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Drylands Forest

How do forests relate to the UNCCD mandate?

40 per cent of the Earth's land is covered with open and closed forests. Of this, 42 per cent is dry forest.

“Forests keep drylands working” was the UNCCD slogan for 2011, the International Year of Forests. Forests are critical to the eradication of poverty in the drylands. They are also the first step towards healing the drylands and protecting them from desertification and drought.

Deforestation and the resultant desertification adversely affect the productivity of the land, human and livestock health, and economic activities such as ecotourism. Forests and tree cover prevent land degradation and desertification by stabilizing soils, reducing water and wind erosion, and maintaining water and nutrient cycling in soils. Sustainable use of goods and services from forest ecosystems and the development of agroforestry systems have the potential to contribute to poverty reduction, making the rural poor less vulnerable to the impacts of desertification and land degradation. The loss of vegetation through deforestation and the resultant desertification and land degradation cause biodiversity loss and contribute to climate change by reducing carbon sequestration.

Land cover has been degrading in the drylands for many years through loss of tree cover and pasture. Globally, about two per cent of the productivity of drylands is lost each year. Growing human population is putting increased pressure on land cover in the drylands, and improved land management is urgently needed. The expansion of agricultural land is the major driver of the depletion of primary tropical and sub-tropical forests. 70 to 80 % of expansion of cropland leads to deforestation. That expansion is driven by poorly-designed agricultural practice, changes in consumption patterns and population dynamics. Approximately 80% of deforestation is being driven by agricultural expansion worldwide. High degradation trends are occurring in 25% of our agricultural land. Overall, more than two thirds of our agricultural land suffers from moderate to high rates of degradation. This compares to only 10% of land where the status is improving, according to the “Status and trends in global land degradation” released by FAO in 2011.

To meet the projected increase in demand for food by 50%, energy by 45% and water by 30% by 2030 an expansion of some 200 million ha of agricultural land will be required.

On the other hand, more than 2 billion hectares of land worldwide are suitable for rehabilitation through forest and landscape restoration. Out of this, 75 percent is best suited for mosaic restoration, where forests and trees can be combined with other land uses, including agroforestry.

The UNCCD is promoting both the prevention of land and forest degradation through sustainable land and forest management practices and the restoration of already degraded land and forests. 

Main activities

The UNCCD is one of the eight founding institutions of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, established in April 2001 in Rome. The CPF is a policy forum and partnership on all types of forests, including dry forests. The organizations of the CPF have the capacity, programmes and substantive resources to facilitate the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) process, in particular the implementation of the proposals for action, and other related internationally agreed actions on forests especially the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF).

All parties to the UNCCD are now obliged to report on the status of land cover, making the topic of immediate importance to policy makers. Land cover in the drylands consists of grasses, crops, shrubs and trees that cover the land. Good cover is needed to ensure that the land is productive. Bare land, often the result of processes of desertification, leads to poor productivity, loss of water, loss of soil and environmental degradation. 


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