At a glance
Tackling climate change
- Drylands are defined by their aridity. They cover four zones: hyper-arid (desert); arid; semi-arid; and dry sub-humid.
- Drylands cover 41% of the earth’s land surface and are home to more than 2 billion people, 90% of them in developing countries.
- 30% of all cultivated plants came from drylands.
- In developing countries, infant mortality in drylands averages about 54 children per 1,000 live births, twice as high as in non-dryland areas, and 10 times the infant mortality rate in developed countries.
- Water scarcity affects between 1-2 billion people, most of them in the drylands. Under climate change scenarios, nearly half of the world’s population in 2030 will be living in areas of high water stress.
- 46% of global carbon is stored in drylands.
- Drylands soils contain 53% of global soil carbon, and dryland plants 14% of global biotic carbon.
- Land rehabilitation practices such as mulching, composting, manuring, grazing management and mixed cropping increase the carbon storage of dryland soils.
The bad news
- More than 50% of the world’s productive land is dryland.
- In Argentina 70% of cattle is reared in dryland regions.
- In India, 45% of agricultural production takes place in the country’s dryland areas.
- In China, 78 million dryland cashmere goats supply up to 75% of the world’s cashmere fibre.
- 50% of the world's livestock is supported by rangelands.
- Each year 20 million hectares of agricultural land either becomes too degraded for crop production or is lost to urban sprawl.
The good news
- It is estimated that 10-20% of drylands is already degraded.
- It can take up to 500 years for 2.5cm of soil to form.
- Desertification is occurring in 70% of all drylands.
- 16% of degraded land was improved between 1981 and 2003, 43% was in rangelands and 18% was cropland.
- Between 1980 and 2000, small-scale investments in soil and water conservation in Burkina Faso created a turn-around in agricultural productivity, even reversing migration to cities.
- Biodiversity conservation is at the heart of sustainable development efforts in countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya: 13% of Kenya’s GDP comes from tourism, most of which is to visit dryland biodiversity; in Namibia it accounts for 30% of foreign exchange earnings.
- The number of international visitors to drylands is increasing—tourists are drawn by their wildlife, scenic beauty and cultural richness.
- In Niger since the mid 1980s at least 250,000ha of severely degraded dryland have been rehabilitated.
Sources: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).