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Desertification is a process. It changes productive land into useless land. One example of desertification is when a desert spreads into nearby cropland. In time, the cropland becomes an extension of the desert.

But that is not the only way farmers lose fertile soil.

Long dry periods, warmer temperatures and the removal of trees can all lead to the loss of good cropland. Floods can remove fertile topsoil and begin a process resulting in the loss of planting areas.

Another danger to good land is poor farming methods. Farmers should avoid continually planting crops in the same places, or letting animals feed year after year on the same lands.

Countries from Guatemala to Greece to Vietnam are working against the loss of cropland. Africa especially faces the risk of desertification.

Nigeria, for example, says it loses three hundred fifty thousand hectares of usable land each year. Hills of sand now cover places where people once lived.

When cropland turns to desert, people move to other places for better land and better jobs. This migration can cause political and social tensions.

A nonprofit organization in Nigeria is working to bring public attention to the problem. The group is called Fighting Against Desert Encroachment, or FADE.

Newton Jibunoh is a retired soil engineer who started this group in the year two thousand. He says desert encroachment could cause widespread hunger.

Newton Jibunoh is currently leading a delegation to thirteen African countries to discuss the dangers of losing farmlands. In northern Nigeria, the group organized a competition between schools in seven areas. The goal was to see who could plant the most trees.

Trees are often cut down for fuel wood. But lines of trees around cropland can catch blowing sand. In addition, tree roots can hold soil in place. Even within a desert, trees can be planted as borders around grassy areas.

For many years, China has been building a wall of trees in the northern part of the country. The goal is to stop the Gobi Desert from extending toward Beijing. The Great Green Wall will extend about five thousand kilometers. Completion is expected in two thousand fifty.

I’m Bob Doughty.



Let's remember, now, a legendary Vietnamese general. Vo Nguyen Giap has died at 102. It was Giap who defeated the French at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, which effectively ended a hundred years of French colonial rule in Southeast Asia.

For many Americans, Giap is best known as the architect of the campaign that was a turning point in the Vietnam War. The 1968 Tet Offensive caught U.S. commanders completely by surprise; striking across South Vietnam, and leading to the conclusion that an American victory was not possible. Michael Sullivan has more.

Pham Thach Tam is a former artillery man and political commissar (chính uỷ) who would have followed Gen. Giap anywhere, and pretty much did. He was with the young Giap early on as he fought against the French in the mountainous north of the country, in the Red River Delta, and later against the Americans in the South.

He ordered, we followed. No matter how great the obstacle or the hardship, we were willing to do what he said, even if it meant death. Gen. Giap had no training in military matters, yet he fought and won against the French and the Americans. For me, he was a genius.

Cecil Currey is a retired professor of military history whose biography of Giap is called "Victory at Any Cost."

He stands with the great giants of military leadership back 2,000 years. He measures up to Alexander the Great. He surpasses Napoleon. He surpasses all of our generals. He's a great man for all time.

Giap's biggest victory was against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The French general, Henri Navar Navarre, confident that Giap would never be able to drag artillery up the steep mountains that surrounded the isolated French base near the border with Laos. Navarre was wrong. By the time the battle actually began, Giap had far more guns and men than the French, many of the guns U.S. weapons captured by the Chinese during the Korean War.

He planned it very carefully, and he relied on the lag (chậm trễ) in French intelligence so that by the time that Navarre realized that Dien Bien Phu was surrounded and that Giap's army had artillery, it was too late. The artillery was there.

Ted Morgan is the author of a new book, "Valley of Death: The Story of Dien Bien Phu."

He followed a very simple Clausewitz (Danh Tướng Nước Phổ) formula: superior forces, superior armament, and the will to win. So you had an entrenched camp with 10,000 men in it, and Giap had 50,000 and many, many more coolies doing all the heavy lifting.

The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu spelled (báo hiệu) the end of French colonialism in Southeast Asia - a bittersweet moment for Gen. Giap, who during the years of French occupation lost his father, wife and sister, all of whom died in French prisons. But Giap was not known for being sentimental. Some critics say he sacrificed his troops indiscriminately, to achieve victory. Others say he was more concerned about his soldiers than he let on (vẻ ngoài). (bittersweet = buồn vui lẫn lộn / vừa đắng vừa ngọt)

I think both are true.

Biographer Cecil Currey.

He said: At some point, everyone has to die; and it's better for people to die for our cause than to die willy-nilly (dù muốn hay không). And so he was utterly willing to use large numbers of troops, and suffer their casualties. At the same time, he did as best he could. Even during the battle of Dien Bien Phu, he had an R&R team out in the field, giving the men a respite against that 55 days of horror. R&R = Rest & Recuperation = nghỉ ngơi & hồi sức)

There would be no respite for the French, nor for the Americans more than a decade after Dien Bien Phu - Gen. Giap, the architect of the 1968 Tet Offensive, which shocked U.S. military commanders and eroded American support for the Vietnam War back home.

Carl Thayer: Well, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap will be remembered throughout the world, by people who follow Vietnam - particularly the Vietnamese community.

A warrior, and a patriot, to the end.

Michael Sullivan

Composed & Edited by Lê Quốc An
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