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Erosion Alert: Africa Is Crumbling And Its Lands Are Becoming Dangerously Depleted!!

Ann Wavinya watches over archives like no other. “Here, we keep 40 tons of earth,” exclaimed the young Kenyan, pushing with all his might on the steering wheel actuates the opening of its mobile cabinets. “It’s the equivalent of eight elephants! We soils from all over Africa , from the Sahara to the Cape!”

Welcome to the department “health of the land” of the Centre International for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF). The venue of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), despite its $ 64 million ($ 59.6 million) budget for research, scientists and staff from five continents, remains An unknown institution – even in Nairobi. It is here, however, that one of the worst scourges of the continent, erosion, is studied in this peaceful collection of buildings with two or three floors, hidden behind beautiful fruit-trees and crossed by a small stream.

Ann Wavinya, African soil archivist at the International Center for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Nairobi. Credits: Bruno Meyerfeld

There is urgency, because African soils are not doing well. Very bad. If one believes the data compiled by a report published a year ago by the United Nations Program for Environment (UNEP), soil loss due to erosion than there 200 tonnes per hectare per year in many parts of the continent, with an average of 40 tons per hectare according to the most scientifiques.La is carried away by the rains (as in Central and Southern Africa, Morocco or Madagascar ) or dispersed by wind (such as Surroundings of the Sahara, Danakil deserts and Namib).

Precise soil mapping

Africa is crumbling. “But the most serious with erosion, it is not the loss of soil. It’s their loss, loss of nutrients, carbon and biological life due to poor agricultural practices”, said Ermias Betemariam, Ethiopian scientist To the “Earth Health” Department of ICRAF. Consequently, two-thirds of the continent called productive land is already degraded today according to figures reported by UNEP, even while the population is expected to double by 2050 and that the continent urgently needs an efficient agricultural sector .

The UN text also estimates the cost of inaction against erosion and soil degradation at 280 million tonnes of cereals lost per year, representing 262 billion euros per year for each of the fifteen years to come – either all the staggering de4,2 trillion over the whole period and the equivalent of 12.3% of the annual GDP of the 42 countries studied!

Soil Archiving at the ICRAF Spectrum Diagnostic Laboratory, Nairobi. Credits: ICRAF

“The consequences could be dramatic: poverty, famine, hunger revolts, migrations and conflicts arm ed”, warns Betemariam Ermias, who also heads the “spectral diagnostic laboratory soil-plant” the agroforestry center. Behind this mysterious name, lies a center at the forefront of technology in the study and analysis of soils.

Here, forty people are working to dissect every day hundreds of soil samples from across Africa. These are bombarded with X-rays, lasers and infrared. “By illuminating the soil samples, their spectral signature is revealed and you can determine the physical properties of the soil, its organic composition, mineralogy. It can test the effect of wind and rain and resilience to erosion, “says Dickens Ateku, experienced technician came from the west of Kenya.

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Map of land degradation in Africa. Credits: UNEP (2010) Africa Water Atlas

One of the flagship projects of the laboratory: the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS), launched in 2008 and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Africa World partner] and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) , helped develop a set of detailed maps and accessible to all sub-Saharan African soils, their physical and chemical properties. a work of titan covering 17.5 million km 2 in sub-Saharan Africa. “Our job Ermias Betemariam added, allowed for a precise diagnosis of the most degraded soils. so we know where restoration efforts should be undertaken and, above all, where it is profitable to plant . All this so that the development of Africa Is done on a healthy ground. “

The second phase of AfSIS, launched in late 2014 for a cost of 4.5 million euros, is to use this data to allow the field to small farmers in four countries ( Ethiopia , Ghana , Tanzania and Nigeria ) Adopt better land-use practices and increase their productivity.

Vicious circle

The causes of erosion have long been known: deforestation and overgrazing. Between 2000 and 2010, 3.4 million hectares of forest each year were wiped off the map of Africa, the equivalent of Belgium . “Trees are nevertheless the key to the fight against erosion. They bring minerals, carbon, nutrients and biodiversity. They” hold “the soil, prevent it from turning into sand, protect it from rain, wind, who are the main factors of erosion. As an umbrella or parasol protect us! “said Ermias Betemariam.

Spectral Diagnostic Laboratory of ICRAF, Nairobi. Credits: ICRAF

The phenomenon of erosion is a vicious circle. “The more the country is poor, the greater the population needs are urgent, and we will cuttrees and use fertilizers and pesticides … which accelerates land degradation, erosion and ultimately poverty of country “, said Tony Simons, Director of ICRAF. In addition to poor agricultural practices, climate change, already at work, will in any case lead to increased deserts and soil depletion. “In many areas, such as the highlands of East Africa, for example, there is little chance that the fertility of the earth will one day be restored,” admits the UN in its report.

It is therefore necessary to plant trees in an emergency. Encouraging sign: mobilization against erosion is gaining ground. Thirty-three countries, including sixteen Africans, have rallied since 2011 to the Bonn Challenge. The Global Initiative was launched five years ago by Germany and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with the ambition to restore 150 million hectares of terresdégradées 2020, the All through an extensive reforestation program, but also a groundwork on the management of soil and water resources. Today, thanks to the contribution of African countries such as Malawi , the Rwanda and Côte d’Ivoire, 80% of the target are achieved. This success prompted the UN Summit on Climate in review in 2014 its objectives on the rise up the bar to 350 million hectares restored in 2030. Proof that in the battle against erosion, all is not lost.

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Written by How Africa

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