Friday, July 15, 2011

Geoffrey Lean, Britain's leading environmental journalist, reports on the issue of desertification and top soil erosion from the Caux Forum for Human Security in an article headlined 'Just 10 inches from oblivion', 15 July. 

After outlining the dangers of desertification he continues:

'But cross Asia to the world’s second great cradle of agriculture and you’ll hear a different – far more hopeful – tale. It starts conventionally enough. China’s Loess Plateau, where the earth was first tilled 10,000 years ago, was long known as the most eroded place on the planet: 600 million tons of soil washed into the Yellow River every year.

'But now a staggering transformation is taking place. Just 15 years of work by the local people – backed by the Chinese government and the World Bank – has made an area the size of Belgium fertile again, through such measures as terracing the barren slopes and building small dams, a ban on felling trees and the planting of new ones, and setting aside land for nature. Yields and incomes have quadrupled.

'John Liu, a film-maker who has been documenting the transformation, told a conference on “human security” in Caux, Switzerland, this week that the results had “far exceeded expectations”. Other speakers had similarly surprising experiences. Yacouba Sawadogo – an innovative, illiterate and eloquent small farmer from Burkino Faso – experimented with digging holes every metre across his barren land and filling them with manure. His yields of millet and sorghum quickly jumped from nothing to 1,500 kilos a hectare in years of good rains, and tens of thousands of his neighbours have followed suit.

'And Dr Chris Reij, of Amsterdam’s Vrije University, who has worked in the Sahel for over 30 years, described how farmers in Niger had greened five million hectares of unproductive land simply by protecting naturally sprouting tree seedlings from being eaten by goats. The result: an extra 500,000 tons of grain a year – enough to feed at least 2.5 million people.

'He reckons that two thirds of the world’s degraded land could be similarly restored. But encouraging as the grassroots greening has been, it remains piecemeal, and largely unknown – still less supported – by local governments, let alone the world at large.'


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