EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Desertification and Development: some broader contexts

Mike Kirkby
Mike Kirkby
  • University of Leeds, School of Geography, Leeds, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (

The dominant direct physical processes responsible for desertification are water erosion, wind erosion and salinization.  Other threats that degrade the soil  include loss of biodiversity, loss of soil organic matter, fire, changing water resources, soil compaction, soil sealing and contamination. Soil management inevitably combines  human and physical effects.  Climate, which is the most important driver of the physical systems, is now being rapidly modified by human action, and at a scale which is much coarser than any local remedial action. 


In a model of near-subsistence systems, productivity is limited by climate and available labour, with some options for additional inputs through improved seed, fertilizer or tillage equipment. Optimum solutions in a particular environment depend on both climate and access to markets.  Agricultural surpluses, if any, allow investment in infrastructure – some of it directly  supporting agriculture through irrigation and market systems, some less directly useful through, for example, warfare or pyramid building.


Today some traditional drivers of desertification may no longer be relevant, as land, particularly in the global South, is grabbed for intensive irrigated farming, and populations move into mega-cities. The dominant drivers may become soil sealing around cities and transfers of urban and irrigation water.  In semi-arid areas this will lead to competition for the best land – for urban expansion and agricultural land with irrigation potential.  Desertification then becomes an issue increasingly focussed on abandoned marginal land, maintaining biodiversity, managing regional water resources and controlling erosion in the face of global climate change.

How to cite: Kirkby, M.: Desertification and Development: some broader contexts, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-3536,, 2020

Comments on the presentation

AC: Author Comment | CC: Community Comment | Report abuse

Presentation version 1 – uploaded on 08 Apr 2020 , no comments