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Abstract

Often, when people think of drylands, they associate them with deserts and hostile living conditions, economic hardship and water scarcity. But that is not what drylands are all about. If managed well, the drylands are also fertile and capable of supporting the habitats, crops and livestock that sustain nearly one-third of humanity.

Drylands offer opportunities for local populations and provide tangible regional and global benefits. For a variety of reasons, such as market failures, weak investment incentives, gender inequalities and some enduring myths, the benefits to be gained of working with the drylands and their vibrant communities are not fully realised. There is a genuine risk and rapidly growing concern that desertification will undermine nascent opportunities and the world will lose the inherent potential of the drylands.

Desertification means land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variation and human activity. It affects the livelihoods of rural people in drylands, particularly the poor, who depend on livestock, crops, limited water resources and fuel wood. The critical social and economic importance of natural resources, agriculture and animal husbandry mean that in many countries, combating desertification and promoting development are virtually one and the same.

We need to correct an image of desertification as an unstoppable monster slowly consuming the world’s fertile lands, plants, livestock and people. Practical solutions to desertification exist at many levels and are being successfully employed by communities around the world.