The UNCCD warns that much of the earth’s agricultural drylands have been harmed or are threatened by desertification, affecting some 250 million people in more than 110 countries with economic losses in the range of US$42 billion per annum. The Convention defines desertification as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climate variation and human activities”.
Desertification is like a skin disease on the earth’s surface, erupting in patches that grow and merge over time if it is not treated. The poor are hurt most, because they depend on the land for a living. When soils and vegetation are impoverished by desertification, they lose their livelihoods.
The CGIAR has long recognized the importance of research to improve the sustainability of dryland agriculture, and has even created two international centers entirely focused on the drylands: ICRISAT for the tropical latitudes, and ICARDA for the non-tropical zone. Other Centers also invest a significant portion of their effort on the desertification-prone drylands, especially CIAT-TSBF, CIMMYT, ICRAF, IFPRI, IITA, ILRI, and WARDA.