Unraveling misunderstandings about desertification: The paradoxical case
of the Tabernas-Sorbas Basin in Southeast Spain
From its origins, the concept of desertification has been controversial.
The prevailing confusion between two desertification visions, one that
considers it as the expansion of deserts and another that denotes its
anthropogenic component, has been transferred to society. Here we
illustrate misunderstandings about desertification using a very
illustrative case from the Tabernas-Sorbas Basin (Almeria, Spain), where
striking badlands that are often used as an image of desertification
coexist with an intensive olive agriculture that is deteriorating
irreversibly the only oasis in continental Europe, Los Molinos spring.
The olive tree is a traditional Mediterranean dryland crop and until the
1950s only about 200 ha were irrigated. However, the profitability of
the crop has caused irrigation to expand to 4,400 ha in the last two
decades. The process of intensification has been reinforced giving way
to super-intensive irrigation, which involves going from 210 to 1,550
trees/ha and that in a few years already occupies more than 1,500 ha.
The effects on the water balance of the aquifer feeding these crops have
been severe and the flow of the Los Molinos spring has gone from more
than 40 L/s for the period 1970-2000 to the current 7.28 L/s. By
unraveling the mechanisms of land degradation, we were able to detect
its main drivers in the study area and, with them, to propose management
actions to achieve a more sustainable use of resources and to combat