Overgrazing by livestock and poor farming practices can lead to a drought-prone region suffering from desertification. Desertification occurs as the soil becomes drier and vulnerable to erosion—resembling a desert.

Illustration by Pierre Mion, National Geographic

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    On June 17, 1995, the United Nations declared the first World Day to Combat Desertification. Despite its name, desertification is not the advance of sandy deserts into fertile land. Desertification is “the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by human activities—including unsustainable farming, mining, overgrazing and clearcutting of land—and by climate change.”
    Desertification is one of the greatest environmental hazards in the world. It contributes to food shortages and the forced migration of thousands of families, as land that was once used for agriculture is lost. Each year, 12 million hectares are lost to desertification—land on which 20 million tons of grain could have been grown. Desertification conditions impact regions from central Africa to Southeast Asia to the highlands of the Andes.
    Each year, the World Day to Combat Desertification chooses a different theme. In 2008, the theme was “Combating Land Degradation for Sustainable Agriculture.” In 2013, the theme was “Don’t Let Our Future Dry Up,” and focused on preparedness for water scarcity
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    agricultural practice Noun

    method used to harvest crops or care for livestock.

    agriculture Noun

    the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

    Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture
    clearcutting Noun

    process of cutting down all the vegetation in an area, usually as part of an economic industry.

    climate change Noun

    gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate change
    combat Verb

    to fight.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    cultivate Verb

    to encourage the growth of something through work and attention.

    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    desertification Noun

    rapid depletion of plant life and topsoil, often associated with drought and human activity.

    diversify Verb

    to select a variety of options.

    drip irrigation Noun

    system that delivers moisture to plants by tubes with holes that drop water.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    environmental hazard Noun

    extreme event that can cause lasting change to the physical landscape and human activity.

    erosion Noun

    act in which earth is worn away, often by water, wind, or ice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: erosion
    farming Noun

    the art, science, and business of cultivating the land for growing crops.

    fertile Adjective

    able to produce crops or sustain agriculture.

    fertility Noun

    capacity of soil to sustain plant growth; or the average number of children born to women in a given population.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fertility
    forced migration Noun

    the movement of people away from their homes due to political conflict, natural disaster or environmental hazard.

    global warming Noun

    increase in the average temperature of the Earth's air and oceans.

    Encyclopedic Entry: global warming
    graze Verb

    to feed on grass, usually over a wide pasture.

    hectare Noun

    unit of measure equal to 2.47 acres, or 10,000 square meters.

    income Noun

    wages, salary, or amount of money earned.

    land degradation Noun

    natural or human activity that wears down landforms, making them less viable.

    livestock noun, plural noun

    animals raised for sale and profit.

    mining Noun

    process of extracting ore from the Earth.

    nutrient Noun

    substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nutrient
    overgrazing Noun

    process of too many animals feeding on one area of pasture or grassland.

    persistent Adjective

    lasting, stubborn, or tenacious.

    soil Noun

    top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

    sustainable Adjective

    able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

    United Nations Noun

    international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.

    water scarcity Noun

    situation when the amount of water available does not meet the amount of water needed or wanted by a population.