Sunday, 4 March 2012

Deserts and Desertification

We recently self-nominated and were listed on the Holistic Management International website as a contact point for people who wanted to communicate with an Australian practitioner of Holistic Management. Flowing from this we were contacted by a bloke in Melbourne who wanted us to recount our experiences in producing additional herbage mass from our farm from the application of holistic planned grazing. After sending off our initial response the bloke then changed tack substantially and revealed that what he was hoping we could give him examples / explain how Holistic Management fixes deserts (I'm being simplistic). Obviously not having had experience with this directly we were not able to help him much, if at all really. We learned quite a bit from the overall exchanges, though. It gave us a deeper understanding of the difference between deserts and desertification, something we'd not pondered much on in the past. Here's a few of the points taken from documents emailed to us by the Melbourne bloke.

From the publication: The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and its Political Dimension, Uwe Holtz, Bonn, 26 May 2003: "Desertification means the degradation of land and vegetation, soil erosion and the loss of topsoil and fertile land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations." The author goes on to list the 12 major 'soil diseases' that lead to land degradation, sourced from the publication German Advisory Council on Global Change, Summary for Policymakers. World in Transition: The Threat to Soil, reprint, Berlin 2001. "The German Advisory Council on Global Change has put together what it considers to be the twelve most important anthropogenic 'soil diseases'. The names chosen for these syndromes are deliberately symbolic, each one having been taken from a selected crisis area or a striking phenomenon accompanying the syndrome. However, the label always stands for a particular syndrome which occurs or can occur in different regions of the world. The twelve syndromes, which are in a certain sense “geodermatological diagnoses” of the “skin” of our planet Earth, are:

1. Changes in the traditional use of land: the Huang He Syndrome
2. Soil degradation through mechanized farming: the Dust Bowl Syndrome
3. Excessive use of marginal land: the Sahel Syndrome
4. Conversion and/or over-exploitation of forests and other ecosystems: the Sarawak Syndrome
5. Misplanning of large-scale agricultural projects: the Aral Sea Syndrome
6. Remote transport of nutrients and pollutants: the Acid Rain Syndrome
7. Local contamination, accumulation of waste and inherited pollution: the Bitterfeld Syndrome
8. Uncontrolled urbanization: the São Paulo Syndrome
9. Overdevelopment and expansion of infrastructure: the Los Angeles Syndrome
10. Mining and prospecting: the Katanga Syndrome
11. Soil and land degradation through tourism: the Alps Syndrome
12. Land and soil degradation as a result of war and military action: the Scorched Earth Syndrome"

In our area of Australia it is probably fair to say that there is some evidence of land degradation from the first 4 'soil diseases' although practices generally are now not too extreme in the overall landscape.

In 2011 the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) based at Gland in Switzerland published a paper titled 'World Heritage Desert Landscapes: Potential Priorities for the Recognition of Desert Landscapes and Geomorphological Sites on the World Heritage List'. On page 3 of this document was included the following figure, which was in turn sourced from the paper: Goudie, A.S. 2002. Great Warm Deserts of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford

What we found of great interest from the above map was that Australia, whilst being the driest occupied continent on the Earth, does not have any areas that are classified as 'Extreme arid'.


Anonymous said...

I would like to know more details of your management techniques. Perhaps you could refer to dates your blog mentions this or give more details here

Phillip Diprose said...

Thanks for your question, 'Anonymous'. We've written the next post in response.