DEA programmes to combat desertification
THE major causes of desertification in South Africa are habitat transformation and degradation due to agricultural activities, urban development, mining, industry and roads, the spread of invasive alien species, subsistence harvesting (especially of medicinal plants) and illegal collection of vegetation for commercial trade (particularly of groups such as cycads and succulents).
A national survey conducted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute suggested that land in nearly 25% of magisterial districts of South Africa is already degraded.
Because of the unjust distribution of land, agricultural land in the former homelands has been overgrazed and overcropped for decades and, in many cases, is now degraded almost beyond repair.
In addition, land tenure laws and practices in the former homelands and townships did not encourage people to conserve land they did not have a stake in.
Land degradation is more than just an environmental problem in rural areas – it is also one of the causes of migration to the cities, resulting in overcrowding and unemployment.
It is therefore a social problem, which affects us all, and must be tackled before many people’s aspirations of a better life can be met.
The Department of Environmental Affairs has implemented community-based programmes, which contribute towards the mitigation of the impacts of land degradation and create employment opportunities to contribute toward poverty alleviation.
Working for Land: The main objective of this programme is to ensure that degraded ecosystems are restored to their formal or original state wherein they are able to maintain or support the natural species of that system.
The programme has partnered with Landcare Programme, communal farmers and community leaders to prevent and continuously control natural resources so as to mitigate bush encroachment/ thickening and loss of top soil;
Working for Water: The involvement of this programme in dealing with land degradation is based on clearing infestation of invasive species;
Working on Fire: Aims to promote sustainable land management practices; and
Land Degradation Assessment in Dry land Areas (LADA): run by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, responds to the need to strengthen support to land degradation assessment at international and national levels and is funded by various international organisations
Without healthy soils and productive land, there is no sustainable development. Combating desertification starts with the commitments to preserve non-degraded land and soil, and to balance out the degrading land with the recovery of an equal amount of degraded land.
This will then become the commitment to become land-degradation neutral.