Covering approximately 41 percent of the Earth’s land surface – more than 6 billion hectares, distributed among all continents – drylands are home to an estimated 2 billion people, about 90 percent of them in developing countries. These ecosystems are vulnerable to water shortage, drought, desertification, land-use change and degradation and climate change impacts, with dangerous ramifications for the food security, livelihood and well- being of their populations. Trees and forests in these lands help mitigate the challenges through provision of economic products and vital environmental services such as habitat for biodiversity, prevention of erosion and desertification, and regulation of water, microclimate and soil fertility.
Urgent action is needed to improve the management and restoration of drylands. To this end, a comprehensive understanding of the global and regional threats to drylands and their populations is required, to pinpoint what interventions are needed and where.Unfortunately, however, the monitoring of dryland ecosystems has not attracted as much attention as that of other ecosystems such as humid tropical forests.
Seeking to catalyse a focus on drylands, the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO), at its twenty-second session in 2014, called for action and investment in dryland assessment, monitoring, sustainable management and restoration. It requested that FAO undertake a global assessment of the extent and status of dryland forests, rangelands and agrosilvopastoral systems, with a view to better prioritizing and targeting the investments needed for dryland restoration and management. This report – the first global assessment of trees, forests and land use in drylands – has been produced in response to that request.
An interactive summary of the assessment’s key findings can be accessed here.