Turning the land degradation tide on world desertification day

Improved varieties of the tropical, nutritious 'Sahel Apple' tree allied to the setting up of market gardens and community nature reserves are helping to turn the tide of land-degradation and desertification in some African countries, a new study shows. In other countries on the Continent, communities are testing the re-introduction of extinct grass species, the deployment of rainwater harvesting, rotational grazing and the simple anti-erosion techniques as anti-desertification strategies.

The promising techniques have emerged from the US$10 million Desert Margins Programme (DMP) led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: 'Land degradation threatens nearly a billion people in some 100 countries and it is estimated that around a third of the world's lands are experiencing desertification. There are many factors at work including climate change. Thus governments need to Seal the Deal on a serious and far-reaching new agreement at the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in just 172 days time'.

'But land degradation and desertification is not inevitable and the multiple inspiring solutions from the Deserts Margin Programme underscore this. It is time to scale-up and to replicate these kinds of actions in order to climate-proof vulnerable communities while boosting livelihoods, biodiversity and water supplies en route to achieving the UN's poverty-related Millennium Development Goals,' he added.

The success of the project is highlighted in a number of pilot projects in nine African countries. Some of the countries are the following;


Here land degradation constitutes a major problem for agricultural production, particularly in the areas on the edge of the desert.

The Sahel Apple introduced by the DPM is a fruit tree that has the potential to provide nutritious fruit with a high-market value and at the same time restores degraded lands.


This country's rangelands are characterized by low and erratic rainfall, prolonged dry periods and frequent droughts. Indeed the problem of desertification and land degradation is serious as over 80% of the country's total land area is categorized as arid and semi-arid.

According to the report, the project introduced new technologies into the area for improving soil moisture, bush management and constructing terraces which are now contributing to a successful revegetation of denuded ranges.


Mtobo in the Matebeland South province is one of the driest areas in the country. It was facing the disappearance of vast areas of forests due to frequent bush fires, massive tree cutting for curios and the disappearance of key species of trees and animals. Land pressure was also causing households to settle in grazing areas.

The project has catalyzed the reintroduction of extinct grass and tree species, enrichment of woodland areas and an incentive by the community to manage the woodlands more effectively.

Today, on the Day to Combat Desertification, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is calling on the global community to accelerate efforts to combat desertification and the effects of drought and seek solutions like those tested under the Desert Margins Project.

An evolution of the global carbon markets also opens the door to paying farmers and land owners for climate-friendly farming techniques.

UNEP and partners with funding from the Global Environment Facility, have just launched the Climate Benefits Project that will be estimating the amounts of carbon that can be stored in soils and vegetation under different management regimes.

Communities in Western Kenya alongside ones in Niger, Nigeria and China are pioneering the work.

Drivers of Land Degradation and Desertification

Poverty and the challenge of feeding a population of six billion people, which has almost doubled in the past four decades, are part of the pressures driving the loss of vegetation and soil fertility.

While true deserts grow and shrink naturally, it is the drylands which make up 40 percent of the Earth's land surface that suffering desertification as a result of unsustainable use of land and water in too many places.

These drylands, which include the real deserts, savannahs and tropical dry forests are dynamic ecosystems that feed agricultural growth and are often home to extremely specialized communities of animals and plants. However, they are also increasingly vulnerable to the threat of land degradation.

On top of this, climate change is also contributing to land degradation. Land and water resources, essential to development and livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change which is leading to floods, droughts and rising sea levels. It has been estimated that nine out of every ten recorded natural disasters are climate related.

According to the UNEP-led study, best-bet technologies that combine modern science with traditional and indigenous knowledge such as those introduced in the nine DMP pilot countries in Africa, are a global example of how to combat the trend of desertification with viable solutions.

Customer comments

No comments were found for Turning the land degradation tide on world desertification day. Be the first to comment!