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A biome is a large community of plants and animals that have similar characteristics to that of the environment they live in, occupying a major habitat. The African Savannas are a major part of the Earth’s grassland biome and are an essential part of providing the world’s people with food sources. The protection of the African grassland biome is clearly linked to food security and can be managed to provide food for the world’s population. This can be evidently seen and understood through; the African Savanna and food production, the suitability of crops grown in the African Savanna, threats to the African Savanna, environmental consequences of growing food in the African Savanna, the role of climate in growing food, human activity that threatens food security, relationships between human environments and cultivated land. Analysis and Decision-making will also be included within the report.
A variety of different sources were used to answer the thesis statement and ensure that all information provided was accurate and credible. The sources used to conduct this report were secondary, including a number of picture and graph sources that will be considered and referred to throughout the report. These sources will be located in the appendix and throughout the body of the report. Other sources used to find the information include books, websites and extra documents found within those websites and textbooks.
The African Savannas are responsible for providing the world with most of the major food grains. This biome plays a major part in providing the world with a source of food and is constantly under threat, mainly due to human threats such as overfarming. The most effective solution when it comes to preserving the African Savannas would be the use of genetically modified foods.
The African Savannas are a grassland biome that plays a major role in food production. Located in Africa, this region covers 5 million square miles, which is equivalent to 12.9 million square kilometres. As seen in Figure 1, the region is comprised of a number of countries, covering almost 65 percent of Africa, including Nigeria, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea and many more countries within Africa. Savannas are mainly found between the desert biome and rainforest biome, located closely near the equator.
The African Savanna is one of the world’s major grassland biomes, providing the world’s population with much of the food and fibre our bodies need in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. These foods and fibres all come from the animals and plants which inhabit the grassland biome. The foods grown in this biome provide the majority of the human population’s food including the major food grains – corn, wheat, oats, barley, rye and sorghum. The African Savanna is also used to produce other foods such as grasses of all different types, rice and the grazing of animals such as cattle and sheep which can be used for their milk and their meat.
Grassland biomes play an important part in growing crops as the soil is deep and fertile. This deep and fertile soil gives the plants grown in the biome an advantage as they need to be able to survive the dry season and drought which occurs often in the grassland. Many of the grasses depend on fire to germinate and plants are rain-fed, however, because of the constant change in climate, they are also irrigation fed as they will not always be naturally provided with the nutrients they need. There are several different farming techniques which are used in a grassland biome including wheat farming – found in mid-latitude temperature climates, mixed farming – both grazing and cropping are done here, usually located closer to markets and the wetter regions, intensive farming – located close to urban centres, producing dairy, horticulture and market gardening crops and plantation farming – located in warm, well-watered areas meaning produce such as sugar cane, cocoa, bananas, rubber and palm oil can be grown.
Like in all biomes, the African Savanna has many threats which impact the environment and the ability to grow certain foods in the area. The most common threat to the African Savanna is drought and heavy grazing. Severe drought has always had a dangerous effect on the ecosystem of the African Savanna, grazing patterns then exacerbating this effect. The combination of drought and heavy grazing can cause the biome to be changed, going from being covered by edible and perennial grasses to being covered by inedible grasses and plants. This change in the biome then leads to desertification. Desertification is the spread of desert-like conditions into a grassland area, caused by several different factors including climate change, farming practices, and overgrazing. These factors all contribute to lowering the water table away from plant roots, each year, causing 46 000 square kilometres of the African Savanna to become desert. Another threat to the grassland biome is carbon emissions which links closely with climate change. A survey taken in 2012 shows that there is a large increase of woody plants within grassland biomes. The authors soon discovered that this was caused by an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. If a dramatic increase of woody plants was to take over the Savanna, it would threaten the entire ecosystem as these plants use more water than grasses do. The introduction of plant species also causes a threat to the African Savanna, most being weeds which cause major problems and alterations to the environment. These weeds include ones such as Lantana, Prickly Pear and Mesquite. These plants can alter the fire frequency, causing it to burn better or worse than it normally would, increase the pressure of heavy grazing, and compete with other plants in the biome for water and sunlight, causing a strain on the native plant species.
Africa has a fairly large population and most of that population relies on the land to provide them with the food sources they need. In previous years, Africa was not as densely populated as it is now, meaning that farmers could use the land expansively. This meant that they were able to choose the most fertile and grow their crops there for a period of time until soil fertility and crop yields declined, then they would move to more fertile land. This farming system meant that farmers could provide the population with sufficient amounts of food whilst still preserving soil fertility over the long term. As the population density increased, there became more of a demand for food supply and more people depending on one certain area of land. This meant that more land had to be cultivated for a longer period of time, putting a strain on the carrying capacity of a particular area of land, causing soil exhaustion which leads to erosion. The African Savanna is commonly considered to be the zone at greatest risk of a decline in agricultural production and it has been severely affected by drought and food shortage in recent years.
Climate plays a vital role in the grassland biome, especially when it comes to growing food and maintaining food security. Climate change in grasslands causes increased seasonal, annual, minimum and maximum temperature and changing precipitation patterns. Like any other grassland biome, the African Savanna is a dry region with a strong seasonal climate, meaning it is extremely sensitive to climatic change and major shifts in climatic routine. The African Savanna experiences long periods of severe drought and increases in this drought could cause major changes in the vegetative cover of the land. This means that loss of vegetative cover will occur. Loss of vegetation and increased precipitation intensity will dramatically increase potential erosion rates, meaning that the fertility of the soil in the region will be lowered at a noticeable rate. This decrease in soil fertility will result in the crops and food sources grown in the Savanna not getting the nutrients they need to thrive and therefore results in a major downfall in food security. The period of growth during which a plant is exposed to extreme heat or drought is important. When a crop is flowering or fruiting it becomes especially vulnerable to changes in temperature and moisture, compared to other stages of growth where the crop may be more tolerant. Changes in temperature and rainfall will likely affect the atmospheric gases, fertilizers, plant pathogens, and weed growth in an area and if temperatures continue to increase beyond a certain threshold, the growing season may become shorter and the yields reduced.
Human activity plays a major role in every biome, some of these activities help to preserve the land and some of them cause a threat to the land. Human activity causes much threat and disruption to the Savanna ecosystem. The main threats to food security include population growth, the increase in demand for food, the price of food, decreasing variety of agricultural plant species, water scarcity, food loss, and food wastage. The rapid population growth in Africa, mainly caused by the high birth rate in developing countries, means that feeding the world’s people is one of the most vital matters faced today. It is estimated that by 2025, Africa’s Sub-Saharan population will hit 1.3 billion people, which will put a strain on the land for resources. Other human activities which threaten food security in the African Savanna grassland biome include people killing wildlife in order to survive, hunting wildlife for valuables – black rhinoceroses are hunted for their horns, plant species being heavily harvested because of commercial value, and trees such as the African Blackwood are cut down and used to produce carvings that are sold at tourist markets.
Agriculture has become a dominant form of land management. Human influence on land is fast-tracking because of rapid population growth and increasing demand for food. This causes an increase in agricultural intensity and generates pressure not only on the land but across the whole biome and its ecosystem. Over the past 500 years, the world’s cultivated land has grown by 12%. This means that over 1.6 billion hectares of land is being used for cultivation. This creates an important relationship between human environments and cultivated land as the population relies on that cultivated land to provide the food resources needed to create a healthy and productive environment. The land is used to grow most of the food produced in the African Savanna, creating a close link between food security and land usage. Before the 1900s when things such as industrial fertilisers, improved crop cultivators and modern livestock breeding were introduced, farmers would turn to agriculture as a way of producing more food. However, after these advancements were made, it was possible to dramatically increase the production of food on the same amount of land.
Drought and heavy grazing are two of the major threats to the African Savanna and when a threat comes to play in a biome, the ecosystem must adapt accordingly to continue growing and producing. In order to do so, most plant species will have to adapt to the new environment so that they are able to continue developing. To protect themselves from drought and soil erosion, plants change overtime to develop long tap roots to reach the water table, trees produce a thicker layer of bark around them as extra protection from annual fires and they lose their leaves during the dry season to conserve water and avoid loss of moisture while also storing it inside roots and trunks. To avoid the risk of heavy or overgrazing, plants adapt to create siliceous spicules to prevent herbivores, they grow from the base rather than the top of the plant to avoid the damage of building tissue and reproduction to overgrow plants which compete and appear as a threat.
Government and non-government organisations are working to address these challenges in many different ways. Farmers especially are growing plants that will help support the land and its ecosystem by protecting the soil and creating a habitat for the wildlife of the biome. An example of this is farmers from Kenya planting millions of trees as a windbreak to reduce soil erosion. African wildlife reserves receive millions of dollars per year purely from tourism. This money that is earnt then not only goes towards protecting the biome and the habitats but is also used as a way to create awareness about protecting the wildlife areas and the ecosystem of the African Savanna. As tourism causes a threat to the biome, however, eco-tourism holidays are designed to reduce these impacts on the land. Organizations such as the WWF also work to ensure that tourism is also benefitting the locals of the area so that they too have a reason to want to help protect the biome.
As well to the government and non-government organizations working to address the challenges that appear, several management practices can also be devised to achieve sustainability of the African Savanna. The most important strategy which is likely to achieve sustainability is called closing the yield gap. What this means is that the farmers who are less productive need to increase their yields in order to make it so that their outputs are in line with those of the more productive farmers. If this were to be accomplished, greater amounts of food would be produced without needing to use any more land. Other strategies which can be used involve continued education efforts – making sure farmers know how to protect the soil and prevent soil erosion, protecting and restoring wetlands, Rotating agricultural crops so that the nutrients from the soil aren’t drained, and conducting dry season to stimulate new plant growth and restore nutrients to the soil that builds up in the dry grasses – fire helps native plants to thrive and also removes invasive plant species.
There are three options that would best support food security in the African Savanna grassland biome. These options include microloans, research on food and genetically modified food. All of these options would create a good support system for the grassland, however, the one that would support food security in the African Savanna is genetically modified food. Genetically modified foods (GM) are foods produced from the DNA of plants or animals which have been altered through genetic engineering. The African Savanna is one of the largest grasslands in the world and produces massive amounts of food each year, however, as stated in the above sections, the area experiences long periods of drought which has an effect on plant production and grazing patterns. Genetically modified food can assist with this production of food sources by altering the DNA of crops to become more susceptible to drought and other threats to food security in the grassland biome, meaning a larger production of crops is received. If a larger production of crops is received, there will be more food to give to those populations in developing countries who are who are malnourished and suffering from the global food crisis.
In conclusion, the protection of the African grassland biome is clearly linked to food security and can be managed to provide food for the world’s population. The African Savanna provides the world’s population with most of the major food sources used in everyday life. In growing these crops come many threats which impact the biome and its ecosystem. Grasslands are the most threatened biome and so they must be protected at all costs.
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