Today, 17th June 2019, is the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Day to Combat Desertification and Drought — celebrating the people and projects securing the world’s green future.
Doing so is more necessary than ever: Two thirds of the world are predicted to be living under water-stressed conditions by 2025. If nothing changes, 1.8 billion people will experience ‘absolute water scarcity’ within six years, and 135 million people may end up displaced by desertification by 2045, as less land becomes arable or habitable.
But, there is hope! Global Shakers has prepared a list of 10 people across the world fighting to combat drought and desertification. They’re a mixture of academics, farmers and policy makers, working across Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East. They’re using ancient techniques and futuristic methods, working as lone rangers or embedded within local communities.
Will they be the ones to save us?
First up: Kristian P. Olesen, chief technology officer at Desert Control, has created something straight out of science fiction: a spray that can turn desert into fertile soil. His Liquid Nano Clay is applied to affected land and can reportedly make it ready for growing crops in just seven hours — rather than the seven years nature needs to do the same process. More crops = more greenery, which means less desert.
Professor Zhijan Yi at Chongqing Jiaotong University has done something similar, creating a “non-toxic, cost-effective” paste from plant cells that can be applied to sand to make viable soil. The paste has been trialled in the Ulan Buh Desert, a place that now houses populations of mice, frogs and birds, and “more than 70 kinds of plants”.
There are some committed to ‘re-greening’ projects in Africa. Chris Reij, a Dutch land specialist, has devoted his life to helping farmers scale-up traditional practices for growing trees in dusty land, so that others can reap the benefits of greenery. In the past few decades, in large part informed by his work, a belt of African countries have seen the growth of an additional 200 million trees.
Similarly, Mohamed Bakarr has helped convert a replanting programme across the African Sahel from a derided project into the “flagship initiative” to combat land degradation and desertification. He encouraged farmers to look after the trees that grow naturally on their land, rather than plant a line of new trees.
Pedro Berliner is using the same techniques used by the Nabatean people 2000 years ago, combining shrubbery and crops to retain desert water; Daniel Rojas is using fog-catching technology in the Chilean mountains to keep hold of water; and Kiran Rao is running a competition in a water scarce area of India, home to more than 100 million people, which encourages villages to innovate in any way possible to save water they use in farming and domestic use.
There’s also the man behind one of the largest consumer-driven tree planting programmes in the world, a controversial lifestock champion, and a farmer-inventor who has created the ultimate mesh barrier.