Defining Restoration

The process of restoring degraded drylands can take many forms depending on the type of degradation observed.

Where vegetation loss causes dust storms and soil erosion, restoration often involves the reseeding of degraded land, the planting of green belts or the establishment of live fences, which simultaneously capture eroding soil and provide enclosures and fodder for livestock.

When poor land management causes a reduction in soil quality, restoration programmes often include a combination of increased fertilization especially with manure, the direct treatment of degraded soil using gypsum and other such products, and changes in cropping systems to allow for longer fallows.

When biodiversity has been degraded as a result of threats including habitat loss and competition from invasive alien species, restoration can be very complex. In such cases species reintroduction must be combined with actions to address threats such as the eradication of invasive alien species or the establishment of protected areas.

Restoring Degraded Drylands


A well-functioning dryland ecosystem supports a broad range of life. In fact, drylands plants and animals play a significant role in supporting livelihoods and reducing the vulnerabilities of drylands populations to hazards such as drought, flood, and famine.
44% of global agricultural production takes place in drylands.
In Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Zambia, the first line of treatment for 60% of children with high fever resulting from malaria is the use of plant-based medicines at home
The genetic diversity of hardy African cattle, the vast majority of which are grazed in drylands, is higher than anywhere else in the world.

When dryland ecosystems become degraded, however, valuable biodiversity services are lost. As animal species are pushed from their habitat, drylands people lose an important source of protein and income. As native plants are over harvested or displaced by non-native species soil is exposed and is blown or washed away. Overall vulnerabilities increase as people and biodiversity alike are subjected to increasingly harsh conditions.
The recent drought in East Africa affected an estimated 15 million people and it is expected that northeastern Kenya will take 15 years to recover from the effects.
It is estimated that annual economic losses as a result of the degradation of drylands are US$ 42 billion.
15 known dryland species are already extinct or extinct in the wild.



Degraded drylands also present a number of ongoing threats. Bare soils can cause devastating dust storms with effects crossing international borders. In 2002, for example, a dust storm originating in China’s arid northern region affected more than 100 million people in China and caused the closing of schools and airports in South Korea. Chinese dust storms have even crossed the Pacific, leaving a layer of dust along the Rocky Mountains.  In response to these threats China has initiated extensive restoration programmes to reseed degraded areas and create green belts. In fact, in response to concerns that dust storms originating in the arid north could disrupt the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Government of China has dedicated US$6.8 billion for the restoration of degraded areas
More than 38% of China’s total land mass is classified as drylands.
More than half of China’s drylands are affected by degradation and desertification.
In April, 2001 NASA tracked a dust cloud across the Pacific. The dust cloud reached 2000 km in length.
In April, 2006 more than 300,000 tons of sand fell on Beijing.
The China Loess Plateau project funded by the World Bank (1993-2001) restored over 3,000 square km of degraded drylands and, as a result, more than halved the poverty rate in the project area.



Restoration in drylands can, however, be very complex, as few species have developed the adaptations required to thrive in water-scarce, drought prone areas. As such, restoration programmes in drylands often rely on local species. In India, for example, a number of GEF supported projects in Rajasthan emphasize the local preservation of native species of plants, including medicinal and sacred plants. 
Approximately 130 million ha of drylands in India are degraded
The Government of India has treated 30 million ha of degraded drylands.
In the arid regions of Rajasthan accounts for 10% of India’s total land area but only 1% of India’s water resources.
Restoration efforts in Rajasthan center on native species of cultural and economic importance such as those found in ‘orans’ - sacred groves typically comprised of ‘khejadi’ trees (Prosopis cineraria), which have high value as suppliers of fodder, fuel, fruit, and the stabilization of sand dunes.


  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme