Current issue: 55(2)
In the southwestern pre-Saharan arid zone of Morocco, the endemic argan forest (Argania spinosa) had been almost completely destroyed in the 1960s due to intensive coal mining and mixed cereal-livestock farming. These activities turned out to be unviable and a massive rural exodus occurred in the 1970s. Local populations started to develop maintenance-free prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) cultivation at large scale in order to keep their land ownership rights, while reducing their traditional agropastoral activity. We conducted a survey in order to characterize the relationships between the age of prickly pear orchards and argan tree regeneration. We also explored facilitating factors, such as soil organic matter and mycorrhiza. Results showed a high positive correlation (r2 = 0.75, p < 0.001) between the age of prickly pear orchards and argan tree resprouts, but with differences depending on a continentality gradient. The soil organic matter content also showed highly significant differences (p < 0.001) depending on the age of the prickly pear plantation, while spora density did not show such differences. The recent high economic value attributed to prickly pear fruits, and to both argan and prickly pear seed oil, has given farmers the opportunity to develop a lucrative agricultural activity, while promoting the recovery of native vegetation. This situation constitutes a remarkable example of speculative agricultural development in a very harsh environment, in phase with ecological priorities for combating desertification. It could represent an alternative to the externally-generated projects sustained by high levels of public funding, with ecological, economic and social impacts which are sometimes questionable.
Land degradation is widespread and a serious threat affecting the livelihoods of 1.5 billion people worldwide of which one sixth or 250 million people reside in drylands. Globally, it is estimated that 10–20% of drylands are already degraded and about 12 million ha are degraded each year. Driven by unsustainable land use practices, adverse climatic conditions and population increase, land degradation has led to decline in provision of ecosystem services, food insecurity, social and political instability and reduction in the ecosystem’s resilience to natural climate variability. Several global initiatives have been launched to combat land degradation, including rehabilitation of degraded drylands. This review aimed at collating the current state-of-knowledge about rehabilitation of degraded drylands. It was found that the prospect of restoring degraded drylands is technically promising using a suite of passive (e.g. area exclosure, assisted natural regeneration, rotational grazing) and active (e.g. mixed-species planting, framework species, maximum diversity, and use of nurse tree) rehabilitation measures. Advances in soil reclamation using biological, chemical and physical measures have been made. Despite technical advances, the scale of rehabilitation intervention is small and lacks holistic approach. Development of process-based models that forecast outcomes of the various rehabilitation activities will be useful tools for researchers and practitioners. The concept of forest landscape restoration approach, which operates at landscape-level, could also be adopted as the overarching framework for rehabilitation of degraded dryland ecosystems. The review identified a data gap in cost-benefit analysis of rehabilitation interventions. However, the cost of rehabilitation and sustainable management of drylands is opined to be lower than the losses that accrue from inaction, depending on the degree of degradation. Thus, local communities’ participation, incorporation of traditional ecological knowledge, clear division of tasks and benefits, strengthening local institutions are crucial not only for cost-sharing, but also for the long-term success of rehabilitation activities.
The paper first reviews the desertification/land degradation syndrome, the shortcomings of attempts to control it and the consequences of this failure, including to climate change and biodiversity. It then examines the experience gained by carbon and biodiversity offsets that helped adapting the offsetting principle to the context of land degradation, by emphasizing the restoration of the many already degraded lands on earth, as major component of the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) mechanism. LDN is a new voluntary and aspirational target of a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) under the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aimed at neutralizing the rate of lands coming under degrading use of their productivity. This by balancing the ongoing added degradation with similar rate of restoring equivalent lands whose productivity had been already degraded. If extensively implemented, LDN would stabilize the global amount of productive land by 2030. This would increase global food security and reduce poverty of land users, thus contributing to global sustainability. This review maintains that the failure of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to reduce desertification triggered the emergence of LDN as a mechanism for addressing land degradation globally, rather than just desertification in the drylands. LDN accepted as target of a Sustainable Development Goal also legitimized UNCCD to lead and oversee the aspired process of achieving land degradation neutral world. This paper reviews the development of the LDN concept expressed in scientific deliberations and political advocacy, throughout the five years from inception in 2011 at the UNCCD Secretariat, to early 2016. It notes the fast and increasing acceptance of LDN, expressed in the initiation of implementation already in April 2015 by an increasing number of countries, and in the growing interest and engagement of scientists and policy-makers. But the paper also express concern regarding potential misuse of the concept.
This paper reviews the background documents and the final report of the United Nations Conference on Desertification, held in Nairobi, Kenya, in August/September of 1977. Deforestation for grazing or agriculture has often been the initial step towards desertification. Consequently, tree planting plays a central role in the reclamation of desertified areas. Shelterbelts and other tree plantations protect agricultural land, settlements and communications.
Tree plantations in arid zones need effective protection against grazing and other improper land use. This must be explained to political leaders and local people. As a long-term investment, it requires a high level of education to understand its ultimate usefulness, and also research to choose the best species and techniques for different climatic and soil conditions is needed. In addition, afforestation will contribute to the solution of energy problems. Fast growing trees, even with artificial irrigation, can be the most efficient and economical way to cover energy needs of rural people. To accomplish the task of reclamation of decertified areas, international cooperation and technical and economic support from industrial countries to developing countries is needed.
The PDF includes a summary in Finnish.