Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Practices in Drylands: How Do They Address Desertification Threats?

Abstract

Managing land sustainably is a huge challenge, especially under harsh climatic conditions such as those found in drylands. The socio-economic situation can also pose challenges, as dryland regions are often characterized by remoteness, marginality, low-productive farming, weak institutions, and even conflict. With threats from climate change, disputes over water, competing claims on land, and migration increasing worldwide, the demands for sustainable land management (SLM) measures will only increase in the future. Within the EU-funded DESIRE project, researchers and stakeholders jointly identified existing SLM technologies and approaches in 17 dryland study sites located in the Mediterranean and around the world. In order to evaluate and share this valuable SLM experience, local researchers documented the SLM technologies and approaches in collaboration with land users, utilizing the internationally recognized WOCAT questionnaires. This article provides an analysis of 30 technologies and 8 approaches, enabling an initial evaluation of how SLM addresses prevalent dryland threats, such as water scarcity, soil degradation, vegetation degradation and low production, climate change, resource use conflicts, and migration. Among the impacts attributed to the documented technologies, those mentioned most were diversified and enhanced production and better management of water and soil degradation, whether through water harvesting, improving soil moisture, or reducing runoff. Favorable local-scale cost–benefit relationships were mainly found when considered over the long term. Nevertheless, SLM was found to improve people’s livelihoods and prevent further outmigration. More field research is needed to reinforce expert assessments of SLM impacts and provide the necessary evidence-based rationale for investing in SLM.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Desertification Mitigation and Remediation of Land; 2007–2012; http://www.desire-project.eu.

  2. 2.

    World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies; http://www.wocat.net.

  3. 3.

    http://www.wocat.net/en/knowledge-base/technologiesapproaches.html.

  4. 4.

    For certain technologies, costs are indicated per unit rather than per hectare, but in all cases this was comparable to a hectare (e.g., the recharge well in Tunisia benefits one hectare of irrigation land).

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Acknowledgments

This study was conducted within the framework of the EC-DG RTD, 6th Framework Research Programme (sub-priority 1.1.6.3), Research on Desertification, project DESIRE (037046): Desertification Mitigation and Remediation of Land—a global approach for local solutions. The authors extend their deep thanks to all the contributors of DESIRE case studies, namely J. Al Karkouri, J. Atlhopheng, M. Ben Zaied, L. Borselli, M. Carreiras, M. Chaker, M. Chniter, C. Coelho, J. de Vente, S. Espinoza, A. Ferreira, I. Gkiougkis, C. Kosmas, A. Laouina, N. Machouri, N. Mahdhi, A. Martínez Palacios, R. Nafaa, P. Palheiro, E.R. Patrón, C. Prat, F. Ocakoğlu, M. Ouessar, A. Oueled Belgacem, C. Ovalle, R. Sebego, M. Sghaier, J. Soares, A. Solé Benet, J. Tavares, İ. Tolay, S. Valente, Wang Fei, H. Yahyaoui, A. Zeiliguer, M. Zengin. Thanks also to C. De Maddalena and C. Hauser for their support in compiling the case studies, to A. Lannen for editing.

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Schwilch, G., Liniger, H.P. & Hurni, H. Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Practices in Drylands: How Do They Address Desertification Threats?. Environmental Management 54, 983–1004 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-013-0071-3

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Keywords

  • Sustainable land management
  • Desertification
  • Impact assessment
  • Cost–benefit