America’s
wonderful western ranching culture that is embedded in the nation’s culture.
I do so knowing the risks of trying to help a lion by operating on a back molar in its jaw.

The recent RANGE article featuring Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy (whose cattle were taken from his southern Nevada range by the BLM backed up by SWAT teams) typifies the western ranching cultural genocide taking place. It is a tragedy based on deeply held myths and assumptions rather than on any known science.

No publication has done more than RANGE, valiantly fighting for fairness and the rights of ranchers in the protracted rancher-federal agency war over western public lands. When decent human beings—including ranchers, environmentalists and government land managers who are doing the best they can—all want healthy land with abundant wildlife, flowing rivers, stable rural families and communities in a healthy thriving nation, solutions and collaboration are needed instead of conflict.

How easy it is to draw our swords and yet how difficult it is to re-sheath them. So let me start with a point that I believe all parties can agree upon: management including policy should be based on science rather than on emotion, belief and assumption. With that in mind, let’s look at the current situation. Because the ultimate form of land degradation is man-made desert, I will use the official jargon and call the process rangeland desertification.

Desertification typically does not occur where precipitation and humidity are fairly well spread throughout the year, as in many coastal areas like Florida and Washington. However, most western rangelands experience long dry periods whether rainfall is high or low and here desertification occurs on both private and public lands. The symptoms of desertification are: increasingly frequent and severe droughts and floods, poverty, social breakdown, mass emigration to cities or across borders, decreasing wildlife, pastoral culture genocide, and violence and conflict. Most of these are being experienced in America today despite the good intentions of both ranchers and policy-makers.

Download the Report from Range Magazine

Las Pilas Ranch: A Tale of Restoration

Author: Seth Itzkan

Las Pilas Ranch: Restored

The Las Pilas Ranch in Coahuila, Mexico, is a model of ecological restoration using Holistic Planned Grazing. Over a twenty five year period from 1978 to 2003, the barren landscape was completely revived. The images below show the transformation. Although the first picture is from 1963, the restoration with Holistic Management didn’t actually start until 1978. During the restoration period, the livestock population was doubled and grazing was done according to a plan that paid close attention to grass health.

1963. Photo by Guillermo Osuna Las Pilas Restored, 20032003. Photo by Guillermo Osuna

Which picture has more water?

Both images above are taken from the same location. Guillermo Osuna, the proprietor of the land, explains that when he began to manage the land, it was common to have dirt dams to capture the runoff – as there was no grass cover. A one-inch rain could fill the trough (pictured above, from 1963). After the land was restored, they could have a six-inch rain, and still no standing water (it’s all absorbed). There is no need for the dirt dams and artificial troughs now. Those have grown over with vegetation and the springs are running year-round. Livestock is now watered via gravity fed pools from streams that run throughout the dry season.  Mr. Osuna says there is twice as much surface water now as there once was, and he has also doubled the herd density.

Keep Reading on Planet Tech Associates

Reversing Desertification Shows Living Soil is Key Factor in Environmental Health

Author: Pamela

This beautiful TED Talk by Allan Savory, biologist and ecologist, highlights the importance of rebuilding native soil, particularly in areas where desertification already has begun. The irony of the story is that holistic land management and animal husbandry provide the strategic cornerstone to rejuvenating the grasslands of the world.

The lesson for those in G3 is: Protect and nurture your O.W.L. (Oxygen, Water, and Life), because Living Soil is the KEY FACTOR in environmental health in general and specifically for the health of your landscape and the health of your waterways.

Recently our Managing Member, Pamela Berstler, spoke in a meeting of Water Conservation Managers noting the paramount importance of educating about soil health in water conservation and pollution prevention.  Pamela argued that building a healthy, biologically active Soil Sponge was the MOST IMPORTANT ACTIVITY in healthy landscape building and that this truth applied to all manner of land use from agriculture to urban/suburban residential and commercial, parklands, and even “natural” watershed areas that we would consider wildlands. Pamela also reasoned that all soil is degraded (especially biologically speaking) and that intervention, remediation, and ACTION was required to rebuild our soils, particularly as it applies to garden-building, even when using plants that are considered native or have become perfectly adapted to the climate and place over thousands of years.

Map of Global Soil Degradation

There was push-back from the audience.  One attendee proposed that plant selection and placement was the most important factor for education and that selecting and planting native plants in native soil was THE simple and compelling solution for restoring watersheds and producing healthy, low resource gardens (including water conserving, of course). The reasoning was that native plants don’t need soils with organic matter in them, and so long as the microclimate conditions supported the plant selection, no soil amendment was necessary.

Keep Reading on Green Gardens Group