Without land, there’s only an empty plate

Desertification – whether you’ve heard of the term or not, it might be the key to the future of YOUR dinner table.

On June 17th, each year, the UN urges nation states to take action against one of the biggest issues countries on the margins face when it comes to climate impact: desertification.

Nsanje, Malawi- A boy watches his cattle as they graze in the flooded maize fields which are now part of Shire River.

Nsanje, Malawi- A boy watches his cattle as they graze in the flooded maize fields which are now part of Shire River.

Desertification, technically, is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry landregion becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. In the severest cases, the land becomes infertile and useless, precipitating famine and drought. Every year 12 million hectares of land are lost to desertification, and the rate is increasing. 

How this happens is years of unsustainable farming practices. Did you know that 70 per cent of the Earth’s grasslands, 50 per cent of the savannahs and 45 per cent of its temperate forests have been cleared to feed generations gone by? We’ve been treating our fertile lands as disposable goods and it’s finally catching up to us.

Monique Barbut, who is the UNCCD Executive Secretary, says,

“We degrade the land through unsustainable farming and walk away when it cannot produce anymore. Today, one third of previously fertile farmland lies abandoned. With a population of 9.6 billion expected by 2050, we will need to clear 3 million hectares of new land every year, on average…we are heading towards a tipping point.”


Doris Malinga and other women practice climate smart agriculture in Lilongwe District, Malawi.

Unfortunately, like many other aspects of climate change, the people who suffer the greatest from desertification are the people who rely directly on food from the earth not only for satisfying their hunger but also for their livelihoods.  Once land become arid, people who depend on it for survival are forced to migrate or starve, making them climate refugees.

The good news is that it is possible to combat desertification by using particular climate-smart techniques. Concern Worldwide,  for example, is employing innovative solutions like Climate Smart Agriculture and conservative farming strategies to alleviate the exacerbated situations of the world’s poorest.

When a plate of food is served in front of you, what comes to mind? Few of us actually think about it, but it is the endpoint of a long and complex process, “Without the land, there is only an empty plate,” says Barbut.

Next time you share a meal with someone, be sure to share the complexity of climate change as well, including desertification, and its devastating consequences. At the root of many of the consequences of climate change are the man-made causes. Think smart, be proactive and combat climate change in your life.