Importance of arid zone forests

Forests and other wooded lands play a vital role in maintaining an ecological balance and improving the livelihood of people in arid zones. However, due to lack of proper understanding and accurate information the importance of drylands is sometimes overlooked. Indeed forests in arid zones are fundamental for their numerous products and services they provide and multiple functions they perform in different areas:

Environmental functions

  • Biodiversity conservation. Dryland forest landscapes harbour unique and endemic species that are particularly adapted to extreme ecological conditions;
  • Mitigation and adaptation to climate change. By providing vital ecosystem goods and services forests in drylands can help people adapt to harsh climatic conditions under a changing climate. Moreover the carbon stored in these ecosystems, if properly managed, could contribute to climate change mitigation;
  • Desertification control and prevention of water run-off and soil erosion. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification refers to land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas resulting from factors such as human pressure on fragile eco-system, deforestation and climate change. Forests work as soil stabilizer, a buffer zone against desertification and are ideal for protecting and improving the quality of soil. Trees roots deepen and improve the soil capacity to retain nutrients, and the shade they provide facilitates ecosystem metabolism.

Socio-economic functions

  • Food security. Forest products are an important source of foodstuff for local communities in drylands. Honey, many fruits, leaves, young shoots and roots and berries provide valuable nourishment and constitute an important emergency reserve in dry months;
  • Forage for livestock and wildlife. Forests in drylands are often used as range lands for raising domestic livestock. Forests support a large variety of domestic animals (cattle, sheep, and goat herds, horses and camels), which then become the source of meat, dairy products, wool and leather supply to satisfy basic human needs
  • Income opportunities. Some of the forests’ non-wood products such as cork, gums, essential oils and resin have significant international market value and multiple uses in the pharmaceutical, food, cosmetics, building and printing industries. Trade in these products can provide important poverty reduction and socio-economic development opportunities;
  • Supply of wood products, including fuelwood, poles, and lumber. Fuelwood is almost the only domestic fuel, in rural areas as well as in some urbanized contexts. Wood is also used in building construction.

Gum arabic, Niger. NGARA.

Knowledge and cultural values

  • Drylands are home to many nomadic cultures. These communities have played a key role in the development and fine-tuning of techniques used in dryland conservation, management and herding and farming. Many of these indigenous techniques continue to be best-suited to local conditions in drylands, and as such they should be valued, shared and promoted through knowledge dissemination programmes and cross-community interactions;
  • Dryland traditional knowledge has co-evolved with the cultural identity of dryland peoples and their natural resources environment. Loss of traditional indigenous knowledge of dryland forests management and conservation (water harvesting, cultivation practices, species resilience climate forecasting, and the use of dryland medicinal plants) often coincides with the adoption of inadequate management practices and over exploitation of natural resources;
  • Drylands accommodate a high cultural diversity, in keeping with the variety of ecosystem they display. 24% of global languages are associated with the drylands’ ecosystems.

last updated:  Friday, June 21, 2013