ROME, May 8 2023 (IPS)* – Less than a decade ago, Africa was home to 60-65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and 10% of renewable freshwater resources, as reported by the African Union in 2016, while concluding that African farmers could feed the world.
Is it still the case?
Droughts are a growing threat to global food production, particularly in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS
A major consequence is that that very percentage (60-65%) of the world’s uncultivated and arable land is now affected by degradation, with nearly three million hectares of forest lost… every single year.
The steadily advancing degradation and desertification of major African regions have led the continent to build great green walls.
One of them – the Great Green Wall, is the largest living structure on the Planet, one that stretches over 8.000 kilometres across Africa, aiming at restoring the continent’s degraded landscapes and transforming millions of lives in the Sahel, and ushering in a new era of sustainability and economic growth.
Launched in 2007 by the African Union, this African-led Great Green Wall Initiative. The project is being implemented across 22 African countries and is expected to revitalise thousands of communities across the continent.
It is about “helping people and nature cope with the growing impact of the climate emergency and the degradation of vital ecosystems, and to keep the Sahara desert from spreading deeper into one of the world’s poorest regions,” according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Vast tracts of land along the Great Green Wall have already been restored by local communities. And so far, 80% of the 19 billion US dollars have been pledged, as reported by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
But not enough…
The extraneous factors that have been pushing Africa towards the abyss of extremely severe droughts, unprecedented floods, the advancing degradation of its land and water resources, have led this continent on Earth to rush to build more and longer and larger walls.
For instance, the Southern Africa region is currently busy preparing a similar programme, with all 16 countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) committed to accelerating multi-sectoral transformation through a regional initiative inspired by the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, or SADC Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI).
The SADC member countries are: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, DR Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A wall for Southern Africa
Their Initiative aims to create productive landscapes in the Southern Africa region that contribute to regional socially inclusive economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.
Together with member countries and key partners the goal is to initiate multi sectoral partnerships and to acquire pledges of an indicative 27 billion US dollars by 2025.
10 Million square kilometres at risk of desertification
Covering a total land area of 10 million square kilometres, Southern Africa faces immediate effects of desertification, land degradation and drought, as well as challenges driven by climate change, biodiversity loss, and unsustainable development practices in agriculture, energy and infrastructure sectors, reports the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
“The Great Green Wall is part of a broader economic and development plan – if we restore land but are not able to reap the benefits of that healthy and restored land due to lack of access to renewable energy and infrastructure, hindering access to markets and livelihoods, then we are only halfway there with our vision,” on this said UNCCD’s Louise Baker.
And a great wall for the Middle East
In addition to the above two new natural wonders, there is another one: the Middle East Green Initiative, a regional effort led by Saudi Arabia to mitigate the impact of climate change on the region and to collaborate to meet global climate targets.
Across the Middle East and North Africa, extreme weather events including droughts and heavy rains will become more common in the region if global temperatures continue to increase, according to the Saudi-led project.
A green corridor for East Africa… and elsewhere
In addition to developing an Eastern Africa corridor soon, other similar initiatives under the umbrella of the African Union’s NEPAD are ongoing, such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100).
In 2015, AFR100 was founded in Durban by a group of 10 African countries, each committing to restore a certain number of hectares of degraded landscapes within their borders.
Twenty-eight African countries have now committed to restoring 113 million hectares, which, if achieved, will exceed the initiative’s namesake goal of 100 million hectares across the continent under restoration by 2030.
Not only trees
Forest landscape restoration is more than just planting trees,” said Mamadou Diakhite, leader of the AFR100 Secretariat.
On a continent that is expected to account for half the global population growth by 2050, reducing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions is a welcome byproduct of returning those natural landscapes to health and profitability; but it’s not the first focus, reported Gabrielle Lipton, Landscape News Editor-in-Chief.
“Restoring landscapes that have been degraded by the effects of climate change and human development through planting trees and encouraging sustainable farming and herding must first and foremost provide food, jobs and homes for people, as well as preserve their cultures that are based on the products of their lands.”
MADRID, Dec 1 2022 (IPS) – Drought is one of the ‘most destructive’ natural disasters in terms of the loss of life, arising from impacts, such as wide-scale crop failure, wildfires and water stress.
In other words, droughts are one of the “most feared natural phenomena in the world;” they devastate farmland, destroy livelihoods and cause untold suffering, as reported by the world’s top specialised bodies: the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
They occur when an area experiences a shortage of water supply due to a lack of rainfall or lack of surface or groundwater. And they can last for weeks, months or years.
Exacerbated by land degradation and climate change, droughts are increasing in frequency and severity, up 29% since 2000, with 55 million people affected every year.
The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives, Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General
By 2050, droughts may affect an estimated three-quarters of the world’s population. This means that agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050.
This means that about 71% of the world’s irrigated area and 47% of major cities are to experience at least periodic water shortages. If this trend continues, the scarcity and associated water quality problems will lead to competition and conflicts among water users, adds the Convention.
Most of the world already impacted
The alert is loud and strong and it comes from a number of the world’s most knowledgeable organisations.
To begin with, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on 29 November 2022 reported that most of the globe was drier than normal in 2021, with “cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and our daily lives.”
Between 2001 and 2018, UN-Water reported that a staggering 74% of all-natural disasters were water-related.
Currently, over 3.6 billion people have inadequate access to water at least one month per year and this is expected to increase to more than five billion by 2050.
In Africa, major rivers such as the Niger, Volta, Nile and Congo had below-average water flow in 2021.
The same trend was observed in rivers in parts of Russia, West Siberia and in Central Asia.
On the other hand, there were above-normal river volumes in some North American basins, the North Amazon and South Africa, as well as in China’s Amur river basin, and northern India.
The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives, said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“Changes to Cryosphere water resources affect food security, human health, ecosystem integrity and maintenance, and lead to significant impacts on economic and social development”, said WMO, sometimes causing river flooding and flash floods due to glacier lake outbursts.
The cryosphere – namely glaciers, snow cover, ice caps and, where present, permafrost – is the world’s biggest natural reservoir of freshwater.
Being water –or rather the lack of it– a major cause-effect of the fast-growing deterioration of natural resources, and the consequent damage to the world’s food production, the theme of World Soil Day 2022, marked 5 December, is “Soils: Where food begins.”
18 naturally occurring chemical elements are essential to plants. Soils supply 15.
Agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050.
33% of soils are degraded.
In addition to the life of humans, animals, and plants, one of the sectors that most depend on water–crops is now highly endangered.
Indeed, since the 1950s, reminds the United Nations, innovations like synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides and high-yield cereals have helped humanity dramatically increase the amount of food it grows.
“But those inventions would be moot without agriculture’s most precious commodity: fresh water. And it, say researchers, is now under threat.”
Moreover, pollution, climate change and over-abstraction are beginning to compromise the lakes, rivers, and aquifers that underpin farming globally, reports the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Salinised and plastified
Such is the case, among many others, of the growing salinisation and ‘plastification’ of the world’s soils.
In fact, currently, it is estimated that there are more than 833 million hectares of salt-affected soils around the globe (8.7% of the planet). This implies the loss of soil’s capacity to grow food and also increasing impacts on water and the ability to filter pollution.
Soil salinisation and sodification are major soil degradation processes threatening ecosystems and are recognised as being among the most important problems at a global level for agricultural production, food security and sustainability in arid and semi-arid regions, said the UN on occasion of the 2021 World Soil Day.
Among the major causes that this international body highlights is that in some arid areas, there has been an increase in the amount of wastewater used to grow crops.
“The problem can be exacerbated by flooding, which can inundate sewage systems or stores of fertiliser, polluting both surface water and groundwater.” Fertiliser run-off can cause algal blooms in lakes.
Meanwhile, the amount of freshwater per capita has fallen by 20% over the last two decades and nearly 60% of irrigated cropland is water-stressed.
The implications of those shortages are far-reaching: irrigated agriculture contributes 40% of total food produced worldwide.
Soils are highly living organisms
“Did you know that there are more living organisms in a tablespoon of soil than people on Earth?”
Agricultural systems lose nutrients with each harvest, and if soils are not managed sustainably, fertility is progressively lost, and soils will produce nutrient-deficient plants.
Soil nutrient loss is a major soil degradation process threatening nutrition. It is recognised as being among the most critical problems at a global level for food security and sustainability all around the globe.
Over the last 70 years, the level of vitamins and nutrients in food has drastically decreased, and it is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide suffer from a lack of micronutrients, known as hidden hunger because it is difficult to detect.
“Soil degradation induces some soils to be nutrient depleted, losing their capacity to support crops, while others have such a high nutrient concentration that represents a toxic environment to plants and animals, pollutes the environment and causes climate change.”
The Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh has been transformed into the epicentre of efforts to address the climate crisis as it hosts COP27.
But the coastline on which the UN climate conference is being held is more than just a backdrop for official negotiations.
The coral reefs that have long drawn tourists to the Red Sea peninsula are among the most biodiverse in the world. They are home to over a thousand different species of fish and around 350 coral species.
Mindful of their global importance, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced a major new fund to support the local ecosystem.
The US agency has contributed $15 million (€14.9) to the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR), it revealed at COP27 on Tuesday.
This initiative is the largest global blended finance vehicle – whereby development aid is used to mobilise additional private or public funds – dedicated to the UN Sustainable Development Goal on ‘Life Below Water’.
The fresh injection of funds takes the total amount of money mobilised by the GCR since it was launched at the 75th UN General Assembly in September 2020 to $187 million (€185.9 million).
Why are Egypt’s coral reefs so important, and how will the funding help?
As well as being astonishingly beautiful and rich habitats in their own right, the fate of coral reefs is one of several major ‘tipping points’ that could push us into climate catastrophe.
As ocean temperatures rise, some reefs are being bleached almost every year. It has caused the deathly pale appearance of swathes of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Given their unique potential to withstand increasing impacts of climate change, the Red Sea reefs might be the most resilient on Earth.
Protection of ‘coral refugia’ reefs – those in climate cool spots – is critical as they offer the global community the opportunity to safeguard ecosystems. They can also act as seed banks that could bring degraded reefs back to a vibrant and productive state, explains Nicole Trudeau of the UN Development Programme.
“The Red Sea is home to a rich underwater ecosystem that attracts millions of tourists who create millions of jobs for Egyptians and bring in billions in foreign currency each year,” says USAID Chief Climate Officer Gillian Caldwell.
The funding will ‘incubate and scale’ business models that address local drivers of coral reef degradation – including overtourism.
It also aims to increase the resilience of local communities – a key part of GFCR’s approach in the 12 countries where it works, from Mozambique and Indonesia to Sri Lanka and Micronesia.
Development of the Egyptian Red Sea programme is led by the United Nations Development Programme Egypt Country Office.
“In the face of an intensifying climate crisis, USAID’s investment in the Red Sea Initiative will help to drive a nature-positive economic transition while boosting the climate resilience of coastal communities in Egypt,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner adds.
“[It is] demonstrating that change is possible when leadership, political will, and investment comes together.”
Many more ‘blue finance’ announcements – concerning mangroves and seagrass as well as reefs – are expected in the coming days at COP27.
A High Quality Blue Carbon Principles and Guidelines report, for example, is set to launch on Saturday.
“Nature-based solutions are being discussed at COP, but we still need to amplify the central role of nature in our climate mitigation and adaptation strategies,” marine conservation expert Josheena Naggea tells Euronews Green.
Persistently high temperatures and related heat stress are a big problem for people living in cities, especially in slums and informal settlements. It’s a problem that is expected to continue.
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel in Climate Change assessment report, heat exposure in Africa is projected to increase in terms of person-days. That is, the annual number of days when the temperature is over 40.6℃ multiplied by the number of people exposed. Heat exposure will reach 45 billion person-days by the 2060s, over three times the rate between 1985 and 2005. This will make sub-Saharan Africa’s exposure to dangerous heat one of the highest globally.
Heat exposure challenges are increased by a shortage of basic services and infrastructure, along with low-quality housing, poor socio-economic conditions and few green spaces in slums and informal settlements.
Our recent study in Akure, south-west Nigeria, shows that poor residents in informal neighbourhoods experience higher heat exposure, compared to residents in rich neighbourhoods. Through a survey of 70 residents in each neighbourhood, we found that poorer households in low-income neighbourhoods were more disadvantaged and have lower capacity to adapt to heat. Housing features in the poorer neighbourhood did not completely prevent excess heat.
Richer households in more affluent neighbourhoods were able to install features such as air conditioners, ceramic tiles and shady plants which the poorer ones could not. For example, while 78% households had air conditioners in the rich area, only 22% had them in the poor neighbourhood.
Green spaces have the potential to reduce heat and, in turn, improve health, especially in vulnerable urban areas such as informal settlements.
Another study I led experimented with vertical greening systems in low-income communities in Akure and Lagos – both cities in Nigeria – and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The experiment established that vertical greening was a solution for heat problems in informal neighbourhoods. And it had the added benefit of providing healthy food in the form of vegetables.
A recent study I led in Tanzania shows typical heat-related health problems reported among people residing in informal settlements. Among 405 residents surveyed in the study, 61% reported skin rashes, 42% reported malaria, 38% reported recurring headaches, 30% reported high blood pressure, 20% reported dizziness while another 22% reported confusion and inability to concentrate. Lower productivity at work (29%) and higher costs of cooling their spaces (57%) are other heat-related problems which, if not addressed, can negatively impact health conditions.
We designed and installed a vertical greening prototype made from high-density polyethylene pipes placed horizontally on walls of some residential buildings. The prototype was planted with indigenous leafy vegetables. In Nigeria, jute leaf (Corchorus olitorius), Lagos spinach (Celosia argentia) and African spinach (Amaranthus viridis) were planted. In Tanzania, Amaranthus spp., potato leaves (Ipomoea batatas), pumpkin leaves (Telfairia occidentalis) and legumes known locally as “majani ya kunde” were planted.
These vertical gardens provided healthy vegetables for the residents to eat. From a typical prototype in Nigeria, up to 1kg of vegetables were harvested in a six-week cycle. In Dar es Salaam, the different vegetables yielded varying quantities. For example, pumpkin leaves produced about 300g of vegetable harvested per 20-day cycle. For Amaranthus spp, a leafy vegetable, and potato leaves, bunches weighing about 660g and 450g were harvested respectively per cycle.
We can get vegetables which could have been bought … We usually harvest one type of vegetable twice per week, we are doing three days rotation to each type of vegetable, but it is for family use only … we never harvest for sale, unless a neighbour comes to ask for free.“
I have been getting vegetables. Like the ones I plucked today, it’s very green as you can see. And it is fresh. It nourishes the body more than the one you get from market.”
The vertical gardens also affected the indoor air temperature of the rooms they enveloped. Up to 2.88℃ maximum temperature and 0.7℃ minimum temperature reductions were recorded during a 45-day field measurement campaign held in September and October 2021 in Akure.
Wall temperature reduced by as much as 5°C during the 30-day measurement campaign undertaken between December 2020 and January 2021 in Dar es Salaam.
The temperature difference made by the vertical gardens means that residents feel more comfortable and thus may be less at risk of heat-related health problems.
Vertical greening can be scaled up. Parks and other green open spaces are usually created in formal and affluent neighbourhoods. While this is good, it must be complemented by policy initiatives and programmes that promote citizen-led, community-based vertical farming in dense informal settlements.
Incentives relevant for each local environment or community might help vertical greening to gain traction. There should be a strong push for vertical greening systems – for food, microclimate control and other health-related benefits.
The Washington Post published an Analysis by Michael Robbins and Amaney Jamal on how in the MENA, people are worrying about food.
In the Middle East and North Africa, people are worrying about food
Five things to know from Arab Barometer’s latest survey
What do people across the Middle East and North Africa think about food security, gender equality, democracy, climate change and China? Arab Barometer, the largest and longest-standing public opinion survey covering the MENA region, provides insights.
The new seventh wave includes more than 26,000 face-to-face interviews covering 12 MENA countries. The survey, conducted October 2021 to July, is the largest public opinion survey in the region since the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some takeaways.
Food insecurity has hit alarming levels
In half of the countries surveyed, a majority of citizens reported that they have often or sometimes run out of food within the previous 12 months. And most citizens in three-quarters of the countries surveyed say they worried that they would run out of money before they could afford more food, over the same period.
The bulk of these surveys were carried out before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which means the results don’t capture the full extent of the subsequent jump in food costs and shortages of food across much of the region. The growing sense of food insecurity is of particular concern beyond the clear human cost. Salma al-Shami explains in a new report how the lack of food is linked to a lower commitment to democracy, a higher desire to emigrate and diminished concerns about addressing climate change and other critical issues facing the region.
Citizens want democracy — but realize it’s not perfect
In previous Arab Barometer survey waves, the vast majority of respondents affirm that democracy remains the best system of governance. This seventh wave is no exception — but there have been dramatic changes in the perception of democracy overall. In the past few years, MENA publics have become far more likely to say that the economy runs poorly under democracy, that democracy leads to instability and that democracy is indecisive.
These outcomes could reflect the broader global retrenchment of democracy. Or perhaps these shifts are the result of MENA citizens reflecting on the recent challenges experienced by countries in the region such as Tunisia, Lebanon and Iraq — three countries where governments have changed as a result of elections in the past decade. Regardless, the results make clear that citizens value democracy, though many have updated their views of how democracy works.
MENA countries are far from achieving gender equality
Arab Barometer surveys asked respondents whether men and women should play equal roles in public and private life. In most of the surveyed countries, majorities responded that men are better political leaders and that men should have the final say over decisions in the family. However, new analysis by MaryClare Roche demonstrates how these views are changing across much of the region.
In the case of Tunisia, over the past four years, Arab Barometer surveys show a 16-point decline in the perception that men are better at politics. And in Lebanon, surveys note a 16-point drop in the perception that men should have the final say within the household, compared with the 2018 survey. This recent survey wave found smaller but meaningful declines on these perceptions in a number of countries, suggesting that the region is moving toward a greater acceptance of women’s equality.
China remains more popular than the United States, but that might change
Arab citizens are more positive toward China than toward the United States, but views of America have improved, while views of China are rapidly changing. In Jordan and the Palestinian territories, citizens are now 20 points less likely to want closer economic ties with China than in 2018-2019. In Sudan, Morocco, Libya and Lebanon, Arab Barometer found a decline of at least five points on this same question. And none of the countries surveyed showed a meaningful increase in citizen support for closer economic links with China over this period.
China’s relative decline probably comes down to a closer familiarity with Beijing’s foreign policies. Arab Barometer also looked at perceptions of Chinese economic investment in local infrastructure. Although MENA publics largely see Chinese investment as the most affordable option for infrastructure projects, they also perceive these projects as low-quality investments that pay lower salaries to the local workforce than companies from other countries would probably pay.
Ultimately, most publics appear more likely to prefer investment from a U.S. or European company vs. a Chinese company. As China continues to pursue economic engagement in the region, these findings suggest that views of China might not improve as a result of this strategy.
Citizens worry about climate change but rank other concerns higher
The global COP27 meeting in Egypt will take place in November. New questions developed for this wave reveal that many MENA citizens think climate change is a critical issue and they want their governments to do more to address the problem. When asked about their primary environmental concerns, the primary issue is water — water scarcity, pollution of drinking water and pollution of their country’s waterways.
Citizens are also likely to assign equal blame the government and their fellow citizens for the lack of progress on environmental issues. Majorities in all the countries surveyed say that both parties are responsible for existing environmental challenges.
The survey also finds that levels of recycling or reusing basic items varies widely across the region. However, questions that asked why respondents recycle reveal that few cite the environment. Instead, the primary personal motivations behind recycling are cost savings and convenience. In short, concerns about the environment take a back seat when compared with other issues, but MENA publics are aware of environmental challenges and want action.
Michael Robbins is director and co-principal investigator at Arab Barometer.
Amaney Jamal is dean of the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and co-principal investigator of Arab Barometer.
Arab Barometer data and data analysis tools are freely available online thanks to our funders, including the Middle East Partnership Initiative, USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the BBC Arabic.
Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
Traditional construction methods were no match for the earthquake that rocked Morocco on Friday night, an engineering expert says, and the area will continue to see such devastation unless updated building techniques are adopted.
This site uses functional cookies and external scripts to improve your experience.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.