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Global offensive against desertification. Sowing on barren land


A dry and dusty savannah, Emaciated cattle plodding dejectedly past the last remaining scraps of grass that have survived the merciless heat and sandstorms. Such images are all too familiar. Across the globe, soil degradation and desertification cost about 490 billion euros per year, according to expert estimates. "About 12 million hectares of land are lost to this every year" says Wageningen soil physicist Coen Ritsema of Alterra Wageningen UR. ‘That is equivalent to half the land surface of the UK.’

Desertification takes hold for a number of reasons. Soils can be damaged by water and wind erosion, salinization, overgrazing, drought and forest fires. Forest fires alone send a surface area the size of India and Pakistan up in flames every year. Sometimes the forest comes back afterwards. But if forest fires and periods of drought follow close on each other’s heels, the soils and the stock of seeds they harbour become exhausted. In the end nothing grows there anymore and the land is irretrievably lost. The international project DESIRE is studying the options for more sustainable land use under dry conditions. DESIRE stands for Desertification Mitigation and Remediation of Land.

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