Key messages

  • Drylands cover 6.1 billion hectares, making up 41 % of the Earth’s land surface, characterized by water scarcity. They cover more than 100 countries across regions and are the basis for livelihoods of more than 2 billion people.
  • Trees and forests in drylands generate a wealth of environmental services, they provide habitats for biodiversity, protect against water and wind erosion and desertification, help water infiltrate soils and contribute to soil fertility.
  • Trees and forests in drylands help increase the resilience of landscapes and communities in the face of climate change.
  • Drylands contain 1.11 billion hectares of forests (18% of the global drylands area and 27% of the global forest area), 1.8 billion of grasslands (31% of the global dryland area), 0.86 billion hectares of cropland (14% of the global dryland area). 
  • Trees are present on 1.9 billion ha of the world’s drylands.
  • Land degradation in drylands, commonly referred to as desertification, almost always begins with the removal and degradation of vegetation including forests and grasslands.
  • In Africa, drylands (arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid) comprise 43 % of the continent’s land area, and are inhabited by farmers, herders and pastoralists whose livelihoods heavily depend on the goods and services provided by forests, trees, shrublands, farmlands, and grazing lands.
  • The long-term sustainability of dryland forests is in jeopardy due to population increase, growing demand for natural resources, poverty, social conflicts, lack of market opportunities and technical capacity, lack of appropriate policies, governance and investments and lack of integration among different sectors.
  • Climate change affects dryland forests and people as it exacerbates all these negative human-related factors.


Help raise awareness on the importance of the world's dryland forests Two billion people live in the drylands, which cover 41 percent of the world's land area. But every minute, we lose 23 hectares of land to desertification. [more]
Action Against Desertification Over the next decade, 50 million people may be displaced by desertification - the result of climate change and the depletion of natural resources. [more]
Turning the tide on desertification in Africa (short version) In Senegal, the Acacia project has involved the planting and managing of Acacia forests in arid lands helping combat desertification while providing life-changing benefits to local communities. [more]
Protecting Mongolia's forests An FAO programme that helps local communities in Mongolia to protect their own forests is being seen as a model for action in the Asia-Pacific region. [more]


 All desertification videos 


Trees, forests and land use in drylands: The first global assessment Drylands cover about 41 percent of the Earth’s land surface and are characterized by a scarcity of water (Box 1 contains a full definition). About 90 percent of the estimated 2 billion people living in drylands are in developing countries (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). The majority of these people depend on forests and other wooded lands, grasslands and trees on farms to meet basic needs for food, medicines, shelter, cooking, heating, wood, and fodder for livestock, and for income. [more]
Global guidelines for the restoration of degraded forests and landscapes in drylands Drylands cover nearly half of the earth’s land surface and are home to one-third of the global population. They face extraordinary challenges, including those posed by desertification, biodiversity loss, poverty, food insecurity and climate change. It is clear that serious efforts are needed to arrest dryland degradation and restore degraded lands, and the simple but urgent aim of these guidelines is to support such efforts. [more]
State of Mediterranean Forests 2018 The State of Mediterranean Forests 2018 analyzes the circum-Mediterranean region, a territoryencompassing thirty-one countries and a wide range of political, economic, social and environmentalcontexts. Today, human activity has placed substantial pressure on this environment, the impact of which is feltdifferently in the northern, southern and eastern sub-regions. [more]


More publications

Expert interviews

Markus Repnik on the need for landscape and forest restoration Markus Repnik, Managing Director of the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD, talks about why forest and landscape restoration should be an international priority. [more]
Near East and North African countries can gain significantly from expanding their forest cover. Mr. Chadi Mohanna, Director of Rural Development and Natural Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, Lebanon, explains that Near East and North African countries are severely affected by desertification and climate change. [more]
Nora Berrahmouni on the FAO Forestry Department’s efforts to stop desertification Nora Berrahmouni, Forestry Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), outlines the ways the Forestry Department is combating desertification. [more]


Interivew with FAO's Nora Berrahmouni on Drylands: forests and land use 
TARGET Zero Hunger podcase: Remote sensing and agriculture
"Recipes" exist to combat desertification


last updated:  Friday, March 1, 2019