The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) was commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs to undertake a research study themed ‘Trends of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought, Indicators of the UNCCD for South Africa’, as part of its obligation to report on the status of land degradation and drought in South Africa as a signatory to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The research covered trends of land productivity using the following indicators:

  • Drought occurrences.
  • Salinization.
  • Biomass production.
  • Soil carbon stocks.
  • Bush encroachment.
  • Causes of changing land cover.
  • Soil erosion.

Factors that impact on food security

Desertification is experienced mainly in the arid and semi-arid areas of South Africa. It can lead to a persistent decline or loss of ecosystem services essential for sustaining life, thus affecting food security and the natural resource base.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenge of ensuring food security for all. Decision makers and other role-players must attend to all factors that have an impact on food security. One such factor is desertification.

Raising awareness of desertification

The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is observed annually on 17 June. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the presence of desertification and drought, highlighting methods of prevention and recovery.

The focus in 2020 is on changing public attitudes to the leading drivers of desertification and land degradation.

In celebration, the ARC Soil, Climate and Water has scheduled a webinar on Wednesday 24 June, with speakers that include Dr Mohamed Abd Elbasit (topic: ‘Soil erosion potential mapping of South Africa’) and Dr Johan Malherbe (topic: ‘Drought occurrence and its impact’).

Dr Mphekgo Maila, head of the ARC Soil, Climate and Water research campus, commented: “The success in efforts to control and reverse land degradation rests not only on knowledge of its status, causes or impacts, but also on adopting systematic and integrated approaches that address the physical, biological and socio-economic aspects of the processes of desertification, land degradation and drought.” – Press release, Agricultural Research Council