The End Of Eden – Desertification In Africa


Africa is a continent laden with diversity. Diversity in climate, vegetation and people. A land of potential beyond imagination, yet ruined by mans wrecking influence. Not all man however is to blame, primarily those who arrived as settlers from Europe to colonise Africa about 200 years ago. These settlers caused radical change in Africa. This change spoilt the delicate natural balance, which had evolved over thousands of years. Today the economies of Africa are the weakest in the world, and the desperation of the rural population has also had adverse effects on the environment. The people of Africa must learn not to ruin the environment, as it is a non-renewable resource, it will disappear.


A consequence of man’s destruction is the fact that a mere 1% of Africa’s vast flocks of wildlife remains, a horrific statistic that indicates what Africa once was. All that is left are slight fractions of its former glory and greatness.

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The greatest of all man’s disturbance of the natural balance is desertification. Desertification is the environmental transformation from savannah grassland into arid desert-like land. Many of the factors causing desertification are natural, such as drought and soil erosion, but the effects of man on the environment leading to desertification are plentiful.


The population of Africa has boomed over the last century and the food supplies available are dreadfully insufficient and many areas of Africa now rely on foreign food aid. However as the amount of food aid sent to Africa has increased so the production of food in Africa has decreased. This shows that the people are relying on food aid, and have stopped producing food. This just makes the desperate situation even worse.


The primary food source for the rural population is their domestic livestock, mainly cattle and goats. In some areas a herdsman’s livestock is a symbol of his status and wealth and large herds are kept. These herds destroy the natural vegetation. Cattle originate from Europe and Asia, and are not suited to the climate found in Africa, nor are they resistant to African diseases. Cattle, even in small concentrations, create cattle paths that destroy natural vegetation and create channels for water to flow down. Therefore infiltration of rainwater decreases and the run-off increases, carrying soil with it and robbing the soil of vital nutrients.


Agriculture is also very important in feeding the masses, and is practised all over Africa. Agriculture has many detrimental effects on the environment. Vast land is needed to plant the crops, and equally vast amounts of water are required to irrigate and sustain them. Great areas of natural vegetation are cleared to make way for agriculture; this leads to soil erosion, another factor causing desertification. The millions of tons of soil carried away by our rivers not only cause flash floods and reduce the carrying capacity of dams; they also destroy many areas of fertile land by removing the fertile topsoil.
Man is not the only animal to blame. Elephants are also extremely destructive; they destroy trees and other vegetation and depend on great amounts of food and water to survive. The over concentration of elephants in an area can lead to complete destruction, such as in certain areas of Kruger National Park and in Chobe National Park in Botswana. One might say that this is a natural factor, and is not mans fault, but before man arrived and fenced areas, forcing elephants to concentrate in smaller areas, there wasn’t a problem.


Fences have been erected all over Africa, dividing it into a maze of farms and properties; these fences have wreaked havoc with the migratory routes of many animals, such as wildebeest. The fences cut the animals off from their perennial water supplies, and force them to find new water holes. Foreign elements quickly kill the animals in new territory as they adapt to their new surroundings, thus a drop in their numbers occurs. Another factor hampering the migration of animals is the construction of dams, not only do dams inundate some previously dry areas up stream, they dry up previously “wet” areas downstream. These areas may have been drinking holes for the animals during migration, but now they have to find alternative supplies.


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