Thursday, December 17, 2009

Relevance of Desertification for Small States

One third of the earth’s surface (4 billion hectares) is threatened by desertification, and over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification. 24 billion tons of fertile soil disappear annually. From 1991 to 2000 alone, droughts have been responsible for over 280,000 deaths; they accounted for 11% of the total water-related disasters.

Deserts in the interior continents are expanding (Sahara, Gobi, Central Asian, Mexico, North eastern Brazil) They all tend to expand. And as ice is melting and sea level rises we have the oceans encroaching from the exterior. Civilisation is slowly squeezed between expanding deserts and rising seas. It’s a little difficult to archeologically separate land degradation and desertification but two of the things that are common to the earlier civilizations that collapsed primarily for environmental reasons are deforestation and soil erosion ( Gerald Diamond writes about it in his recent book ‘collapse’ )

Apart from the geographic factor, one needs to keep in mind the standard of living of the people who are experiencing desertification in their area regardless if they’re situated in a big continent or a small island. In the small islands one is usually more careful how to manage the land, as to keep a balance. In most of the cases it is necessary for these islands to be independent and to be able sustain themselves. When compared to large continents and countries it can be said that it’s more possible for the people to migrate though it may cause trouble as well when tribes have to move to other places. Whereas with small islands it’s a different story, they are cut off from other places.

In a session held in May 2008 by the U.N. the issue of land was addressed. Concerns about land competition, drought, degradation, limited resources, and desertification, warning that development capacities are necessary to strengthen land management, otherwise the result will be a food crisis. He asserted that we must “strive to raise the voice of Small Island Developing State” because they have the least means in responding to these complex problems that threaten their existence.

Subsequent to this presentation, the Security-General’s report was introduced. The report stated that land resources are becoming more limited because rising populations create a greater demand. While many populations depend on agriculture for income, the agricultural industry has been declining for two decades. The report also found SIDS to suffer from closed economies, limited capacities, inadequate physical structures, a lack of financial resources, susceptibility to natural disasters and insufficient access to information technology.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Island-scale adaptation to prevent and reverse desertification

The prevention of desertification in small islands is direly important because of its small land area. Thus measures to combat the turning of arable of productive land into arid and non-productive are a no-no especially for small islands. Each parcel of land is especially important and must be safeguarded.

An important premise upon which this notion is based is prevention. The ‘prevention is better than cure’ catch-phrase applies most significantly in this case. Combating desertification must be an ongoing effort bringing together all stakeholders but especially the inhabitants of deserted areas and policy makers. By working with science and through the populations of the area, much can be achieved to prevent this ecological disaster from occurring.

A key method to prevent desertification, not less in small islands, is the integrated management of land and water especially those which protect soils from erosion and salinization- which are practically the prime causes of desertification. Thus, land practices which prevent overgrazing (such as using grazing species which only consumes the top part of the grass and preventing livestock from grazing the same area repeatedly so as it has time to recover), overexploitation of plants and trampling of soils. A very important aspect of preventing desertification is a sustainable use of water use in agricultural irrigation.

Unsustainable irrigation practices can exacerbate water resources, depleting the aquifers of their water and thus turning the surrounding land into a biological desert because of a lack of water. This will be especially pronounced with the onset of climate change and its subsequent extreme weather conditions which will accentuate drought.

Some important solutions include transhumance of rangelands and well sites which involves the rotational use of these important resources, the rate of stock extracted be less than the carrying capacity of the ecosystem and diverse species composition.

The management of water is also of utmost importance and this can include traditional water-harvesting techniques, water storage and efficient water conservation measures. The latter can be especially applied during intensive rainfall episodes in preventing the water from being lost as surface run-off which also carries away the thin, fertile, moisture-holding topsoil.   

Protecting the vegetative cover is also instrumental since vegetation protects soil from wind and water erosion. A loss of vegetation can also lead to reduced rainfall.
Other measures can include:
  • Mixed farming practices combining livestock rearing and cropping so as to ensure a more efficient recycling of nutrients. For example, fodder can be sowed and thus prevent the pressure of livestock on the land.
  • Applying traditional technology to work with ecosystems since traditional knowledge was more in sync with natural processes.
  • Turning to alternative livelihoods that are not as demanding on the land such as dryland aquaculture and tourism. 

Can we rehabilitate a deserted and arid land?

The main challenge of rehabilitation is to restore ecosystem services that have been lost. Thus one seeks to repair damages sectors of the ex-native ecosystem so that it will then have multiple benefits. This involves the efforts of a multi-tier system from the government and policy makers to the inhabitants of this area. This interlinking is vital as the process is complex and involves, amongst others, seed banks, restocking of soil organic matter and organisms that promote higher plant establishment and growth and the reintroduction of selected species.
Other rehabilitation practices include: 
  • Terracing to counter soil erosion;
  • Control of invasive species which can be more hardy and extract more water;
  •   Nutrient replenishment;
  • Reforestation

 Policies that create incentives for rehabilitation include capacity building, capital investment and supportive institutions. It is very important, as discussed above, that the community is involved throughout the whole process. 

This blog is the result of a workshop held in Bahrija Oasis between the volunteers of the Youth in Action Project 'Go with the Flow'.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Growing desertification and its evils.

What is desertification, which are its main impacts and at what rate do we risk facing these increasing pressures?

Desertification is increasingly becoming an issue which attracts the attention of the international community as it realises the interconnectedness of the environmental objectives and development ones mainly for economically poor communities. Desertification is the gradual degradation of land based ecosystems. From the point of view of agriculture the land simply stops from producing the livelihood necessary to sustain the local community.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment views ecosystems as environments supporting ecology, providing natural resources, regulating the micro environment and facilitating cultural traits of local communities. All of these in turn produce all the constituents of what forms wellbeing in a community, namely security, satisfying basic needs, health and good social relations, leading to an environment of free choice and action.

Problems arise when desertification progresses due to manmade actions over the ecosystem on which life is sustained. Main causes of desertification have been found as caused by man made activities such as:
  • Over grazing of a land,
  • Over consumption of scarce water resources leading some areas without water facilities and in worse cases the table water turns saline as sea water infiltrates the water table,
  • & Intensive use of arable land.

Nevertheless, the urban sprawl which affect most cities around the world are also causing increased pressures on the surrounding ecosystems which are expected to cope with the dense population of urban areas. Furthermore, large-scale developments which are sought to harness the resources of the natural environment have been found to cause considerable side effects. In one extreme case, what was once a land locked (Aral)Sea in Central Asia ranging 68 thousand square kilometre of sea was reduced to 17 thousand square kilometre in 40 years. The exposed land which was once the seabed turned into a salt crust which damage extends beyond the old-sea area as winds carry the salt to nearby agricultural fields leading to the collapse of the regions ecosystem and the local fishing and agricultural communities.

Nowadays, desertification is referred to as the ‘Silent Killer’ of arid rural communities. With cross border phenomena on the increase and climate change increasing the pressures on water security the main regions suffering from or at risk of desertification are the Sahel belt, the Horn of Africa and South East Asia.

Undoubtedly the main impact of the collapse of a self-sustaining ecosystem from desertification is the growing number of human migrants due to economic and environmental reasons. In fact a term which is growing in prominence in humanitarian academics and activists is the notion of an environmental migrant. With forecasts set at 2 billion people potentially victims of desertification and 50 million at risk of severe displacement over the next 10 years, one realises the interconnectedness of development to the natural environment.

Desertification is only one example where a healthy yet possibly weak ecosystem is brought to its knees by the pressures of population growth and the desire for solely economic pursuits. An integrated fashion to development which takes into consideration the limits of the surrounding natural environment is the only manner in which desertification prone regions must look at their development. Otherwise failure not only in development but failure in conserving the natural environment will inevitably take place and life in region would halt from being.

This blog is the result of a workshop held in Bahrija Oasis between the volunteers of the Youth in Action Project 'Go with the Flow'.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Urban Organic Farming

Found this interesting clip on Treehugger showing a family not only managing to grow organic food smack in the middle of urbanised California but are on the road to being fully self sustained.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why Permaculture ?

For thousands of years humans have adapted to their environments through the process of design. Weaving local materials to meet their needs and interwining nature's patterns with their lives, indigenous communities live within the limits of their local ecosystem. Nature, technology and culture maintain a dynamic balance.

However, our modern day industrialized world has developed systems that can only function beyond the limits of local ecosystems. This means that someone else in some other part of the world is being exploited in order for us to live in this synthetic and unfair system. It is a sad situation that the majority of humanity are still unaware of these consequences. Today our global tecnologies are depleting the earth's resources, darkening the skies and waters with waste while endangering life's bounties and diversity.

The question than is; Can we invent a more comprehensive way of designing which will integrate the built world with the natural environment ? Can we find a way of life which will create harmony between nature, technology, and humanity ?

The answer is yes. Through collective efforts of communities that strive to live off a more balanced way of life, less profit driven lifestyles and more altruistic approaches, comes a philosophy and design science called Applied Permaculture. This umbrella term gathers a simple answer solution to many questions and problems that have been raised before and that have been applied by many ecological communities in many parts of the world.

In reality, living a more simplistic, earthy and holistic way that can do more with less while appreciating local resources to their maximum benefit. Permaculture shows us to a great depth, the relations between humans and their environments the path to syncronicity. From design and waste management, to growing of food, forest management, rainwater harvesting, ecological design and choice of safe materials for construction. It is a philosophy and a path that if taken seriously will open many doors to a happier and more tranquil way of life.

I would like to finish this blog with a guiding verse from Goethe....'Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.' Enjoy the earth with love.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

2 interesting projests to make.

One of my favorite site is , a site dedicated to diy projects. Users post there projects with detailed how-to instructions on how they did their projects( hence the name).
Browsing through the latest posts I came across two prjects which were quite interesting and relevant to the permacultural ideal
The first is a "portable" shelter inspired by the mongolian yurt. It rather simple to build and given our climate i can see many worth while applications.
The second are a few ideas you can use to grow your own organic fruit and veg. There is nothing more sadisfying than eating something you have grown yourself.

I hope you find these links interesting :)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lost words of wisdom.

Browsing around the net I can across this collection of WW2 posters. They're great , simple effective . It makes you wonder why we seem to need a do or die situation to do the right thing. In them days words like conservation , being frugal, saving were considered a virtue while today these are considered anathema! Media tells us to "buy", "shop till you drop" ,"travel more" , "what you had yesterday is not enough today".
Do we need WW3 to start doing the right thing again?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Interesting Site

Wild Plants of Malta is an interesting site with a large and comprehensive guide to the flora of the Malese islands.
Packed with tons of reference images and interesting facts, is in my opinion the best guide to our natural heritage and a worth while visit.
Great work , Stephen.

Sping in full Bloom.

Thou the weather begs to differ, we are in Spring and at Bahrija plants are in their full Glory!The parse Garigues vegitation is green with new growth and flowers are everywhere buzzing with bees getting on with their job. The are is charged with the sents of flowers and fennel.

Gladiolus byzantinus

Commonly known as Habb il-Qamh

Convolvulus arvensis

Field Blindweed or Leblieba tar-Raba . One of several species of Blindweeds

Antirrhinum tortuosum

Greater Snapdragon known locally as Papocci Homor

Glebionis coronaria

Papaver rhoeas ,

Red Poppy

Iris foetidissima


Anethum graveolens


Malus domestica

Tuffieh Selvagg

Monday, February 23, 2009

some interesting facts

Did you know.....
  • 1 ream of paper = 6% of a tree and 5.4kg CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • 3 sheets of A4 paper = 1 litre of water.
  • by recycling one aluminium can you save enough energy to run a television set for three hours.
  • by recycling one tonne of paper you save 13 trees, 2.5 barrels of oil, 4100kWh of electricity, 4 cubic metres of landfill and 31,780 litres of water.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Youth Initiative in Permaculture in Malta

An increasing interest on the subject is currently building momentum. A number of youths are interested in getting a deeper understanding of this design science and how it can be implemented in daily life to bring on positive changes.

I am therefore working together with a few of their ideas. These ideas will lead to a number of workshops and also an intesive 'Introduction to Permaculture course' which will include viewing interesting documentaries and voluntary work on Bahrija oasis project. The course will be a three day camp based event and will also have the potential to bring a few like minded individuals who have a common interest. So far there is no stipulated date, however we will have the first activity round April 09. Anyone who is interested in being part of this upcoming event can write to and state why you are interested, what you expect from the experience, and what you will contribute to the group.

Unfortunately, there is only a number of youths that can fit in a group that can be accomodated comfortably, so if you are seriously interested, please email as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Nitrogen fixing trees and legumes

We are currently researching nitrogen fixing trees for arid regions.
These trees work in a symbiotic relationship with various fungi such as mychorrozium and or rhizobium. In a simplified way, one can say that these trees absorb nitrogen from the air and transport it to their roots while the fungi and bacteria does the rest of the work at the root nodules.

We are looking for a variety of these trees that are capable of producing different resources such as ; fodder, mulch, food, flowers (for bees and other beneficial insects), shade and shelter from the winds. An important aspect that most of these trees must have, is the ability to withstand salty winds.
Since we are working in an arid and windy area, our challenge is to combine the right trees and incorporate them in the permaculture design to re-generate food forests, while protecting nature and revitalise the soil and its microbacteria. By doing all this, one will start to notice that nature starts to take its circular integral form again in the sence that systems support each other and thus there will be less need for human intervention as time succeeds. The right trees shall also function in order to attract the right balance of insects and other fauna in order to achieve a natural pest control system and therefore avoid any use of artificial insecticides and fertilizers.
This is the way forward if we truly want to see a future in permanent agriculture that can afford food security, bio-diversity and edible landscapes.

If you are interested in volunteering on the project or getting to know more, please email Peppi on