-- Political Issues: Desertification --

Issues Index


This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on the issue of Desertification.

  • 14 March 2000 - On Desertification in Mali
    [Interviewer is Ousman Jobarteh]

    OJ: ...You also went to Africa.

    BC: Yea!

    OJ: And you spent some time there on behalf of the efforts to end desertification or at least to promote knowledge about it.

    BC: Yea. Really the latter, because I'm only marginally involved with efforts to fight it, but I got a call one day from a guy that I've known for some time named Bob Lang who's a filmmaker with whom I've done a number of public service announcements for a particular charity that we both give time to at home, and he said, "What do think if we organize a trip to Timbuktu?" [Laugh] I said, "Okay," ya know, "It's alright with me."

    But the point of the thing is it was ages before we actually went, about a year before we actually went, and he wanted to go and do a film and I'm not quite sure what was in his mind in the first stages, but what it evolved in to very quickly was a documentary for Canadian TV on the issue of desertification and using Mali in West Africa as an example of a country faced with this problem.

    There are, you know, as you probably know, there are lots of countries and somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion people whose ability to support themselves is directly threatened by the process of desertification, which I suppose we should define for those who don't know what we're talking about.

    The word is used to describe the process by which a dry, but usable land degrades into actual desert that isn't usable by humans and that is invariably accomplished by human misuse of the land, by cutting the trees down, by overgrazing sometimes, by bad irrigation practices and so on. And often these are the results of poorly thought out government policies... in the rush, especially in the third world, but here, too, in the rush to kind of modernize and industrialize, certain key things are overlooked sometimes, like the need for trees to hold the soil together.
    -- from "Mostly Manding," WERU-FM in Blue Hill, Maine, interviewed by Ousman Jobarteh, 14 March 2000.

  • Circa 2000 - on Desertification
    The United Nations Development Programme
    Communities are Fighting Back - Against Desertification
    by Bruce Cockburn

    Drought in Ontario, floods in Southern Manitoba, forest fires, threatened harvests, lost crops... Despite the initial hardships brought on by these calamities, we have so far been able to cope, and things seem to balance themselves out. This is not the case in many other parts of the world. Each year more and more of the world's soil is becoming too worn out to produce food. An inch of soil which has taken centuries to build up can be blown or washed away in seconds if not properly cared for. At this moment, drylands on every continent are being degraded by overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices. This is aggravated by the climate change that is occurring. The United Nations estimates that one third of the earth's land surface is affected by this degradation, known as 'desertification'. Close to a billion people suffer from the impact - threatened in both livelihood and survival. Prime resources, fertile topsoil, vegetation cover, and healthy crops and water are the first victims of desertification. Growing global awareness of this threat has led to international solidarity and action. The UN has declared June 17, Global Anti-Desertification Day. Third World poverty is both a contributing factor to, and a result of, the erosion of fragile lands. The people of the Sahel region of Africa are on the front lines of the battle against desertification. If their efforts to reverse the process of soil degradation are successful their achievements and methods will serve as models for the rest of us.

    Last year I travelled to West Africa, to the legendary city of Timbuktu and the drylands of northern Mali to see for myself what living conditions are like, at the edge of the Sahara. In particular, I wanted to see what local communities can do, and are doing, to fight off desertification. My Malian hosts from USC Canada-Mali have been working with rural people in this remote area for about ten years and some remarkable results can be observed. Villagers have reclaimed some 4,000 ha of marginal land, have planted trees and created arboretums which protect the land, enabling the development of market gardening. The participation of the local people in designing and implementing these programs has been the key to their success.

    The amount of work to be done on this critical issue is huge, but there is reason for hope. There is no more graphic illustration of this than the hopeful faces of people in these Malian villages who by their efforts have turned back desertification. Much has been learned. There is much to share.

    June 17, Global Anti-Desertification Day, is an important symbolic occasion for the spreading of information about the issue, and for the celebration of the efforts of communities like the ones I visited in the fight against this threat to the world's food supply. It is also an occasion for us, as Canadians and caring planetary citizens to renew our commitment to support, however we can, those who have taken on this urgent challenge.

    Bruce Cockburn.
    -- from The United Nations Development Programme, "Communities are Fighting Back - Against Desertification", by Bruce Cockburn, circa 2000.

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