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Combating Desertification in Africa Imperative for Security

By the Africa Center for Strategic Studies

June 17, 2016

Desertification Management in Tinfu, Morocco

Desertification Management in Tinfu, Morocco. Photo: Richard Allaway.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that by 2030 Africa will lose two-thirds of its arable land if desertification is not stopped. Desertification exacerbates the effects of climatic and political disasters in countries where livelihoods and incomes rely on agriculture. Sixty-five percent of Africa’s labor force works in the agricultural sector.

One such area is the Sahel. Studies on the desertification of the Sahel and its impact on the livelihoods of people living in the region have been well documented. The problem is widespread and getting worse. In 2011, UNEP had reported that the previously seasonal migration of many West African farmers, herders, and fishermen to urban areas was becoming permanent. It predicted that “the 500 km coastline between Accra and the Niger delta will be an urban megalopolis of 50 million people by 2020.”

Ethiopia is currently facing a severe drought that affects more than 18 million people. And while the government has consistently improved its food security and resilience to climatic impacts, it is still nowhere near capable of protecting the more than 80 percent of the population that makes a living in agriculture. Southern Africa, too, is in the middle of a 50-year-long drying trend as a result of substantial warming of the Indian Ocean. Poor harvests in 2015 put 27.4 million southern Africans at risk.

In short, Africa is a “hungry” continent—most of Africa was identified by the Global Hunger Index as having serious to alarming hunger. Experts predict global warming-induced food and water shortages will cause resource competition and state failure, providing fertile ground for conflict and, consequently, more migration.

More on: Environment and Security