The United Nations General Assembly, at its fifty-eighth session, proclaimed 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification to combat desertification worldwide. The aim of the Year is to raise awareness of the threats of desertification, which is being intensified by climate change and loss of biological diversity. In addition, the Year celebrates the unique ecosystem of the desert and its species.
Desertification is the process of making or becoming a desert – a dry barren often sand-covered area of land, characteristically desolate, waterless and without vegetation. Desertification can also refer to the spread of existing deserts where large areas of once fertile and productive land are degraded to the point of ceasing farming. Increasing human pressures on the land can lead to desertification through such activities as over-cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, and poor water management.
Water resource and land degradation, reduction in vegetation and soil fertility, soil erosion, salinity and water logging, can result in declining biodiversity and productivity. Lower yields from crops or grazing animals and lack of food and fodder can lead to famine and poverty. This may also contribute to social, economic and political tensions.
The harsh environmental conditions in deserts are challenging for agricultural developments as desert soil and life are exposed to sun and wind constantly and dry out rapidly. Deserts are susceptible to drought, flash flooding, dust related air pollution, dust storms, temperature extremities – very hot during the day and very cold during the night – strong winds, dry air and lack of rainfall. Natural vegetation and animal life that may once have been found in these areas will have mostly disappeared, crops and pastures will not grow to produce food humans or animals, rivers and streams will have dried up, and the land may be affected by salt.
Australia’s overseas aid program assists developing countries in reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development. The Australian Government, through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), funds agricultural research projects in collaboration with research institutions in Australia and developing countries on subjects of mutual interest. Land degradation and desertification are important focal points for this research. ACIAR also funds international agricultural research centres, many of which operate within the framework of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) are active in anti-desertification research, and are supported by Australia both through core funding and funding for specific combating desertification related projects.
ACIAR has invested approximately AUD 20.5 million to combat desertification through agricultural research projects. At present ACIAR has eight active projects related to desertification, involving a total funding commitment of approximately AUD 6.9 million over the life of these projects. ACIAR’s projects are currently concentrated in China and South Asia. ACIAR funded research aims to provide methods to combat desertification including:
- undertaking research and develop policies to best deliver sustainable agricultural systems. Read more
- undertaking research on tillage and cropping systems to reduce soil erosion, improve fertility and increase economic returns.
- planting well-adapted, deep-rooted perennial forage crops to arrest soil problems and increase animal production.
- revegetating hilly regions to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality of neighbouring rivers.
- rehabilitating grasslands and reduce livestock grazing to improve productivity and enable more efficient production.
- improving water and nitrogen management practices to reduce nitrogen loss and nitrate leaching into ground water in oasis areas in western China.
Other websites with information on desertification include: