According to the U.N., desertification is one of the greatest environmental challenges people face today. Often a poorly-understood phenomenon, desertification can mean hunger, economic crisis or death for those living in poverty. Below are the answers to common questions about this challenge.

Desertification FAQ’s

  1. What is desertification? This refers to the process of fertile land becoming unproductive. This means that the land struggles to grow any type of vegetation due to lack of minerals and nutrients in the soil.
  2. What causes it? Desertification can be caused by many factors, including deforestation, overpopulation, poor agricultural practices or climate change.
  3. What are some misconceptions about it? Although the word “desert” is normally associated with sand, desertification does not necessarily mean the land is becoming sand-covered. Instead, this occurs when a dryland ecosystem, or ecosystem that lacks water, becomes unproductive due to the tolls of the environment or human beings.
  4. Where does it happen? This can happen anywhere as long as there is land with soil. Typically, the phenomenon is seen in drylands that suffer from droughts or heavy amounts of migration.
  5. How are is this related to poverty? According to the U.N., there are roughly two billion people who live and depend on dryland ecosystems, and up to 90 percent of those live in developing countries. These dryland ecosystems are prime environments for desertification to occur.
  6. How does it affect poverty? A population in poverty that suffers from desertification can become further impoverished due to the lack of sustainable land. It can lead to starvation in developing countries.
  7. What does it mean for everyone else? When desertification threatens those in poverty, it also threatens global security. It can influence war, political unrest and mass migration.
  8. What can be done to prevent it? To prevent desertification caused by humans, it is beneficial to work with farmers to apply sustainable farming practices before it occurs. Preventing overpopulation is also important.
  9. What can we do to aid those in poverty who suffer from desertification? According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the most efficient way to aid those in poverty is to work with them to restore their own land. This restoration includes three approaches: resting, reseeding and planting.
  10. Can it be reversed? Reversing desertification is challenging, but it is possible with dedication. In 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was established in order to manage and develop land that has succumbed to desertification. Strategies such as reforestation, soil hyper-fertilization and water management have been implemented in order to begin salvaging lands affected by it.

In 2003, then-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan declared desertification to be “both a cause and a consequence of poverty.” Using sustainable farming methods, we can fight the consequences of desertification and work to end poverty around the globe.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr


1. Doesn’t corruption in developing nations prevent aid from reaching the most impoverished people? While corruption exists nearly everywhere, including the United States, it is by no means a justification for ignoring the plight of the world’s poor. In recent years, experts have developed numerous strategies for bypassing corruption and ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable people receive assistance. The United States even set up a funding program (MCC) that requires countries to address corruption before they can receive assistance. This ensures that aid coming from the United States goes directly to the people.


2. Is the problem too big to address? While the problem is huge, the solutions are easy, affordable, and proven to work. In 2015 the UN completed its Millennium Development Goals, which in part sought to cut global hunger in half. This goal was achieved early, and the UN now targets zero hunger by 2030. It estimates that this lofty goal can be achieved with an additional $264 billion spent globally per year. This is less than the United States currently spends on interest payments on the national debt $283 billion and less than half of the U.S. defense budget $612 billion.  


3. Why should the United States address poverty abroad when we have it here? These are not competing interests. Our foreign policy should be focused on international poverty because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s in our strategic interest. And for the same reasons our domestic policy should focus on poverty at home.


4. What is the biggest hurdle in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ending world hunger? Leadership from Congress and the White House. We’re the first country in history that has the ability and political power to end world hunger. As the world’s agenda-setter, the United States is in the unique position of leading the fight to reduce poverty and ensure that the Methods for Ending Poverty are achieved, with help from other nations and the private sector.


5. How is poverty fought on the ground? The strategies range from teaching farmers how to increase crop productivity to giving small loans to women so they can buy ovens and earn money selling bread.


6. Why do CEOs and the business community want the U.S. to end global poverty? The world’s poor are now viewed as the largest untapped market on earth. As people transition from barely surviving into being consumers of goods and products, U.S. companies gain new populations to which they can market their products. Many corporations have already benefited substantially from the poverty reduction that has occurred in India, China, and other parts of the world, and they realize that their future earnings are tied to whether or not U.S. leadership is working to reduce global poverty.


7. Why do defense experts view global poverty as a threat to the United States? Poverty creates desperate people and unstable conditions. As the National Security Strategy of the United States says, “A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just nor stable.”