What Causes Desertification in Africa? 8 Major Causes

What Causes Desertification in Africa.

The 8 major causes of desertification in Africa are

  • Precipitation and the Dry Season
  • Farming Methods and Deforestation
  • Drought
  • Soil Erosion
  • Wildfires
  • Unsustainable Use of Water
  • Political unrest, poverty, and hunger
  • Climate Change

Significant portions of the African continent are affected by desertification, which harms both wildlife and local inhabitants’ ability to support themselves.

A 3,000-mile length of territory in the Sahel region of Africa contains ten countries and is the area most at risk. The Sahel is the region that lies between the Sudanese Savannah and the Sahara Desert.

Due to recurring droughts and soil erosion, this region is constantly under stress. Mass migrations are inevitable since it only takes a few years for a dense forest to turn into a field of dust. Many Africans move south in search of arable land.

Massive environmental effects of desertification include loss of vegetation and biodiversity, food insecurity, increased risk of zoonotic diseases (infectious diseases spread between species), such as COVID-19, loss of forest cover, and water shortages caused by drying up of aquifers.

Desertification in Africa Today

60% of Africans are expected to live in arid, semi-arid, dry sub-humid, and hyper-arid regions by the year 2022. The Sahel continues to be the most exposed and afflicted region internationally and on the African continent.

Due to the exceedingly dry land, it is quite difficult for people to work and support themselves. Regional Disaster & Stabilization Specialist with Convoy of Hope, Bryan Burr, stated that the year had been difficult.

Drought following drought. Pets are passing away. Crops are not expanding. What food they do receive is imported grain, which isn’t arriving at the moment.

Africans make significant earnings from harvesting and exporting products including cowpea, millet, maize, cocoa, and cotton, which are essential to the continent’s economy today.

However, it is believed that up to 65% of Africa’s productive land has been damaged, with desertification accounting for the majority of this degradation, affecting 45% of the continent and posing a serious threat to the remaining 55%.

The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) estimates that the continent loses 3 million hectares of forest per year, which results in a 3% decline in GDP due to soil and nutrient depletion.

Africa spends more than $43 billion annually on food imports due to the unavoidable loss of land productivity, and farmers are losing out on revenues because of soil infertility.

Population growth also drives more demand for overgrazing, agriculture, and deforestation, which further degrades the land.

In Africa, there is a distinct geographic pattern of desertification that affects several large savannah regions that already border other deserts. One of these regions is the Sahel, a semi-arid territory that covers much of western Africa and extends along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.

But just as the areas bordering the Kalahari and Namibian Deserts are in danger of turning into deserts, so are portions of eastern Africa, including Kenya.

Africa is a rather dry continent, with at least 65% of its land area classified as being at least semi-arid, aside from the lush rainforests that cover much of the Equator.

In addition to Africa’s deserts, the savannah regions also make up a huge network of dryland habitats that are more vulnerable to climate change.

1. Precipitation and the Dry Season

In the vast savannah regions, there is a long dry season, followed by a two- to three-month wet season.

Due to changing rainfall patterns brought on by climate change, rainy seasons are getting shorter and yield less rain in many savannah drylands that border deserts.

As a result, grasslands and shrublands that border the desert lose their vegetation, fertile soil is blown away, and the environment becomes desolate.

The land is frequently too dry to absorb rainfall-runoff, further deteriorating the land through soil erosion. Climate change has also been connected to an increase in the intensity of rainfall during torrential downpours.

2. Farming Methods and Deforestation

The problem of desertification in Africa is accelerated by human activity.

An increasing population, many of whom live in extreme poverty and depend directly on the land for survival, is one of the main culprits, as are overgrazing, destructive farming practices, and deforestation.

Cattle grazing, which eliminates a significant amount of vegetation from the ground, is thought to be responsible for 58% of African desertification, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Around one-fifth of the desertification in Africa is attributed to agricultural operations, particularly planting and producing crops, as tilling the soil and growing crops make the topsoil susceptible to wind and rain erosion.

Since certain savannah areas are home to Acacia thickets and other pockets of wood, deforestation has a negative effect and serious consequences for desertification. These are frequently cut down for firewood, which causes deforestation and desertification.

Together with the adoption of more ecologically friendly agricultural practices, planting trees is a crucial component of the strategy to stop future desertification in Africa.

Widespread tree cutting in Tanzania, a neighboring country, poses the threat of turning most of its forest into desert.

Vice President Omar Ali Juma brought attention to the escalating issue in early January by pointing out that the nation is losing between 320,000 and 1.2 million acres of forest area annually due to the growth of agricultural lands and an increase in the need for fuelwood.

By relocating their herds from the arid regions of the north to the woods that are abundant in flora and water in the south, livestock herders also contribute to the degeneration of Tanzania’s forests.

3. Drought

A three-year drought in Kenya has destroyed animals and dried up crops, leaving thousands of people without enough food.

According to the Arid Lands Resource Management Project, a government project, over 40% of Kenya’s cattle and up to 20% of its sheep and goats have died as a result of the drought, which has badly affected two-thirds of the country’s territory.

4. Soil Erosion

A danger to food and fuel supply, soil erosion in Africa may also have an impact on climate change.

Governments and humanitarian agencies have been attempting to stop soil erosion in Africa for more than a century, frequently with minimal success.

40% of Africa’s soil is currently degraded. Food production is reduced by degraded soil, which also causes soil erosion and desertification.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 83% of sub-Saharan Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihood and that by 2050, food production in Africa will need to nearly double to meet population demands.

For many African nations, soil erosion is becoming a critical social, economic, and environmental issue.

5. Wildfires

In dry areas, forest fires can also be to blame for woodland deterioration.

Fires, which are occasionally used to clear land for farming, expose the soil to sunshine and other factors, which can modify its chemical composition and prevent once-thriving tree species from regenerating.

As grazing animals move to new places in search of food, increasing the burden on those areas’ resources and resulting in overgrazing, fire can also put nearby stands at risk.

In the Sahel region of North Africa, where the degradation of drylands is particularly apparent, fire is a major contributor to desertification.

6. Unsustainable Use of Water

The most vulnerable regions to desertification are drylands, which are characterized by seasonal water shortages.

This indicates that the original ecosystem of these areas is well-adapted to withstand dry seasons when plants temporarily stop growing to protect themselves and resume growing once the rains return. This is known as summer dormancy.

In the Serengeti, you can observe the amazing tenacity of the vegetation. Thousands of Africa’s most famous herbivores can graze on the enormous grass plains during the rainy season, but this possibility disappears when the dry season arrives.

But the issue arises when we attempt to alter these seasonal patterns and demand from these areas a consistent agricultural yield or enough grazing for cattle throughout the year.

In situations like these, people frequently over-extract water to irrigate crops from sources like streams, rivers, or even groundwater.

Rice farmers in all parts of northern China are already experiencing difficulties due to a lack of water for farming and the encroachment of villages by desert sands.

While local agronomists concur that excessive water extraction for the construction of rice paddies was a major factor in the present growth of the desert, farmers lament their inability to cultivate rice fields.

Even in towns and tourist sites that are built in dry or semi-arid regions, inappropriate water management occurs, contributing to the problem of growing desertification.

These locations frequently withdraw large amounts of groundwater from natural aquifers, preventing them from naturally replenishing, and eventually experiencing water scarcity, similar to Cape Town in South Africa.

7. Political unrest, poverty, and hunger

Land degradation itself can contribute to further disruption of societal and political stability when social and political dynamics increase pressures on the land that cause desertification.

Many people in dryland areas are left without the means to provide for themselves and their children as a result of the loss of fertile soil, water, and other resources, both for subsistence and commercial use.

Due to this, a large number of African communities frequently relocate to metropolitan centers or other nations, adding to population pressures and occasionally raising the possibility of social and political unrest.

The Natural Heritage Institute claims that many of the yearly influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico into the United States are escaping the highly deteriorated lands of that nation, which comprise 60% of the country’s landmass.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 25 million refugees worldwide, or 58% of all refugees, are escaping degraded areas.

8. Climate Change

Smaller farms and homes have been hardest hit as a result of these implications. They can no longer grow crops and feed themselves due to land degradation, the loss of fertile soils, tree cover, and clean water.

“The grass no longer grows, and there are hardly any trees left. So, each year, we have to go a greater distance to get fodder for our cattle, Khalidou Badaram of Senegal told the BBC in 2015.

Desertification has negative effects on not only Africans but also the environment and rich biodiversity of the continent.

The Congo Basin, the second-largest rainforest in the world, is located on the continent, along with 17% of the world’s forests and 31% of the world’s woods in the Sahel and other places.

Nevertheless, despite Africa’s profusion of rainforests that are ideal for wildlife to flourish, dryness has crept in and disrupted some of the places that animals call home.

According to Dr. Toroitich Victor, Response Officer for Africa at World Animal Protection, “in Africa, drought is one of the greatest disasters that threaten and cause animal deaths” since the changing climate threatens to cause more severe disasters.

Many Africans now rely on other ways of subsistence because farmers no longer have access to fertile soil and land on which to raise and sell crops. Sadly, this can lead to a fall in the number of African animal species.

For instance, the Black Rhino, a native of Africa, has been hunted to almost complete extinction to supply the world’s demand for rhinoceros horn. The price per kilogram of these rhinoceros horns can reach $400,000.

Similar outcomes have befallen animals like the African elephant as a result of the ivory trade. Due to habitat destruction, gorilla populations are also rapidly declining. Since a large portion of the available land is no longer suitable for agriculture, farmers have been obliged to make more space for construction.

According to the United Nations Global Land Outlook 2 study, intensive agricultural practices are to blame for up to 80% of deforestation, underscoring how desertification is having a domino effect on other environmental catastrophes.


The only but widely neglected way of stopping desertification is to plant more treesĀ – the soil is held together by tree roots, which also lessen soil erosion from wind and rain. Enhancing the soil’s quality can be accomplished by urging people to keep fewer grazing animals and to plant crops instead.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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