My lifetime experience of the Australian landscape, of farming, and of management of the vegetation, has been that of a one-way path of silt to the sea, of eroded gullies and of farm productivity requiring ever-increasing inputs of a sequential plethora of chemicals.
However, it was not ever thus.
Pre-1788 Australian soils were soft and spongy, and much richer in carbon than current levels. Just as it took about 100 years of western agriculture to reduce the lands of the American mid-west to a dust bowl, similarly it was for outback Australia. Severe land degradation leading to desertification is affecting more than 168 countries. New methods of farming, land management, and reforestation offer solutions; uptake of these, however, is the key.
In his book, The Call of the Reed Warbler, Charles Massy draws together the disparate threads of the new agriculture paradigm as seen by that group of driven individuals - Yeomans, Savory, Andrews, Watkins, Ripl, Mollison, Holmgren and others - who have been leading the charge to redress the way in which land is managed. The common theme among these practical visionaries is that nature will not only regenerate eroded degraded land through plants if there is water kept in the soil, but will lead the charge for carbon capture and climate amelioration.
The transformation from 1994 of about 35million hectares of the desertified Loess Plateau in central China is a shining example of how eroded landscapes can be turned green. Uncontrolled grazing, subsistence farming, fuel wood gathering and cultivation of crops on slopes had left huge areas of the plateau critically eroded. Replanting, and bans on grazing allowed the perennial vegetation cover to increase from 17 to 34 per cent.
About 20 years later more than 2.5 million people have been lifted out of poverty through the introduction of these regenerative farming practices, sedimentation of waterways has been dramatically reduced, and the ecological balance has been restored in a vast area considered by many to be beyond help. Trees are cool.