While the world shrinks owing to modem means of communication and transport, the land available for our habitation also shrinks, posing a problem which, if not attended to now, can threaten food production. Agricultural land is disappearing fast and soil is being eroded or exhausted. Deserts are marching and forests are disappearing. The world, particularly the Third World, is being threatened with food shortage and over-population and the ills associated with these. Many areas are in danger of desertification. The Sahara in about ten years has moved south by 100 kilometres.
The Thar desert in Rajasthan in India is marching at the rate of half a mile a year. Deserts have eaten into the Horn of Africa and much of the south-west of the continent, and they are moving without interruption. It is said that an area bigger than Great Britain is disappearing every year. All this means that previous agricultural land is being turned to desert. Soil is being eroded, exhausted or blown away. It is believed that if the present trend continues there would be very little farm land per person by the year 2000.
The chief agent of this depletion is man who is indifferent to the sensitive and delicately balanced ecosystems. Land is laid waste by the impact of his activities. As population increases, cultivation is pushed to new areas, thereby accelerating the process of depletion of arable land. Pastoral nomads and their cattle are other agents of this destruction. The land system cannot maintain these animals and it breaks down under severe strain. This means that the animals of the pastoral nomads eat vegetation far more quickly than the earth can regenerate it. Another factor responsible for this shrinking is deforestation.
It has . been estimated that half the forest area in developing countries has been denuded between 1900 and 1965 for cultivation purposes. It is feared that, if Brazil’s forests are cleared at the prevailing rate of 62,500 square miles a year, the Amazon forest will be soon destroyed, thereby depriving us of a quarter of the world’s oxygen supplies. A report of the Food and Agriculture Organization says that 86% of wood cut in developing countries is burnt as fuel. Deforestation decays the soil and reduces its capacity to feed and employ people. It also reduces rain, thereby causing droughts.
The rain that falls in the area runs off to rivers, taking with it the top soil suitable for cultivation. This process can result in the silting of rivers which in turn can affect the irrigation system. The long-term effect of deforestation is desertification. It is said that in Java only 12% of the island has now tree cover. The Indonesian government has reacted to the problem by reforesting and outlawing shifting cultivation. I’ll fares the land where denudation is indiscriminately practised. Another ecological threat is salinization associated with which is water-logging.
Many of the irrigation canals in the Third World are un- lined, and as a result water seeps down and raises the level of water table below. This process brings the harmful salts leached down by rain to the root zone. Plants, therefore, become stunted. This salinity has been responsible for the damage of 15% of the irrigated land in India. The estimate is that about 300,000 hectares are lost to salinization and water-logging. The impact of these processes is the loss of arable land – the desertification of the earth. Radical land reforms and formation of co-operatives can arrest the trend.
The sad fact remains that in many developing countries landlords frustrate government efforts. There is the tendency for the government to coddle cities and urban industries. Because of these ecological threats, by the end of this century, the earth would have shrunk so much that it may have to support one and a half times the present population on three-quarters of its present cultivated area. Land is essential for life, and the factors referred to undermine the livelihood of the people of the Third World. When deserts march or the earth shrinks, the Third World beware!