Dryland forests call for more attention from researchers, policy makers

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


I come back to the point about the ‘poor cousins’ of forestry, the under-rated forests. One such is dryland forests.

Its time to look beyond rainforests to dry-land forests; and the latter’s conservation, says Sergio Zelaya, from the secretariat of UNCCD (UN Convention to Combat Desertification). I caught up with Zelaya this week as discussions among various UN agencies dealing with environment, biodiversity and forestry, steered to restoration of degraded land.

Zelaya says research on dryland forestry is lagging behind other sectors.

Dryland forests tend to be ignored in research and policy. Photo credit: Forest & Kim Starr, Wikipedia

The neglect of dryland forest research is a pity, I think, because this is one more area where modern science and traditional knowledge can join hands to make a difference to poor communities. The dryland nomad communities are a rich storehouse of knowledge on water and biodiversity conservation, dryland farming, and cattle keeping, something that was brought up in sessions on local communities’ knowledge too.

An equally important, but lesser known fact , is that much of developing countries land has dryland forests — an estimated 72%.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture organization, 40% of the Earth comprises open or closed forests; and 42% of these are dry forest; while only 33% are ‘moist’ forests and 25% wet forests.

Dry forests, ranging from desert to grasslands, Mediterranean scrublands and woodlands, are home to 2.5 billion people who depend on them for food, fodder, medicine, energy and shelter. They are the key to food security as dryland ecosystems support 44% of the world’s food production systems and 50% of its livestock. .

About 18% of land in arid zones is covered by forests, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Report.. The largest proportion in Africa and the world’s tropical islands, where they account for 70%-80%, and these forests make up about 22% of South America and 50% of Central America’s land.

Dryland forests are also rich in biodiversity which is adapted to extreme conditions; provide ecosystem services; serve as a buffer against drought and desertification by preventing soil erosion; and can help in adaptation to climate change. They store carbon, and hence can contribute to mitigation

Yet these forests do not attract conservation and sustainable management programmes, or technical and financial resources, and most discussions on forests and climate change also side-line them, focusing  mostly on rainforests.

Hopefully they catch policy makers attention.  As Nuc Gnacadja, UNCCD executive secretary, observed on Monday, drylands are the buffer zone for the biodiversity outside the ecosystem.”

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

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