Title: Desertification 220

Key Words: desertification, over grazing, over planting, Sahel, arable, deforestation, drought, erosion

National Standard: 7 (Physical processes that shape the patterns of the earth)

State Standard: 12 ( Physical processes that shape patterns of landform and water systems)

Teaching Level: Middle School

Introduction: Many deserts of the world are spreading into land that was once arable. This expansion is called desertification. It is caused by natural forces and human forces. People and wildlife in the areas affected by desertification are suffering. By the end of the twentieth century, the health and well-being of over a billion people will be at risk. Students will discover the causes, effects, and some of the solutions as they do the activities in this lesson.

Objective: Students will analyze the causes and effects of desertification in the Sahel and write a conversation between two people who will describe one or more solutions to the problem of desertification.

Materials: National Geographic magazine, August 1987
Several pictures, posters, or video about desertification
Handout: Desertification

Procedure: Show students the cover of the August 1987 National Geographic magazine (an African child in misery). Tell students this person is one of the millions who lives in a region of Africa called the Sahel, a region that borders the southern Sahara Desert. The Sahara Desert is spreading into this region. Life is a struggle there for people and wildlife.
Show students the picture of the young person on page 169 of this National Geographic issue and ask for reactions.

Introduce the term desertification - the spread of the desert.

Direct students to study the physical/political map of Africa. Locate the Sahara Desert and note the six countries that are along its southern border. These are the countries affected by the spreading of the Sahara. Ask students to give their ideas on how and why the desert is spreading.
To help them answer this question, distribute the handout Desertification. Ask them to pair up and organize the handout to show which are the causes and which are the effects of desertification.

Answer key to the handout:

Causes - overgrazing, overplanting, deforestation, drought, erosion, planting crops that wear out the soil, animals trampling soil.
Effects - starvation of people and animals, migration, loss of arable land, health and well-being of people at risk, loss of jobs or ways of life.
Students could analyze the categorized list of causes and determine which ones are natural and which are human causes.
They may question why people in the region are doing so many things to threaten their survival and how the situation can be remedied.

Introduce education as one of the solutions through conversation between an African person and a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ask for two students to read the parts orally.
Peace Corps Volunteer: Why are you cooking in an open air oven that uses so much firewood?

African: I do not know any other way. This is the only kind of cooking my family has ever done.

Peace Corps Volunteer: Let me show you how to cook using less wood. All you have to do is put a high cover over your wood and stones.

African: What good will that do?

Peace Corps Volunteer: First it will use less wood because the heat will stay around the pot more, and second, the food will cook better and faster. Try it!

African: I'll be really glad if this works like you say. I do not like to spend so much time gathering fire wood. Sometimes I have to walk five miles to get one day's supply.

Peace Corps Volunteer: You may have to gather wood only once a week with this new method of cooking.

African: Will you help me build this new stove?

Peace Corps Volunteer: Sure! Let's get started!

Education about many other things needs to happen. Show the pictures on pages 154-156 in the August 1987 National Geographic magazine for other solutions. The picture shows a grid system of windbreaks to trap the blowing sand before it reaches the village. Another shows a small child carrying young saplings to plant which will help block the wind, provide shade, and help keep moisture in the area once they grow up.

Pair up students again and ask them to think of other solutions. Give them two or three minutes to talk about it and ask for volunteers to share ideas with the class.

Give them a list of solutions. Have them compare the ideas on this list to their own. Have them add their own ideas to the list to make it complete. Here is a sample list to give them for comparison: crop rotation, plant trees, plant drought resistant plants like jojoba, use contour farming, build walls around gardens as windbreaks, keep fewer grazing animals, get the government to give incentives for using better farming methods, use drip irrigation to conserve water, protect the harvested crops with better storage facilities, learn how to read and write.

Draw conclusions. Some examples are: The land, people, and wildlife are affected by desertification.
Desertification occurs as a result of natural forces and human forces.
Life is very difficult in the region where desertification occurs.
Education is part of the solution.

Evaluation/Assessment: Have students write a conversation between two people showing knowledge and sensitivity to the problem of desertification. Length should be at least the length of the sample used in the lesson.

Have students write five questions about desertification and the answers they expect. Questions must cover the main ideas.

Extension/Enrichment: Suggestion for independent research: The Dust Bowl of the Great Plains in the USA during the 1930s.

Make a chart on statistics about the amount of desert in the world today and the amount in danger of desertification.

Paint a mural of life in the Sahel region of Africa, or paint a portrait of an African child who lives in the Sahel.

Write a poem or song about the effects of desertification on the spirit of the people.

Reflection: How successful was this lesson? Did all students benefit? Were there any surprises? What you might you do differently another time? Please note any changes that will make this lesson more effective and useful in the future and pass them along to the NHGA. We appreciate your comments.
Thank you,
The authors

Handout: Desertification

animals trampling soil planting crops that wear out the soil

overgrazing deforestation

drought overplanting


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