Drylands are regions where water is scarce and evaporation exceeds precipitation. They cover about 41% of the Earth’s land surface and are home to more than 2 billion people. Drylands are diverse in their climate, geography, and biodiversity, but they share some common challenges and opportunities.
One of the main challenges facing drylands is desertification, which is the degradation of land due to human activities and climate change. Desertification reduces the productivity and resilience of drylands, threatening the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people. Some of the causes of desertification include overgrazing, deforestation, soil erosion, water scarcity, and salinization.
Another challenge is climate change, which is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts and heat waves in drylands. These extreme events can have devastating impacts on crops, livestock, wildlife, and human health. Climate change can also alter the distribution and availability of water resources, affecting the quality and quantity of water for domestic, agricultural, and industrial use.
However, drylands also offer many opportunities for sustainable development and environmental conservation. Drylands have a rich and unique biodiversity that provides valuable ecosystem services and products, such as food, fiber, fuel, medicine, and genetic resources. Drylands also have a great potential for renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Moreover, drylands have a long history of human adaptation and innovation, with diverse cultures and traditions that can inspire solutions for the future.
Therefore, it is important to protect and restore drylands, as they are vital for global food security, poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to adopt an integrated approach that involves scientific research, policy making, community participation, and international cooperation. By enhancing the resilience and sustainability of drylands, we can ensure a better life for present and future generations.
How to Manage Drylands for Sustainable Development
Managing drylands is not an easy task, as it requires balancing the needs of people and nature in a context of limited and variable water resources. However, there are some principles and practices that can help improve the management of drylands and enhance their contribution to sustainable development.
One of the key principles is to adopt an ecosystem approach, which recognizes the interdependence and interactions among different components of drylands, such as soil, water, vegetation, wildlife, and human activities. An ecosystem approach also considers the multiple functions and values of drylands, such as food production, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and cultural heritage. An ecosystem approach also involves the participation and empowerment of local communities and stakeholders, who have the knowledge and experience to manage drylands effectively.
Another principle is to apply adaptive management, which means learning from experience and adjusting management actions according to changing conditions and feedback. Adaptive management requires monitoring and evaluation of the impacts and outcomes of management interventions, as well as the use of scientific and traditional knowledge to inform decision making. Adaptive management also implies flexibility and innovation, as well as the willingness to experiment with new technologies and practices that can improve the performance and resilience of drylands.
Some of the practices that can support the management of drylands include:
Conserving and restoring soil health, by reducing erosion, increasing organic matter, enhancing soil fertility, and preventing salinization.
Improving water use efficiency, by harvesting rainwater, reducing runoff, increasing infiltration, storing water in underground aquifers, and using drip irrigation.
Promoting sustainable land use, by diversifying crops and livestock, adopting agroforestry and silvopastoral systems, integrating crop-livestock-wildlife systems, and avoiding overgrazing and overexploitation.
Enhancing biodiversity conservation, by protecting native species and habitats, restoring degraded ecosystems, creating corridors and buffer zones, and supporting wildlife management.
Strengthening livelihoods and well-being, by increasing income and food security, reducing vulnerability and risk, enhancing access to markets and services, and supporting social organization and empowerment.
By applying these principles and practices, it is possible to manage drylands in a way that benefits both people and nature, while contributing to the global goals of sustainable development.