Desertification is a growing problem. The threat of desertification and land degradation will increase as the climate crisis progresses. A 2018 report found that land degradation already affects the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people – more than a third of humanity. Rising temperatures are already predicted to reduce yields of staple crops such as wheat, rice, maize and soya beans. According to a 2015 UN report we are on track to degrade another third of global farmland over the course of the present century.
How we treat the land – how we farm and ranch – matters too. Healthy, life-filled soils better retain the moisture that falls on farmers’ fields. How farmers treat their soil remains essentially unregulated in regard to soil health.
Farming practices that degrade the soil reduce the resilience of crops as worsening conditions affect harvests. Drylands in particular are sensitive to degradation from both tillage and overgrazing. If it continues, soil degradation will further increase the threat to agricultural production in regions that humanity depends on for food.
It’s clear that desertification and soil degradation are not new problems. Both Marx and Engels drew attention to how the adoption of capitalist farming practices depletes soil organic matter and disrupt soil ecosystems, leaving farmers around the world increasingly reliant on huge amounts of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
We need to reorient agriculture around farming and grazing practices that regenerate soil health.
In their writings Marx and Engels understood the necessity of retaining the fecundity of the land from the studies of biologist Justus von Liebig.
“The present poisoning of the air, water and land can only be put an end to by the fusion of town and country…Only a society which makes possible the harmonious co-operation of its productive forces on the basis of one single vast plan can allow industry to settle in whatever form of distribution over the whole country is best adapted to its own development and the maintenance of development of the other elements of production.”