71% of the world is made up of water. Of that, less than 2% is usable and accessible fresh water.
Water is vital to all life on Earth, but due in large part to the way we use it, it is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. But it isn’t just water that is scarce, it is access to clean water that is all too scarce, even in America: Land of the Plenty.
We have recently seen handfuls of cities across America with contaminated water supplies, due to outdated infrastructure, fracking, animal agriculture, and pesticides to name a few. This has left millions of people without clean and safe water coming out of their taps. No showers, no brushing your teeth.
But there is another big water issue upon us.
This past Sunday, June 17 was World Day to Combat Desertification.
Desertification is a big deal and it affects us all, but what does it mean? Desertification is the process by which fertile land, or land that is full of nutrients, becomes desert, typically as a result of drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture. Over 40% of the Earth’s unfrozen land is at risk of desertification. The consequences could have dire implications like lack of global food security.
What Causes Desertification?
A major cause of desertification is unsustainable land use, such as:
Monocropping: Monocropping is the agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops or growing multiple crops on the same land (polyculture). Corn, soybeans, and wheat are three common crops often grown using monocropping techniques. The cycle of monocropping depletes vital nutrients from the soil, making it less fertile over time, and making the food we grow less nutritious.
Overgrazing: Much of the great plains is used to graze livestock for animal agriculture. Often the grasslands are so heavily grazed that the vegetation is damaged and the ground becomes liable to erosion. Without sufficient vegetation, ground water is also more easily contaminated without it’s natural filtering process.
Deforestation: Deforestation, or the cutting down of natural forests, often for agricultural purposes, puts land at greater risk for desertification by reducing the ability of the soil to retain water. It also reduces soil and the natural habitats capacity to act as a carbon sink.
The Desertification of the Great Plains
The great plains not only provides a large percent of Americas grain crop, it also supplies crops and space for animal agriculture.
All of this agriculture is powered by a system of aquifers, or underground water reserves. Part of this system, the Ogallala Aquifer, provides drinking water for over 2 million people, but 90% of the water pumped is used for agriculture.
In fact, so much water has been used since the 1950’s that the aquifer is only 9% full and would take over 6,000 years to refill naturally. $20 Billion in food and fibers rely on the Ogallala Aquifer annually. Yet instead of protecting this land that is so vital to our lives and economy, our industrialized system of irrigated monocropping has ravaged the land and natural resources.
This isn’t just a problem happening here in the great plains region. Desertification is happening all over the world, and it puts us all at risk.
Desertification can cause lack of food supplies, extinction of animals and mass migration of people fleeing drought, famine, and oft times, political unrest largely due to lack of resources.
Here are a few ways you can help stop desertification:
Eat less meat. Animal agriculture is responsible for groundwater contamination, deforestation, and overgrazing
Buy non-GMO and organic to support more Earth friendly agriculture
Boycott products from companies participating in deforestation
Join a CSA! Eat local, sustainable produce from farmers you trust.
Remember, by changing your buying habits, you are telling the corporations what you want and that helps to influence sustainable changes in corporate practices. It all starts with you.
And, as always, be smart about your water usage and waste!
To learn more about Desertification check out: The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification