Deforestation and Desertification

Composting in Malawi

Originally uploaded by Find Your Feet

Before joining Find Your Feet I spent two years working in Mauritania. The effects of desertification, the process by which productive land becomes unproductive desert, were clear. Previously nomadic peoples now inhabit makeshift shacks on the outskirts of Nouakchott, a city that does not have the infrastructure to support such a rapid growth in population. Meanwhile competition over the relatively fertile land on the banks of the river Senegal is fierce. The 1989 ‘events’ in which black Africans were expelled across the border into Senegal, are often attributed to this struggle over access to land.

One of the major causes of this desertification is deforestation. Between 1990 and 2005 Mauritania lost 148,000 hectares of forest to livestock grazing and iron ore mining, resulting in soil erosion. This problem is exacerbated by climate change. As severe weather events increase in frequency and severity due to global warming, degradation of dry lands tends to increase.

Whilst desertification is not a major issue yet in Malawi it is important to note that almost 29% of the population live in the rift valley drylands. In an award winning article ‘Encroachers Attack Thyolo,’ written for Malawi’s The Nation
Raphael Mweninguwe writes that the soil in these drylands is losing its fertility due to climate change, unsustainable land-use and deforestation. As a result there is a reduction in food productivity and subsequent poverty. This in turn leads to further land degradation as desperate people overgraze the land and cut down remaining trees for fuel.

Which is why I was encouraged to come across an article by a Malawian farmer on Professor Willem Van Cotthem’s blog ‘Desertification’ about the success of setting up a community nursery for tree seedlings using a container gardening method.

The majority of our projects in Malawi also include an important reforestation element. Last year 125,100 indigenous, exotic and fruit seedlings raised at tree nurseries were out-planted into forest reserves. In addition to this 802 community members received training in nursery establishment and management, which equipped them with skills on nursery site identification, seed sowing techniques and nursery management.

This is one part of an approach that, as a recent study by the United Nations Environment Programme ‘Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa’ puts it, ‘is resistant to stress.’ By supporting farmers to employ sustainable farming techniques such as composting, using vetiver grasses, contour ridge marking and crop diversification farmers are improving the quality of their soils, making sure that productive land doesn’t become unproductive desert. Read more.


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