Africa: Learning to Manage the Desert

Article excerpt

THERE are more arid lands in Africa than in any other continent. In addition to these natural deserts where there is very little rainfall, there is also an area twice as large, straddling the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, that receives insufficient rainfall and is affected to varying degrees by processes that lead to desertification.

The problem, whose main cause is human activity, is not new but rapidly expanding human and animal populations are making it worse and more widespread by increasing the pressure on fragile ecosystems.

The severe drought that struck the Sudano-Sahelian region of Africa between 1968 and 1973 drew attention to this disruption in the ecological balance and to the deterioration of living conditions in the region. It also brought widespread sympathy and support for the people of the Sahel, and sparked a new interest in arid regions that found expression notably in the United Nations Conference on Desertification held in Nairobi in 1977. The Conference was followed by numerous regional initiatives, including the creation of an interstate committee on drought control in the Sahel. Within the framework of its Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme, UNESCO launched a number of projects which provided an opportunity for specialists in the field to share experiences and information.

From 1976 to 1987 the integrated project on arid lands in northern Kenya, implemented in co-operation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and with assistance from Germany, focused on traditional livestock farming systems in the dry lands of northern Kenya. The main aim was to develop these systems in such a way as to improve local living conditions while also protecting the environment.

The region's climate, soils, flora, fauna and water resources were analysed as part of the project, which led to the establishment of a management plan for about half the 22,500-square-kilometre area studied, which extended between Lake Turkana and Mount Marsabit. …