Land degradation and agriculture in the Sahel of Africa: causes, impacts and recommendations.
The Sahel region is largely dependent on agriculture as the main economic activity, with about 80-90% of the population actively engaged in agriculture. Land degradation is however a major environmental issue affecting the region, with negative consequences on agriculture. Unsustainable agricultural practices in the region in turn promote land degradation. This paper discusses the major environmental issues relating to land degradation and agriculture in the Sahel. It attempts to provide a descriptive report on the interactions between land degradation and agriculture based on a desk review of various scientific journals and reports on agriculture and land degradation in the Sahel region.
Land degradation in the Sahel is found to be characterised by soil degradation, mainly due to wind erosion. This is caused by climatic factors such as drought and diminishing rainfall, compounded by anthropogenic factors, including population growth, agricultural intensification and overgrazing. Climatic and anthropogenic factors may act independently or have effects on each other. These factors result in the reduction of vegetation cover, decrease in fallow periods and a reduction in the balance between fallow areas and cultivated fields, which are vital to maintaining soil fertility and reducing losses from erosion.
Agroforestry, integrated farming and practices that promote vegetation cover are proposed as sustainable land practices in the Sahel region. These will provide soil cover to protect soils against agents of erosion, increase agricultural productivity per unit land area and diversify farmers' sources of income, resulting in benefits for agricultural production and addressing land degradation.