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Desertification
The creation of the Serengiti National Park has lead to the overgrazing of marginal lands.

Desertification

One of the topics looked at in GCSE Geography is the degradation of dryland - also know as desertification. This quiz looks at the causes of, and some possible solutions to, desertification.

Desertification is the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems caused by variations in climate and human activities. Drylands occupy nearly half the planet's land area, and in 2000 were home to around one-third of the Earth’s population.

Drylands are, as the name suggests, areas where water is scarce. In the past, nomadic lifestyles and low levels of agriculture meant that the risk of over cultivation was relatively low. But the marginal conditions in drylands mean that climate change and human pressures can easily tip the balance and destroy their fragile ecosystems, leaving nothing but bare soils behind. Up to 20% of the world’s drylands have already been degraded, but the facts are that these changes are affecting the world’s poorest populations.

That these populations are the poorest, means that they rely on the local ecosystem more than the inhabitants of developed nations. Food, fuel, construction materials, grazing for livestock - all come from the local environment. As the climate fluctuates the desert expands, forcing people to cultivate further marginal land and leading to more land degradation.

A great case study to learn for use in essays and exams is that of the Masai tribes of the Kenyan Serengeti. Originally nomadic farmers, their traditional system of moving from one area to another allowed the land to recover, before commercial farmers moved in to convert the premium lands to commercial agriculture. When the Serengeti National Park was created the Masai and their herds were excluded. These two factors, along with expanding populations, forced the Masai on to marginal lands. Private ownership of land now limits the Masai’s ability to move, and so leads to overgrazing on these marginal lands. This overgrazing has led to desertification.

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1.
Which of the following is a disadvantage of afforestation?
Trees lock up carbon dioxide
Newly planted trees prevent other plants from getting water
Trees prevent windblown sand moving to form sand dunes
Trees become a source of firewood that will be used in stoves by local people
The trees may die due to lack of water. It could be argued that funding could be better spent on more effective projects
2.
Which of the following is a human cause of desertification?
Increased flock and herd size
Seasonal rainfall being unreliable
Climate change
Certain crops going extinct
Whilst climate change is influenced by human activity, it is considered a natural cause of desertification rather than a human one
3.
Which of the following is not a way that planting trees will help reduce desertification?
By acting as a wind-break to reduce the amount of sand being blown away
By producing water as rainfall in the immediate area
By providing a source of sustainable fuel
By protecting the remaining soil and allowing a leaf litter layer to develop
Charity programmes, such as that of the Green Cross in Burkina Faso, educate local populations on the use of plant nurseries and fuel saving stoves
4.
How can rainfall be made more reliable in areas under threat from desertification?
Better weather forecasting
Damming of rivers
Better crop selection
Cloud Seeding
Some people believe that messing with the atmosphere in this high-tech way may have as yet unknown impacts
5.
In areas under threat from desertification, people are forced to use marginal lands. How are these marginal lands defined?
Lands along the edges of a desert or a lake
Lands that form the boundary between two tribal areas. Grazing here can lead to tribal conflict
Lands that have little or no potential for profit. They often have poor soils or other undesirable characteristics
Lands that are at the edges of cities and may be heavily contaminated
Lands that are considered marginal for crops may be suitable for animal grazing in some circumstances, or for different farming methods
6.
Dams have been built on a number of major rivers to increase the amount of water available for drinking and agriculture. How can artificial irrigation increase desertification?
It causes rapid soil erosion
It causes salinisation of the soil
It causes soil contamination
It causes sheet erosion
Salinisation is an increase in levels of salt in the soil as minerals are drawn up to the surface by water evaporation
7.
Which of the following is not a possible strategy to reduce desertification?
Havesting branches rather than complete trees for fire wood
Controlled burning of grasslands to reduce the spread of wildfires
Reducing the number of livestock animals
Developing national parks and reserves where local people aren't permitted
The creation of the Serengiti National Park has lead to the overgrazing of marginal lands
8.
Which of the following is a physical cause of desertification?
Overgrazing
Irrigation
Changing farming practices
Climate change
Climate change is a leading cause of desertification, along with unsustainable land usage
9.
Magic stones are a project in which piles of stones are placed across slopes. How do these help reduce desertification?
The stones prevent soil blowing away by holding it down
The stones slow surface water run-off and soil erosion
The stones stop goats and other grazing animals destroying the vegetation
The stones remind people that the soil needs to be protected
These piles of stones are laid across a slope and trap surface water runoff, so reducing soil erosion
10.
How can plant science help increase the amount of vegetation in areas and so slow, or even reverse desertification?
By developing or discovering more drought resistant versions of crops such as millet and cotton
By creating new crops from varieties such as algaes and cactus
By changing the ground in specific ways to suit the water-intensive crops that are required
By developing treatments and medicines to help the crops survive times when there is little water
Genetically modified crops can help in these situations, as can moving crops from a different area, such as moving early maturing millet from southern to northern Mali. Improving the soil using fertilisers such as animal dung also helps
Author:  Ruth M

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