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Good soils and growing conditions are not evenly distributed around the world and in places the problem is made worse by a greedy few abusing the land, resulting in poverty and hunger for millions.

Soil destruction in Bosnia-Herzegovina comes from war. Aggression has caused an immense wave of migration. The new settlements are built on prime agricultural land. Where will we grow our food now?
Nerina Zagora, Bosnia

Extreme land degradation results in desertification - when land becomes desert and is unable to support any vegetation. Desertification affects over a billion people. It is particularly bad in the savannas of Africa, the Great Plains and pampas of the Americas and in the steppes of south-east Europe and Asia, the outback of Australia and parts of the Mediterranean region.

Towns and cities are often developed on former farmland and forests. As urban areas grow, land that once grew food disappears under concrete. This means the remaining land has to produce more food to support even more people. Poverty increases stress, especially in Asia where 75% of the people are poor. Available land per capita is already very low in Asia with 182 people per km2 compared to the world average of 44 per km2.

Soil degradation affects a third of the world’s land and diminishes our ability to produce food for the growing population. It is caused by deforestation, poor land and water management, over-use of fertilisers and pesticides, poor waste disposal, clearance of poor land for growing food, and air pollution. Land degradation leads in a helter-skelter downward spiral to worse poverty amongst the world’s poorest peoples.

Food security is all about having enough food. Food availability in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia is a huge problem now. The countries in these regions generally have the fastest growing populations. They also have the largest number of poor people, the worst land degradation, most rapid urbanisation and biggest debts so they cannot afford to import food. GEO tells us that in the year 2000, 38 developing countries will have serious food security risks and be unable to feed even half their people from traditional farming practices.

web site editor: webmaster@grida.no Last update: March 2000