Drylands are a key terrestrial biome, covering 45% of Earth’s land surface and supporting over 38% of the total global population. They are highly vulnerable to global environmental change. Desertification and land degradation, driven by increasing human pressure on land and water resources, are the most important and pressing environmental and socio-economic issues currently faced by dryland people. The sensitivity of drylands to these problems is amplified from the fact that their primary productivity is strongly limited by precipitation and soil nutrient availability, and both of these factors are undergoing changes associated with increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Because of the extent of dryland ecosystems globally, and the dependence of an important part of the human population on them for goods and services, it is crucial to establish effective programmes to monitor land degradation processes that can detect the onset of desertification and restore degraded land before degradation becomes irreversible or restoration too costly.
Dryland countries have a long history of restoration of degraded lands, a task that traditionally has been conducted by planting trees, whether native or not, paying little attention to the views of the local communities and to ecosystem functioning. The last decades have seen unprecedented interest and research efforts in the development of new technologies and participative approaches to effectively restore degraded drylands. Yet, new approaches have not been widely implemented, despite the renewed interest in restoration actions imposed by global initiatives such as the Bonn Challenge. At the same time, important conceptual progress has substantially advanced our understanding of desertification processes and produced new tools to monitor dryland status by means of biophysical and socio-economic indicators, including ecosystem functioning. In parallel, several high profile international initiatives launched in the framework of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), such as the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, have placed concepts such as Land Degradation Neutrality and desertification at the forefront of political and environmental issues.
This course will present the latest scientific and technical advances in land restoration with the purpose of combating desertification; improve knowledge on how to effectively restore degraded drylands, from project planning to the implementation and monitoring phases; and introduce available tools to monitor desertification processes. Case-studies from Mediterranean countries will be discussed, relevant high profile international initiatives will be introduced, and practical work will be performed by the participants to get familiar with state-of-the-art tools.
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