Tuesday September 7, 2010
I AM writing in response to the article Stopping the shifting sands (StarTwo, Aug 31) on planting trees to stop the march of the desert in Inner Mongolia, said to be caused by over-grazing and overpopulation.
I feel the real cause of the desertification is human decision-making; some decisions made are based on a faulty idea of the major causes of grass plant mortality.
Over-grazing is a factor of time and not of animal numbers or species. So for sheep, cashmere goats or cattle to be blamed is wrong and sets a bad precedent. Humansí management of the amount of time a plant is exposed to an animal is more important to stop over-grazing. The March to mid-June grazing of sheep and goats and then the rest of the year for cattle means plants never get a chance to recover.
The worst killer of bunch grasses across the world is a little-known and even less publicised thing called ďover-restĒ. Grass plants kill themselves if they are not disturbed at intervals by grazing animals. They need the trampling of animals to cycle dead leaves into the soil as manure. This reinvigorates the grass and is vital to their life-cycle. A tree can drop its leaves to do this; grass canít.
We have methods for sheep, goats and cattle to graze together at the same time without ever running the risk of over-grazing. This encourages traditional nomadic lifestyles which are actually vital for the health of the grassland. By resettling nomads, we are actually making the situation worse.
I have taught people how to use their livestock to improve the health and productivity of their cropland and reduce the need for fertiliser, making them more profitable and sustainable. While planting trees is a valuable exercise in itself, getting healthy grassland growing under those trees is more important in the long term.
The land I have managed in Africa for five years was recently awarded a US$100,000 prize by the Buckminster Fuller Institute (bfi.org) for Operation Hope. The winning strategy transforms parched and degraded Zimbabwe grassland and savannah into lush pastures with ponds and flowing streams, even during periods of drought.
I hope those interested in reversing the deserts will relook at how they are going about this. For information, please contact info@savorygrasslandmanage ment.com.