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June 17, Worldwide Day of the Fight Against Desertification

By Nicole Graboi 

Of all the water on Earth, only 2.5 percent is fresh water and only 1 percent is available for human consumption. When the demand exceeds the supply, there is a scarcity of water, as is happening here in San Miguel de Allende.

Land degradation worldwide, including excessive cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and urbanization, has led to a stage of severe water shortages for agriculture, livestock and human consumption. It also causes soil erosion, salinization and loss of productivity, and affects one of every three people on earth. The latest estimates indicate that about 12 hectares of land are transformed into new deserts made by man each year and that a quarter of the farmland is highly degraded. The indirect costs of desertification, land degradation and drought affect food prices, and impact rural poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.

The United Nations in the fight against desertification

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification emerged in 1994 as a result of the Earth Summit of 1992. It is an environmental Convention that focuses on preventing and combating land degradation, desertification and the mitigation of drought through national action plans.

Mexico is one of the countries with the greatest severity of degradation throughout Latin America, especially in the northern region, the Mixtec Highlands (Oaxaca), and the mountainous and semi-arid regions of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Hidalgo, Mexico, and Tlaxcala, where rain-fed agriculture and livestock production are fundamental economic processes.

Mexico has had a plan of action to combat desertification at the national level since 1994, prior to the 10-year global strategy 2008-2018 of the UN. It was also the first country to ratify this Convention in 1995. The UNCCD has 193 countries’ members committed to the implementation of policies and programs for sustainable management of land affected, and has contributed enduring solutions to increase productivity and reduce poverty of groups most vulnerable to the dry lands of the world.

In Mexico, 128 million hectares are considered as arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas and degraded soils in Mexico cover 93.5 million hectares, in categories ranging from light to severe. One estimate indicates that land degradation amounts to 70 percent of the country.

“Don’t let our future dry up”

It is predicted that the effects of desertification, land degradation and drought can expose almost two-thirds of the world’s population to water stress by 2025 (UNEP). In San Miguel, it has been said that if we continue in the direction we’re heading now, there will only be water available for the next 14 years.

A local group of 15 organic farmers and three expats (known as “Kurate”) are dedicated to solving these problems in a variety of ways, including massive tree planting (they’re currently growing hundreds of Moringa trees whose leaves have a high nutritional content and can be used for livestock fodder); using new technologies which can plant trees with less water and a better percentage of survival; and establishing agricultural solutions that need much less water, while producing more food.

If you’d like to help turn our desert green by participating in ongoing talks and perhaps contributing with hands-on labor, land, or money (loans or grants) in order to facilitate these projects, please email

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