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.
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.
The tsetse fly is one of nature’s only defences against man’s influence. The indigenous wildlife is immune to the disease carried by the tsetse fly, but cattle being exotic are not. This forced man to live in areas where there were no tsetse flies, as their cattle were quickly decimated. But today man is ruthless in his use of insecticides, and is spraying vast areas of Africa. This serves the purpose of killing the tsetse fly, but it has dreadful effects on the rest of the environment. The poisonous insecticides kill many other species, and when they enter the water streams, the potential for disaster is great, as the poison strengthens as it gets passed on by the ingestion of an infected animal. So the insecticide can cause damage to humans as well as destroying an already fragile and dying ecosystem.
Cattle are certainly the biggest culprits in the destruction of the environment and an alternative to cattle seems necessary to preserve African environment as we now it. The farming of wildlife today is very popular and is arguably a better option than cattle. Wildebeest, as an example, being indigenous are immune to disease and do not require expensive dipping, as cattle do. Their reproductive rate is much higher and they live longer. They do not destroy the environment as cattle do; therefore the land can sustain them for longer and the vegetation regenerates. The expense of farming wildlife such as Wildebeest and Springbok, as opposed to cattle, is much lower, as the animals do not require such attention and are extremely hardy, they have adapted to their surroundings over thousands of years whereas cattle have only had about 150 years.
Game farms and wildlife reserves attract tourists and hunters, who bring with them valuable foreign currency. The wildlife of Africa is a major draw-card for foreigners venturing to Africa, and the vast majority go to Game Parks or Farms, therefore these parks need to be maintained to keep the tourists coming. Hunting is also vital in bringing in money, and hunting decreases the amount of illegal poaching. However the hunters kill the “trophy” animals of the herds, the strongest ones. This conflicts with the natural balance of “survival of the fittest” as man kills the strongest animals, and the weakest are killed by nature. This weakens the herds, and so there are less “trophy” animals for the hunters.
All of the factors coupled with Africa’s erratic and dreadfully unpredictable climate have lead to Africa gradually turning into an arid wasteland. Desertification is an environmental disease rapidly spreading across Africa, 100 square miles of land are being “infected” by the disease every day. If this rate keeps up, 80 % of Africa will become desert. Africa already has the largest desert in the world, and two other significantly large deserts, these are growing rapidly and are engulfing large areas.
Africa is faced with insurmountable obstacles, something has to be done soon, or else Africa will become a barren wasteland worth nothing, and her people will never survive. The world already has to help Africa a lot, but if nothing is done soon by the people of Africa, I’m afraid nothing can be done by the rest of the world to help us.