The world will have food crises if we don't act now

We will need 4 million hectares of new land every year to feed the growing world population. At present, we are 7 billion and by 2050, we will be 10 billion. That is the headline we have to understand. We have to aim to reach this goal to be a sustainable planet. There are two ways of going about it, one is that we cut down our forests and kill our marshlands which we have been doing for decades or the other is to restore the land we have lost over the years.

Desertification of land is a complex and large problem
More than 1.3 billion people live on agricultural land that is deteriorating, putting them at risk of worsening hunger, water shortages and poverty, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). People's use of the earth's natural reserves has doubled in the last 30 years. Now a third of the planet's land is severely degraded, and every year 15 billion trees and 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost, UNCCD said. "The land we live on is being strained to breaking point. Restoration and conservation are key to its survival," UNCCD said in a report launched in Ordos, China.

Land degradation has happened due to many reasons over the years. Water scarcity makes the land unfit for use for agriculture and as a result food production falls.

UNCCD promotes good land stewardship, and is the only legally binding international agreement on land issues. As land becomes less productive - which can happen through deforestation, overgrazing, flash floods and drought - people are forced to migrate to cities or abroad, there is greater likelihood of conflict over dwindling resources, and countries' economies are hit, said UNCCD deputy executive secretary Pradeep Monga.

"If you don't fix land degradation, we get into a cycle where people are losing their livelihoods, their homes, their fields," he said. And if the amount of productive land shrinks, less will be available to feed the world's population which is predicted to increase to more than 9 billion people by 2050, up from 7 billion today. "If we can stop land degradation and green our deserts, we can easily become food secure," Monga told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. (

Small choices, like families cutting back on food waste, as well as improvements to land management, smarter ways to farm, and national policies to stop degradation, can make a lot of difference, he added. China, which introduced the world's first law to prevent and control desertification in 2002, has greened hundreds of thousands of hectares of desert in Inner Mongolia resulting in more food, more jobs and a better life for the local people, Monga said. "People's confidence in their quality of life is back, and these places become much more habitable," he said. Drought degrades land, but if countries have good drought plans in place and act on them then people can be protected from its worst impacts. "We cannot prevent drought but we can prevent the calamity and crisis that comes with that. It's like facing a hurricane - we have time," he said. "If we manage the land well, the world will become a much better place to live in every sense." (

Globally, 1.2 billion people are directly affected by land degradation, which causes an annual loss of 42 billion dollars, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded, according to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance. (

Reasons may be many

Tugging at the root of a thorny shrub known as 'juliflora', which now dots the village of Chirmiyala in the Medak District of southern India's Telangana state, a 28-year-old farmer named Ailamma Arutta tells IPS, "This is a curse that destroyed my land." The deciduous shrub, whose scientific name is prosopis juliflora and belongs to the mesquite family, is not native to southern India.

The local government introduced it in the 1950s and 1960s to prevent desertification in this region where the average annual rainfall is about 680 mm. Decades later, the invasive plant has become a menace to farmers in the area, making it impossible to cultivate the land. This is partly due to juliflora's ability to put out roots deep inside the earth – up to 175 feet in some places – in search of water. Desperate farmers, who number some 5.5 million in the region, are now uprooting the shrubs as part of a government-sponsored scheme to make the land fertile once more.

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance. -- Indian Council for Agricultural Research "The last time we grew anything on the land was about seven years ago, before this [shrub] started spreading all over it," says Arutta, who is paid about three dollars a day for his work and looks forward eagerly to begin cultivating rice once more. (

But it does not matter
The case study we read is just one of the many reasons for the desertification of land. The causes are many. But what we need to concentrate immediately on is fixing the issue of the already destroyed land. We need to act fast and we need to act with a gameplan in mind to achieve our targets. So every
small scheme counts
and every effort to fix the issue needs to be looked at seriously.

What we must also start building immediately is a list of plants and trees that destroy moisture in soil in order to combat the challenge in the future. This will take strategy and this will take planning. But it will have to be one hectare at a time.

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