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Restoring Depleted Soils with Cattle

Michael Thiele’s mission today is to acquaint more farmers and ranchers with a holistic view of agriculture.

Thiele grew up on a farm west of Dauphin, Man., just north of Riding Mountain National Park. His father had a small grain farm and a few cows.

“We were busy trying to farm and make a living and like all the other farmers around us, we were creating a monoculture of grain crops — mostly wheat, canola, oats and barley,” says Thiele.

“When I went to university, I thought soil was simply dirt,” he says. People didn’t realize how alive soil is, teeming with life and activity, and how much we depend on a healthy soil system. Now Thiele is trying to help producers understand that the way we farmed created unhealthy soil.

In his part of Manitoba there were rich, fertile soils with 10 to 14 per cent organic matter. “But those soils are now between two and four per cent. 

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Ethiopia’s farmers fight devastating drought with land restoration

Author: Duncan Gromko

Ethiopia is in the midst of the worst drought in 50 years, affecting over half of the country’s 750 districts. Earlier this month, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), called Ethiopia’s condition “a deteriorated humanitarian situation”.

Environmental degradation has played a big role. Ethiopia has long been a victim of land degradation, driven by increased human use of land and unsustainable agricultural practices. Grazing of animals and collection of firewood haven’t helped – with less cover and protection against erosion, soil is more easily washed away.

Now, Ethiopia is drawing on its business community and public sector to do something about it. Earlier this year, the country agreed to join the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), a country-led effort to bring 100m hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030. The initiative was launched formally at COP21 in Paris.

AFR100 will see governments working together with regional institutions, public and private sector partners and international development programs to restore productivity to deforested and degraded landscapes, mostly through restoring forests and planting trees on agricultural land. “AFR100 seeks to realize the benefits that trees can provide in African landscapes, thereby contributing to improved soil fertility and food security, improved availability and quality of water resources, reduced desertification, increased biodiversity, the creation of green jobs, economic growth, and increased capacity for climate change resilience, adaptation and mitigation,” the group’s mission states.

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Over-grazing and desertification in the Syrian steppe are the root causes of war

Author: Gianluca Serra

Civil war in Syria is the result of the desertification of the ecologically fragile Syrian steppe, writes Gianluca Serra – a process that began in 1958 when the former Bedouin commons were opened up to unrestricted grazing. That led to a wider ecological, hydrological and agricultural collapse, and then to a ‘rural intifada’ of farmers and nomads no longer able to support themselves.

Back in 2009, I dared to forecast that if the rampant desertification process gripping the Syrian steppe was not halted soon, it could eventually become a trigger for social turmoil and even for a civil war.

I was being interviewed by the journalist and scholar Francesca de Chatel- and was feeling deeply disillusioned about Syrian government’s failure to heed my advice that the steppe, which covers over half of the country’s land mass, was in desperate need of recuperation.

I had just spent a decade (four years of which serving a UN-FAO project aimed at rehabilitating the steppe) trying to advocate that livestock over-grazing of the steppe rangelands was the key cause of its ecological degradation.

However, for the Syrian government’s staff, it was far too easy to identify and blame prolonged droughts (a natural feature of this kind of semi-arid environment) or climate change (which was already becoming a popular buzzword in those years). These external causes served well as a way to escape from any responsibility – and to justify their inaction.

In an article on The Ecologist, Alex Kirby writes that the severe 2006-2010 drought in Syria may have contributed to the civil war. Indeed it may – but this is to disregard the immediate cause – the disastrous over-exploitation of the fragile steppe ecosystem.

Before my time in Syria, as early as the 1970s, international aid organizations such as the UN-FAO had also flagged the dire need to not apply profit-maximization principles and to therefore not over-exploit the fragile ecosystem of the Syrian steppe.

KEEP READING IN THE ECOLOGIST