A Look at Desertification
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 in vast areas of the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, Australia, Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other countries. An estimated one-third of the Earth’s surface is covered with grasslands that are facing the threat of desertification. One of the major causes of desertification is agriculture — or more technically, the production of food and fiber from the world’s land and waters by human beings for human beings.
Wild Herd Activity
In the past, large wild herds of herbivores such as caribou and buffalo migrated over the land to find food and avoid predators. These herds grazed, defecated, stomped and salivated as they moved across the grasslands, building soil and deepening plant roots. Once these herds had migrated onward they would not return to an area until it had recovered.
Unfortunately, over time, the wild herds disappeared and were replaced by small numbers of domestic, sedentary livestock. Without the timely stomping and excrement of large numbers of animals, the cycle of biological decay in these grasslands was interrupted and the once-rich soils turned into dry, exposed desert land.
In addition, agricultural models have undergone a dramatic shift over the past 50 years. Millions of farmers have left the land and those that remain are moving away from producing a multitude of different foods and fibers from carefully managed human-scale operations to producing a limited range of products – often a single species – from ever larger industrial-scale operations. This fossil fuel based agriculture model produces more tons of eroded soil than of food or fiber.