Published in June 2016

Every country in the world uses its land for food and water. For those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy abundant water from a tap and buy any food we want from a supermarket, it’s not something we have to consider very often.

But the reality is that fertile land and sustainable water sources are diminishing at a frightening rate. In fact, desertification of land poses one of the greatest challenges of our times. 12 million hectares of land (greater than the size of Portugal) is lost to desertification every year. This equates to an area where 20 million tons of grain could have been grown.

Until recently, smallholder farmers in the world’s poorest and driest regions were bearing the most immediate effects of desertification, but the loss of arable land is quickly becoming a global problem.

California in the United States, for example, declared a state of emergency earlier this year due to its fourth consecutive year of severe drought. Usage of water for households, business and farmers has been severely restricted, having a real impact on people’s incomes and day-to-day lives. As a result, farmers in California are planting less crops, reducing food production, which in turn is having a negative impact on food prices.

If current trends continue, it is thought that land degradation over the next 25 years could reduce global food production by up to 12%, resulting in a 30% increase in world food prices. Migration and conflict over sparse resources are already on the rise, and hunger and poverty are likely to become more widespread, reversing hard-won development goals.

"Before we used to get some good rains that enabled us to get enough food but in the recent years it has been gradually decreasing and we are now not able to get enough food, even though we put efforts in farming."

Joseph Kilonzo, Mumbuka self-help group, southeast Kenya.

It’s for those reasons that we observe World Day to Combat Drought and Desertification every year on 17 June. The day is organised by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought (UNCCD) to bring attention to the issues highlighted above and lobby for action.

Sand Dams Worldwide is an accredited Civil Society Organisation of UNCCD, contributing to the convention’s mission to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought on dryland communities. Sand dams play an important part in this, as they are suitable to conditions found in most dryland areas, covering around 40% of the world’s land surface.

Rather than large-scale global solutions, we believe that a variety of technologies and approaches suitable to local conditions are needed to build resilience and restore degraded land sustainably around the world. These issues are going to become more pressing as time moves on.

Read more about the issues of drought and desertification and find out how sand dams can help