The most large-scale solution to harmful desertification is discouraging human practices such as overgrazing, unsustainable farming, and deforestation. At the local level, individuals and governments can temporarily forestall desertification by simply physically fixing soil in place. Sand fences are used throughout the Middle East and the US, in the same way snow fences are used in the north. Placement of straw grids, each up to a square meter in area, will also decrease the surface wind velocity. Shrubs and trees planted within the grids are protected by the straw until they take root. In areas where some water is available for irrigation, shrubs planted on the lower one-third of a dune’s windward side will stabilize the dune. This vegetation decreases the wind velocity near the base of the dune and prevents much of the sand from moving. Higher velocity winds at the top of the dune level it off and trees can be planted atop these flattened surfaces.
I agree with Jharte — the three primary influences on desertification are deforestation, overgrazing and climate change. Deforestation deprives the land of trees whose roots normally would anchor soil in place, while overgrazing breaks soil loose from the ground (a la Dust Bowl). Climate change, with all of its associated factors, ultimately heats up our atmosphere so that moisture is more-readily evaporated from the soil.
For two amazing historical treatments of desertification from The Great Dust Bowl see Donald Worster’s ‘The Dust Bowl’ and also his ‘Nature’s Economy’
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