What Does Combating Desertification Mean?


KKL-JNF is committed to combating desertification in the Negev and is highly involved in research on afforestation, agriculture and water issues in desert conditions.
What is desertification?


Combating desertification - afforestation reverses the progress land degradation and pushes back the desert. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

The original definition was actually "land degradation" and not the spread of natural deserts to new areas, as is the case with the Sahara Desert. However, until recently the term “land degradation” had referred to processes in arid and dry sub-humid regions and processes caused by man. Between 35-42% of the earth’s land mass can be defined as "dry lands" and 35% of the population - about two billion people - live in these areas. In Israel, for example, 95% of the land is considered "semi-arid."

Speaking of the subject, Israel expert Professor Safriel suggested that desertification should be defined by "lack of soil productivity" to enable us to focus on possible solutions for seemingly contradictory situations. For example, in South Africa, in areas with similar rainfall, white farmers evidence higher NPP (net primary productivity) than black farmers. This means that we need to focus not only on climatic conditions, but also on monitoring land usage without destroying its productivity. In fact, overuse of land resources often inspires ingenuity that promotes sustainable use of lands and biological activity.
 
Synergies
It has become very popular to speak of “synergies” between the three above-mentioned conventions and the need to implement solutions that jointly address climatic change, biodiversity and desertification when in fact, we still need to understand basic connections between them – for instance, how does climate change actually affect biodiversity?
 
Carbon Credits
The "Kyoto Protocol of 1997" gave birth to what is known as the CDM – the Clean Development Mechanism, which means that in exchange for investing in planting forests in developing countries, developed countries receive “carbon credits” that allow them to invest less in their own emission reductions. This of course, also leads to conflicts of interests – for instance, developed countries want to plant large forests in order to receive a lot of carbon credits, while developing countries need smaller, localized tree-planting, which better serves their needs.
 
Is Afforestation the Solution?
It has become common knowledge that carbon sequestration - processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere - is enhanced by afforestation. Dry lands are ideal for increasing biomass on the one hand, since they are comparatively inexpensive land, but on the other hand, they have serious water constraints. These two factors must be balanced and in fact, carbon sequestration as a result of afforestation alone in dry lands may not always be sufficiently significant to justify planting forests, without the additional evaluation of other factors.