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Report: Restoring arid environments

B. Ben Salem

B. Ben Salem is FAO Regional Forestry Officer for the Near East He served previously for ten years as FAO's Arid Zones Forestry Officer in the Forest Resources Division.

The rapidly spreading desertification of arid lands is a problem of international dimensions. As part of this problem, many of the fragile ecosystems in arid environments are being degraded, largely through improper exploitation of their natural resources. These misuses are evident in the growing examples of desert encroachment, blowing dunes on former farmlands, depressed water-tables, loss of valuable wildlife species, accelerated erosion and an increasing scarcity of fuelwood and forage. It is becoming evident that the future, long-range development of the world's dry zones depends on the rational use, conservation and development of natural resources. Forestry has a major role to play in this development and also provides an excellent long-term investment in the valuable natural resources needed for continued development.

It was to this end that FAO organized an Expert Consultation on the Role of Forestry in Combating Desertification in Saltillo, Mexico. The meeting was preceded by a short study tour to Arizona (United States) and within Mexico. The purpose of the consultation was to:

· review and assess the present state of knowledge in the arid zone forestry field, as it relates to rural development and the control of desertification;

· discuss research and application of existing knowledge;

· exchange ideas and experiences;

· outline actions needed and define a framework which would orient future development programmes at the national, regional and global levels in this field.

The consultation was attended by 30 experts from 21 countries, and by representatives from UNEP, Unesco, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the International Council for Research (ICRAF), USAID, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) and by 25 observers from six countries.

In preparation for the consultation, FAO commissioned a number of papers that were used to prepare five overview documents to be presented and distributed early in the consultation. The overview documents were:

· Arid zone forestry programmes; state of knowledge and experience, which summarized the findings contained in ten reports that specialists in the various regions had prepared for FAO, covering North America and the Caribbean, the Sudano-Sahelian region, eastern Africa, North Africa, the Near East, India, Pakistan, China, the Asian part of the USSR and Australia.

· Production systems, which presented an overview of forestry, silvipastoral systems, agrosilviculture and wildlife production systems.

· Conservation and restoration, which presented an overview of approaches and techniques for the control of wind erosion, watershed management, water harvesting, land restoration and revegetation, rehabilitation of saline environments, wildlife conservation and genetic resources conservation.

· Processing and utilization, which presented an overview of the various economic uses of non-wood products, including fruits, tannin, gums, resin, oils, fibre, medicinal plants and wildlife meat, skins, hides and trophies.

· Policy, institutions and socioeconomic considerations, which presented an overview that examined the characteristics of policy and legal orientations, administrative and financial implications, and the status of research, extension, dissemination of information, and education as related to dry zones.

The consultation drew up a strategy and action proposals for enhancing forestry's role in combating desertification, identified other main objectives of arid zone forestry programmes and suggested ways of increasing forestry's contribution to rural development in arid lands. The structure of proposals fell into three main areas covered by working groups established for the purpose:

- conservation and restoration
- production, utilization and processing
- policy, institutions and socioeconomic aspects.

Attention was given to approaches for checking further desert advance as well as for restoring lands already affected.

Under each of the three main headings, the aspects considered can be summarized as follows:

· The conservation and restoration component aims to investigate, through surveys, studies and applied research conservation, practices suited to the need of dry areas; and to develop techniques and methods for the conservation of the resources of these areas. Recommended areas and projects have been grouped under four main areas, namely: wind control, water conservation, land restoration and revegetation, and wildland, wildlife and genetic resource conservation.

· The production, utilization and processing component aims at promoting the integration of the various production, utilization and processing systems in a coherent land-use management plan and programme. Priority actions and projects on forestry production systems, combined production systems (agrosilvipastoral), wildlife production systems and processing/utilization were identified.

· Policy, institutions and socioeconomic aspects component provides guiding principles for policy formulation, proposals for strengthening forestry administration, education and training, information and extension and a strategy for finance.

The summary report of the consultation was presented at the 9th World Forestry Congress and the conclusions and recommendations of the expert consultation were endorsed by the World Forestry Congress.

REFORESTATION IN CYPRUS restoring an arid environment

DUNE FIXATION IN MALI a priority in arid zones

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