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Loss of Fertile Land Fuels 'Looming Crisis' across Africa

10:14 EDT 31 Jul 2017 | Meridian Institute

“Climate change, soil degradation and rising wealth are shrinking the amount of usable land in Africa. But the number of people who need it is rising fast,” this article says. It highlights, in particular, how the situation is leading to conflict in Kenya, although the problem is fueling conflict across the continent. Data show an overwhelming degradation of agricultural land throughout Africa; today, 40 million Africans are trying to survive off land whose agricultural potential is declining. A burgeoning population means the situation is only likely to get worse. Odenda Lumumba, the head of the Kenya Land Alliance, said, “It’s a looming crisis. We are basically reaching the end of the road.” Adds Zachary Donnenfeld, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, “There are going to be some serious food-security issues. More and more countries will be reliant on food imports. You’ll increasingly see the international community come into more rescue-type situations.” Much of Africa’s farmland suffers from severe overuse. Subsistence farmers can’t afford to let land sit fallow and replenish; instead, it must be used constantly - a situation that steadily lowers the health of the soil, making it difficult to grow crops. Moreover, newfound affluence in some African countries, such as Kenya, intensify the pressure on the environment. As more people can afford meat, cows have become a big business. The number of cows in the country has increased by more than 60 percent in the past 15 years, resulting in intense overgrazing of lands in some areas. Private investment in agricultural land is also increasing, as is the development of farmland for housing tracts and shopping centers. Included in the mix is the battle to protect Africa’s wildlife, with habitat constantly threatened by new farms and fences. “These ideas of land-abundant Africa are increasingly outdated,” said Thomas Jayne, a leading agricultural economist based at Michigan State University, in the United States. “Land disputes are going to become more and more common, and more and more severe.” While the land pressures can seem overwhelming, scientists say solutions are within reach. Smaller families, they say, could be the best answer for densely populated countries. A national grazing plan could help ruined pastureland to regrow. The problem, says ecologists, is that too little is being done. “The problem is too many people, too many cattle and too little planning,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a wildlife activist in northern Kenya.

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