Stopping Desertification

33% of the Earth's land is desert, 38% of the remaining land is in danger of joining it. When this happens: Where will we grow our food?

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33% of the world is categorised as desert. (
of this around 14% of the world -so half of the "deserts" are what you'd draw if asked to create a picture of a desert.

38% for the world is in danger of becoming desert (

When more than half the world is desert (and it's an ever increasing problem) then its fairly safe to say that without some pretty special technology food will be scarce.

Desertification of the world needs to stop, and deserts need to be reclaimed as viable farming land.

The picture used for this project shows the areas at risk of becoming deserts as defined by the USDA


Desertification is a phenomenon that ranks among the greatest environmental challenges of our time. Yet most people haven't heard of it or don't understand it.

Although desertification can include the encroachment of sand dunes on land, it doesn't refer to the advance of deserts. Rather, it is the persistent degradation of dry land ecosystems by human activities — including unsustainable farming, mining, overgrazing and clear-cutting of land — and by climate change.
What Causes Desertification

Desertification occurs when:

  • the tree and plant cover that binds the soil is removed.
  • It occurs when trees and bushes are stripped away for fuelwood and timber, or to clear land for cultivation.
  • animals eat away grasses and erode topsoil with their hooves.
  • intensive farming depletes the nutrients in the soil.

Wind and water erosion aggravate the damage, carrying away topsoil and leaving behind a highly infertile mix of dust and sand. It is the combination of these factors that transforms degraded land into desert.

So who is affected?

The USDA has published a map showing areas of the world in danger of desertification.

  • Areas that are either deserts, or at risk of being deserts are:
  • Most the west coast of North America
  • all of the middle east, up as far as the top of the top of Kazakhstan (Russia!)
  • Practically everywhere in Africa except the bits around the equator.
  • 90% of Australia either is either "very dry", or in high to very high danger of becoming a desert.
  • Then southern Europe, (south Italy, Greece and Spain)
  • Half of Brazil.
  • And if you're in the UK (like me) then weirdly most of the East Anglia is either at moderate or high risk of desertification.


What I'm saying is this isn't just a "poor county/poor people" problem, it affects all of the developed world.
23 hectares of land per minute are lost, that's around 20 million tons of grain that could have been grown, but can't over the year. this drives up demand and cost for food sources.

Having established that the problem is pretty serious, the question is how to fix it?
(again from the UN site)

What can be done?

  • Reforestation and tree regeneration
  • Water management - saving, reuse of treated water, rainwater harvesting, desalination, or direct use of seawater for salt-loving plants
  • Fixating the soil through the use of sand fences, shelter belts, woodlots and windbreaks
  • Enrichment and hyper-fertilizing of soil through planting
  • Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), enabling native sprouting tree growth through selective pruning of shrub shoots. The residue from pruned tress can be used to provide mulching for fields thus increasing soil water retention and reducing evaporation.

So what's the project?
The project will focus on developing a project to help address three of the actions identified by the UN.

  • Water management, (providing a way for water to be targetted to areas of land where watering at the surface is wasteful)
  • Soil fixation, (providing a way to bind the soil to stop it beeing washed or blown away)
  • Soil enrichment, (providing a way for soil to be enriched with fertilisers, in a targetted way, -targetting fertilisers so that they may be used in smaller amounts to stop runoff into waterways)

How will this be done?
The project will seek to design a lattice framework, designed to hod the soil in place in the same way that a plant root would, the lattice should be made of a bio-degradable polymer and should be hollow to allow for water and liquid fertilisers to be delivered directly to the soil that is to be "saved".

The lattice will have a pipe attachment at opposing ends, allowing for connectivity to an irrigation system for liquid delivery, and allowing liquids to pass through the lattice to more chained together in series.

So deserts + seeds = acres of farming land?

Well, no, it's not quite that simple.
Deserts are large...

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  • structures

    Danny05/23/2015 at 17:57 0 comments

    I've gone quite a while without updating...

    I've been running a few experiments, to try understand what type of "structure" is best to bind dirt, and deliver nutrition such that it can become fertile soil.

    Updates of findings will follow.

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Michael wrote 06/07/2015 at 21:00 point

maybe simply planting trees is the a better idea? Why so complicated?

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Danny wrote 06/26/2015 at 09:31 point

Often the simplest answer is not the best, - and simplistic thinking can cause more harm than good...

Simply put, tree roots are good for trees, but not so good for binding soil. they are thick, penetrate deeply and remove water. - often that removing water causes large cracks in the soil and soil subsidence, breaking apart the soil and causing more erosion. additionally when a tree gets to a large size the canopy stops ilght from penetrating to the ground, and thus very little grows around the base of trees - this further exposes the top soil to erosion.

In some cases planting trees will not only not bind the soil, but roots will actually remove moisture, canopies will remove light, deciduous trees drop that canopy in the winter, which may offer plant matter for fertiliser, but also leave the land exposed for rain and flood erosion. - so you start trying to stop desertification by planting a tree, and in the end actually cause more!

Through the experiments that I've done so far I've observed that the best binding plants are those like grasses, the reason is that they for a blanket over soil, and the roots are small, and thin and yet strong, (try taking pulling a section of dirt from between tree roots - relatively simple, then try ripping a slice of turf, whilst the turf only has an inch of soil attached to it, the grass roots that bind it hold it all strong making it hard to pull dirt from between the roots. Grasses also provide cover for the top soil preventing wind and rain erosion.

Trees can have a place in claiming already desert lands as farming grounds, but as ever it is just not as simple as "just" doing something simple.

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