Tackling desertification and food security risks in Jordan

  • 15 Jun. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 15 Jun. 2011 12:47

Jordan could face decreasing water supplies, viable farmland and food, if the arid and semi-arid lands of the country suffer from further degradation and become more desert-like. “If these arid areas desertify, we will have a problem with food security,” says Dr Jawad Al-Bakri, Associate Professor at the University of Jordan’s Department of Land, Water and Environment and co-director of a NATO-sponsored project aimed at addressing these challenges through remote-sensing technology.

Several studies have shown that Jordan is at risk of rapid desertification. It receives little rainfall, with 90 per cent of the country receiving less than 200mm a year. Deforestation, soil erosion, inappropriate land use and cultivation practices, climate change and drought all contribute to increasing desertification. Rapid urbanisation has also taken a toll.

Continuing desertification could have a far-reaching environmental, social and economic impact. The Badia area of Jordan is a case in point. It is the main region for livestock production and many people in Badia depend on the rangeland to make a living. Faced with the prospect of losing their livelihood, many of the farmers in Badia might move into the cities looking for work, putting more pressure on urban areas. “We will have a serious problem if this [desertification] continues,” says Dr Al-Bakri.

Less arable land and fewer farmers could also mean decreased food production. “As a result of such reductions, food insecurity and poverty will continue to increase,” points out Dr Ayman Suleiman, Associate Professor at the University of Jordan’s Department of Land, Water and Environment.

Identifying areas of desertification

A project funded under NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme is attempting to address these threats. Scientists are conducting research in the Yarmouk Basin, a 1400 square kilometre area in the Badia region. Most of the area is at risk for high rates of soil loss by wind and water, which can lead to desertification.

Researchers will develop a system to monitor changes in the soil, water, vegetation and climate using remote sensing tools and geographic information system models. This way it will be possible to warn the Jordanian government that desertification is taking place, before it is too late to take action.

“In this project, we are trying to come up with ways by which we can monitor desertification as it is happening. That way suitable prevention measures will be targeted at the right place and at the right time,” says Dr Suleiman.

Providing training and building capacity

Key decision makers and institutions dedicated to fighting desertification, such as the Ministry of Environment, the National Centre for Agriculture Research and Extension, and the Badia Research and Development Programme, will receive the information collected over the course of the project.

“We hope that the results will help in developing plans and special programs for combating desertification,” states Dr Hani Saoub, Associate Professor at the University of Jordan’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science and co-director of the project.

The project will also help build capacity among Jordanian researchers and end users. In the first year of the project, young researchers and scientists received training on instruments used to calibrate remote-sensing data for drought monitoring, as well as on the use of new techniques for desertification mapping and soil-moisture monitoring.

As with all SPS projects, this desertification assessment and monitoring project in Jordan promotes security through science. “Now they see that NATO is an organization that can contribute to security and peace by providing for the betterment of people all over the world,” says Dr Sa'eb A. Khresat, Professor at Jordan University of Science and Technology’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and one of the project’s co-directors.