Oct. 26, 2016
Social and Cultural Implications of Desertification in the Sahel
The area that is affected the most by the consequences of desertification in Africa is the
transitional belt between the vast Saharan desert and the grassy Sudanian Savanna, known as the
Sahel. The people who inhabit this region consist mainly of poor farmers and herders who rely on the
land to feed their families and to make a small profit. Unfortunately, the rapidly changing agricultural
conditions that emerge as the Sahel continues to be engulfed by the Saharan desert pose a threat to
the traditions and culture of the societies that have existed in the region for hundreds of years. The
unique traditional and cultural circumstances in the Sahel, such as rigid gender roles, local conflicts,
harmful farming practices, and the relative isolation of the populace, all play a role in the ongoing
desertification of the region and will be a major factor if the Sahel is able to support the societies that
live there as time goes on.
One misconception of farmers in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region, is that they have
been farming the same way for thousands of years. While if they are compared to the mega farms of
America their practices may seem out of date, the Sahelian farmers change their methods year to year
just as is done around the world. According to Dr. Alice Weimers, a professor of African History at
Davidson University, farmers in Africa don't have a "special" relationship with the environment.
They change and adapt how they farm based on their memory of past seasons and what methods they
think will work best in future seasons. African countries have been trying to industrialize agriculture
and bring their farmers' crops into the world market, but about 65% of the sub-Saharan populace in
Africa still depends on subsistence farming to survive (Hanson). This means that the majority of
African farmers are no more than a man and his family, a small plot of land, and a handful of seeds.
Fertilizers, pesticides, and advanced irrigation are not available to many of these farmers so they are
much more subject to whatever the natural farming conditions are, such as: soil quality, droughts,
pest outbreaks, and diseases. So, although they do adapt their agricultural methods to what they see
fit, there is only so much they can do to improve their yields. As a result, the environmental effects of
desertification and soil degradation can easily displace farmers in only one or two bad seasons.
The people of the Sahel are no stranger to environmental crisis or famines. The word
"yunwa" or hunger is how Sahelians refer to these disasters, but particularly terrible famines are
given a specific name and are remembered for many years (Mortimore). The Sahel Drought of the
1970's was one of the worst famines on record, it was given the name "kakaduba" by the local
people, a word that means a great shortage or need. The Sahel drought was a...