Developing nations have ‘more to lose’ from loss of drylands

Policymakers need to focus on sustainable land management in developing countries Copyright: Flickr/TREEAID

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[BONN, GERMANY] Developing countries have much more to lose from land degradation than developed ones, as the economic value of dryland ecosystems — determined by factors including food and raw material production, ecosystem services and tourism — is far greater there, according to a study.

This value in Africa and Latin America is more than double that in Europe and more than 30 times that in North America, which should influence how policymakers prioritise dryland conservation, according to a study, presented at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification's (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference last week (11 April).


  • Asian and African drylands' value to economies outstrips that in Europe and North America
  • Funding is needed to protect these vulnerable areas from climate change
  • The study's economic angle may raise awareness among decision-makers, says an expert

"This study shows how important sustainable land management is in developing countries and how much these countries have to lose if these ecosystems are degraded," co-author of the study Johanna Schild, a PhD researcher from Vrije University, Netherlands, tells SciDev.Net.

The metaanalysis, which the author believes to be the first to focus on dryland habitats, analysed 274 observations taken from 55 separate studies, a large number of which were from Africa.

It found a correlation such that for countries with lower GDP (gross domestic product), the economic value of their dryland regions was higher.

While drylands in European and North American countries on average generate US$4,290 and US$277 per hectare respectively every year, this figure jumps to US$6,462 in Asia, US$9,184 in Africa and US$9,764 in Latin America.

Around 40 per cent of the world's total land area consists of dryland ecosystems, the majority of which are in developing nations.

The results provide a compelling case for channelling resources towards efforts to conserve developing nations' drylands, says Schild.

"They show that the most important thing for policymakers is to focus on sustainable land management in developing countries," she adds.

This is even more crucial because climate change and growing food insecurity are likely to degrade these areas, the study says.

Mark Schauer, coordinator of the Economics of Land Degradation initiative, believes that, while the valuation of land should consider cultural and spiritual benefits, not just economic ones, the results are still "valuable".

Any attempt to link conservation to economics, as has been done successfully in biodiversity discussions, helps to increase its visibility among policymakers, he tells SciDev.Net.

"Economics is the language of decision-makers, and so the study should help to raise awareness," he adds.

Not everyone, however, thinks the study will be of interest to policymakers.

Dennis Garrity, one of the UNCCD's drylands ambassadors says that while the study did produce some novel and credible results, the relationship between land's economic value and GDP can be generalised to agriculture, and is already a well-established fact.