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  • Uniting drylands research could halt looming crisis

[BARILOCHE, ARGENTINA] Scientists urgently need to agree on universal criteria for monitoring and assessing land degradation around the world, according to a report.

Piecemeal research fails to show policymakers how best to deal with degradation, says the paper prepared for a scientific conference held to inform the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which began last week (21 September) in Buenos Aires.

The imminent convergence of desertification, climate change and crises in food, biodiversity and population is creating a "perfect storm", said William Dar, director-general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and chair of the scientific conference.

Almost 20 per cent of drylands have lost productive capacity in recent years because of human activity and climate change, the paper reports. Drylands make up more than 40 per cent of global land area and accommodate 35 per cent of the world's population.

Dar announced that the scientific conference has made several recommendations for monitoring and assessment of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD), including establishing an interdisciplinary scientific advisory mechanism for policymakers.

The paper says that most research projects just assess degradation without identifying trends in DLDD. More action might be taken if policymakers could see the potential impact of not acting, the authors say.

María Laura Corso, scientific coordinator of Argentina's delegation to the scientific conference, told SciDev.Net that there are several technologies available to evaluate land degradation, such as analysing soil and vegetation samples, and remote sensing by satellite.

"But there is a lack of a common criteria for comparing results," she says, adding that research rarely looks at solutions for DLDD.

Corso is the technical coordinator in Argentina of an international project, Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands (LADA), in which researchers from Argentina, China, Cuba, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia have been testing common ways to assess DLDD since 2006. One of its results has been a global map of land degradation.

Link to full paper [1.84MB]



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