Africa's Deserts are in Spectacular Retreat

| November 18, 2002

Africa's Deserts are in 'Spectacular' Retreat

After years of what seemed like irreversible desertification, the southern Saharan desert is currently in retreat, making the land viable for farming and raising livestock. A largely unnoticed trend until now, the greening of the desert from Mauritania to Eritrea has been happening since the 1980s, writes Fred Pearce in New Scientist.

Despite new evidence, the process of desertification is often still viewed as an unstoppable effect caused by declining rainfall and destructive farming methods. The U.N. Environment Program told the Johannesburg World Summit in August that more than 45 percent of Africa was in the grip of desertification, with the southern Saharan region the worst affected.

Though confusion remains about exactly why this desert is becoming overcome with greenery, satellite images demonstrate that the shrinking desert is a bona-fide trend throughout the southern Saharan. Farmers surveyed in one Saharan region, reported a 70 percent increase in recent sorghum and millet yields. One explanation posits that the growth is due to increased rainfall after the droughts of the 1970s and '80s, as well as farmers adopting better methods of retaining soil and water on their land.
--Erica Sagrans
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