As it appeared in the Sunday Standard, Botswana on Sunday December 2, 2012 edition.
All is not what it seems
So was your answer similar to or different from that of your friends?
Still, this is linear thinking. Rainfalls cause vegetation. As farmers, most of us know this.
However, the key to understanding persistent or stubborn issues such as water shortages is when we see causality as a cycle (Part II). At this point, the thinking shifts from linear to being systemic.
So, I left you with a question to complete the process of thinking.
Should levels of vegetation (along with surface waters) increase, what do you think will be their consequence on rainfall levels?
Would we see declining levels of rainfall? Or could such levels increase (gradually) over time? Which types of vegetation would encourage rainfalls? And which ones don’t?
Check if you got the following answer. I am sure you did!
This is a story over time.
As more plants consume water and we see vegetation grow over time, we will begin to see a genre of plants that are broadleaved. As more of such plants thrive on the lands, such plants transpire water vapour into the atmosphere.
The more persistent are those levels, the higher the likelihood of levels of atmospheric moisture rising across the region. However, one plant, one hose-pipe or one dam does not make that change happen. Instead one would have to imagine, miles and miles of such vegetation happening across the region.
What do you think will be the result?
The higher atmospheric moisture now begins to encourage precipitation and eventually rainfall. Hence my title here, “have greens will rain”.
For rains to fall from above, it needs to figure a way to move from the earth’s surface to the atmosphere. Surface waters and vegetation when they come together facilitates that process. We as humans are parts of that instrument. The result will be more levels of rainfall over time.
Additionally, as more plants grow out their life cycle, at the end of their life, they decompose and add nutrients to the earth. This is key in helping the soil transform gradually from sandy to become loamy. The land learns to become greener. Potentially, we could even see the desert turn on its back.
As the supply of available water increases, cost of using it, will usually come down. The reverse (Part I) is also true. When the supply diminishes, the cost goes up. Unfortunately, we will not be able to push these prices down, till we figure a way to increase its supply. The answer can start in our backyards. Literally, for everyone.
So, increased levels of vegetation, raises the levels of rainfall. That’s your cycle (see Picture 2)! In this case we refer to them as virtuous cycles.
The reverse is also true.
When plants do not consume water (see also Picture 2), over time, they gradually learn to do the opposite of all of the above, as they fight or adapt to stay alive.
These adaptations may include developing layers of wax or hairs on the leaves and stems or shrinking the size of its leaves to become thorns. This is intended to prevent water losses so as to keep the water for themselves. This runs contrary to the nature of water, which is to flow. These plants have adapted the inherent nature of water for its survival. It does so at the expense of the system (or we say it has become individualistic).
The ultimate drought-resistant plant is cactus that grows in the hearts of most deserts of the world. Think what you see when you crack a cactus open. We see trapped water. The little water it takes in, it keeps it for itself.
When they begin to appear in our environment, it suggests that the soil on the surface has long lost its ability (to build loamy soil) to support sustained vegetation. Such variety of plants begin to thrive but causes rainfall levels to decline. This is since, they do not transpire. This causes the land to become even more dry which in turn encourages more of such plants. This latter view is often hidden from us until we surface this thinking as a cycle. Unlike earlier, these cycles are now becoming vicious in nature.
These vicious cycles do two things.
If we are not watching it, these cycles cause the issue to recur. They bring the problem back defying our efforts to correct it and do so with greater intensity in each iteration of the cycle. They typically throw our action plans off their courses. We see project implementation efforts as if they were failing.
These are what we see on the surface. That is the self-seeking nature of these cycles of causality. All is not what it seems.
Winning the Cycle
So how would we deal with such systemic directions and expect to win it?
To take care of the problem of water shortages, we would then have to take care of the water cycle. The whole cycle. Not parts of it.
What we saw here today is while your household may start greening your backyard, the combined effect of doing this collectively can be very powerful for a region on both the causes and consequences of rainfall for the region. This answer is not for just one country. We need to figure a way not to give up or be afraid to reach this out there in the region to everyone. I am sure you see that!
Given these, what would you say are the implications of some typical action plans that we make (and this happens to all countries), on such a cycle? Such as:
- Recommending the growth of drought-resistant varieties of crops?
- Producing livestock that depend on greens?
- Production of brews?
- Drilling or deepening of boreholes? Dam construction?
In each instance, would you see the rainfall levels increase or could it decrease over time? Would water table levels increase or decrease? What would be their consequences on growing of crops, on food security, growing of raw materials and in diversifying and developing a manufacturing base in the country? On employment?
Well, I am sure; you and your friends will figure these questions out!
This and their impact on the economy will be the subject of discussion next week in the final part of this series of the column on “Have Greens, Will Rain!” Till then have a lovely week discovering and learning!
This is the 4th segment of a five part series of this article. Each part will build on the earlier article to an eventual conclusion. We invite you to participate in the column as well as do your ‘own homework’ – searching and discussing the issue to build your own conclusions. Next month, we look at HIV, its causes and its effects.
Ms Sheila Damodaran, an international strategy development consultant for national planning commissions welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. For upcoming programmes, refer to www.loatwork.com/Senior_Leadership_Introduction.html.