Grand Rapids, Michigan — Desertification is an environmental problem that impacts communities all across the world. Its impact is particularly profound in Africa. For countries with a heavy economic dependence on agriculture, such as Ethiopia, desertification presents a particularly significant risk to their development and wellbeing. Desertification makes arable land less productive. In order to minimize the impact of desertification in Ethiopia, organizations such as USAID and Action Against Desertification (AAD) are working to prevent further land loss.
The Current State of Desertification in Ethiopia
Ethiopia loses approximately 2 billion metric tons of arable soil annually. Current land use is a major contributor to this problem. For example, agricultural practices such as allowing livestock to overgraze can cause the soil to lose its fertility. Ongoing factors such as population growth and climate change are also putting stress on the soil and contributing to desertification in Ethiopia.
Some of the soil degradations in Ethiopia is reversible, but it requires work. For example, in northern Ethiopia, researchers concluded that land recovery efforts were successful. Northern Ethiopians closed portions of the land to grazing and constructed stone walls to reduce erosion. The land showed signs of increased fertility such as an increase in vegetation. AAD estimates that over 3 million hectares of land in Ethiopia is restorable.
Consequences of desertification in Ethiopia
Desertification aggravates a variety of issues in Ethiopia. It contributes to poverty and conflict in the region. Desertification exacerbates food insecurity, which is an ongoing issue for the country. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of Ethiopians affected by acute food insecurity increased by 60%, demonstrating the importance of addressing the issue.
As a country with a primarily agrarian economy, protecting Ethiopia’s soil is also important for its economic well-being. Approximately 80% of Ethiopia’s exports are agricultural products, with coffee being its top export and 75% of the country’s workforce have jobs related to agriculture. So, ensuring that Ethiopia is able to continue growing crops is essential to preventing unemployment and an economic collapse.
Solutions to Desertification in Ethiopia
Desertification in Ethiopia is preventable. Strategies such as closing heavily degraded areas to grazing, using barriers to prevent erosion, and reforestation can all help prevent desertification. Shifting agricultural production away from raising livestock and towards plant-based agriculture can help reduce desertification as well because crops’ roots help hold the soil together.
Several USAID initiatives focus on protecting Ethiopia’s natural resources, including its soil. USAID’s Feed the Future Ethiopia Livelihoods for Resilience project works to help communities maximize land productivity. Their Feed the Future Ethiopia Land Governance Activity is committed to improving land management in Ethiopia.
AAD, an initiative launched by the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP), is also working to reduce desertification in Ethiopia. AAD oversees a variety of projects designed to mitigate the impact of desertification. For example, Great Green Wall is a tree-planting project implemented by over 20 African nations to combat desertification in northern Africa and the Horn of Africa.\
In Ethiopia specifically, AAD works on land restoration and economic diversification. They hope to reduce the need for households to work in land-intensive fields. To further develop local capacity for land management, AAD is also collaborating with local universities to create a land management curriculum.
– Caroline Kuntzman