Connor has utilised the freedom of this project to embark on a creative journey of understanding more about the expanding systemic issues of desertification and its effects on our terrain, our environment and our people. TerraFracMa uses an amalgamation of interdisciplinary theories to underpin a bi-systemic approach for building resilience against desertification within Niger, Africa. Connor’s approach focuses on introducing low-tek methods, while also altering existing land management techniques to develop a new resilient system that fluctuates with Maradi’s seasonal conditions. Connor uses his ideologies as a photographer to assist in portraying the TerraFracMa in single fragments of time. He says “Photographs capture micro-seconds in time, which help us to see change and difference”
Desertification is an issue that does not just affect the environment, but humanity, biodiversity and climate change all around the world. The impacts of desertification are associated with issues that contribute to climate change (Adeel; et al., 2005; Minchin, 2019; Pickup, 1998).
According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification means “Land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities” (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2017).
The cause of Desertification is a topic of contention, as Geoff Pickup suggests in his article “Desertification and climate change – The Australian perspective”, there are two perspectives; The first is that desertification is caused by natural fluctuations in climate patterns. The second perspective is viewed from the effect of human activity, and humanitarian factors such as population growth and poor land use management which increase the pressures on the land resources (Pickup, 1998).
Both perspectives hold a level of validity, however neither answer all the questions. It is in response to this that both should be looked at in conjunction and with a level of consideration to effectively address the issue that is desertification. On a humanitarian level, outdated land management practices combined with pressures from our changing climate are amplifying the effects of desertification, affecting even the most fragile of communities and accelerating land degradation and climatic change.
On a localised level, disadvantaged areas such as those in the African Sahel are at a downfall when it comes to addressing the issue. Developed countries such as Australia have high socio-economic stability, and therefore a stronger resilience to the effects of desertification. It is low socio-economic stability that is the major issue facing these fragile communities. However, they are also face with associated issues such as;
• Food in-stability
• Low socio-economics and poverty
• Land degradation
• Biodiversity and
• Soil infertility (resulting in a decrease of palatable trees and shrubs)
Colonisation of western countries such as Africa introduced what was impulsive behavior by the European settlers. With the settlement, western culture, came ill-informed land management practice and cultivation methods that have since drastically degraded landscapes and ecosystems.
By using a bipartisan approach and help from stakeholders, this project will provide a framework to be built upon by Landscape Architects as part of the design team to strategically develop a landscape framework that addresses desertification and its associated issues.
Everything we do as landscape architects and professionals should be done with intention and purpose. Whether its for the client or for a particular outcome, there should always be a driver for our research and design.
~ WHO IS THE PROJECT FOR? ~
This project was initiated by myself because of a discussion based on potential topics for this unit. The discussions had lead to the talking point of adapting our coastlines against climate change. This then lead to the topic of the recent bushfires sweeping the eastern coastline of Australian and how this was linked to desertification.
~ WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE PROJECT? ~
This project is as personal journey to understand what desertification is, the systemic issues it causes and investigate how we can build resilience to it. Because of the nature of the project and its relation to a CRA, I wanted to ensure that I would learn new skills, to do this, I chose to look at desertification in fragile communities and low socioeconomic areas. This poses challenges in itself, with lack of information, data & resources, therefore setting the perfect challenge for this project.
Climate change stems from a variety of underlying global issues many of which are associated with desertification. The research of this project will inform the design outcome that will effectively address the issue of desertification and the many systemic issues that derive from it. While the significance of the work being produce holds high value to increasing the quality of life for the many fragile communities within the African Sahel, it is acknowledged that this project will become a key stone to initiate feasibility studies and provide key resources needed to continue transformation of the African Sahel.
The project focus provides an additional layer of strategic direction for this project, it acknowledges the scale and complexity of desertification and is therefore determined that a project focus will inform the narrative of resilience against desertification within this fragile system.
The flow diagram represents the breakdown of soil infertility and its link to agricultural practices. Soil infertility occurs when the nutrients within the soil are removed. Soil nutrients are provided from organic matter. Current agriculture practice such as harvesting and post crop management such as burning or removal of crop stalks removes the nutrients stored in the remainder of the crops.
Therefore by focusing on agricultural practices we can build resilience to desertification within the physical and cultural systems. Only through a holistic and systemic approach can we achieve this. The focus on agriculture addresses the issue of soil infertility resulting in increasing the strength of the ecosystem, and thus reducing the impacts of desertification.
Using a combination of dynamic mosaic and contemporary ecological theory, we can develop a new model for influencing larger systems from a finer detail level. Harnessing the sites spatial and temporal patterns to generate a model based of the idea of a non-equilibrium system, in doing so we can mitigate the impact of desertification and issues associated with the topic. Each one the four theories contribute a role within the new framework developed in this project. Chaos theory is used as a metaphor for understanding the flux that the system undergoes annually. Both ‘Shifting Mosaic’ and ‘Contemporary Ecological Theory’ are the core drivers behind the framework which will inform the fourth theory which is the outcome. Resilience, adaptability and transformability theory are the core end drivers that the new theoretical model will achieve.
1 – The current landscape conditions demonstrates strong impacts of desertification. The outline of the annual water ways is imprinted in the fragmentation of shrubbery and grasslands.
2 – Agriculture makes up 79.2% of the labour force, but it doesn’t just form part of the countries income. It also provides the sustenance for the people of Niger. The current agriculture system is dependent on the annual wet seasons to produce a somewhat successful yield. However, current soil conditions are a large contributing factor to the success or failure of the agricultural system.
3 – Livestock also contributes to the countries income and food supply. However, the issue is not within the supply and demand of livestock, it is how they are managed that is contributing to desertification and other associated issues such as land degradation.
4 – Although Maradi is a “city” and majority of the population are clumped near the city centre. The surrounding populations are subject to a nomadic lifestyle, with this lifestyle correlating to the changes within the landscape, particularity how the landscape influences agriculture.
1 – Phase one introduces the method of land dedication, which has been proven to be successful in similar countries such as Jordan and Uganda by environmentalist and scientist John D.Liu.
This method reserves chosen parcels of land and isolates them from negative land management methods. In doing so, it invites the return of native vegetation.
2 – Phase two assumes that land dedication has promoted native vegetation cover and continues to restore ground cover and soil composition.
3 – The perennial biomass tactic uses specified plant types such as the Moringa Oleifera. The Moringa tree is a unique tree used commonly in permaculture because of its rapid foliage growth that is harvested from the tree and laid onto the crop beds for ground cover and biomass. In the conditions of the Maradi, resulting in restoring nitrogen and oxygen into the soil thus assisting in transitioning the soil to as productive state.
4 – Conservation Agriculture is a scientific method adapted from “Project Drawdown”. This methods uses a combination of cover crops, crop rotation and reduction in tiling to help improve soil quality through soil protection, carbon subquestion (carbon is then stored into the upper layers of the soil.
5 – The continued regeneration of native vegetation assists in minimising and harnessing the effects of the annual wet season. With an increase in groundcover, there is a reduced risk of land degradation and erosion.
6 – Planned grazing or managed grazing is a method explained by Allan Savory – a grassland ecosystem pioneer – who has dedicated his life to researching how to improve the African ecosystem. Savory explains how we can combine post crop harvesting and livestock management to become a single process that improves soil quality, vegetation cover, crop yields and carbon subquestion. This process works by allowing light livestock to graze and roam through the pastures of harvested crops. This beds down the remainder of the harvest into the soil, returning all the nutrients that still remain within crop yields. This process works because it allows the old crop to act as ground cover and adds to the soil structure.
7 – Perennial staple crops are used in general to provide food stability and maintain a higher carbon subquestion. Rather than the typical annual agriculture practice that occurs in many parts of Niger and Africa, staple crops don’t need to be replanted each year and much of the waste from their production can be recycled into compost for plant grow.
For a more indepth look into the methods adopted within this process, please refer to the attached report at the bottom of this page.
For any further understanding or justification, there is a copy of the report for your perusal.
At the age of 15, Connor aspired to be an electrician. A couple of years later he was sitting in his first ever university class and beginning of his Landscape Architecture degree. Not knowing a whole lot about the degree or even the practice, he very quickly realised that it required a new way of thought and action. Four years later, Connor continues his journey to uncover the significance of Landscape Architecture.