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Multifaceted impacts of sustainable land management in drylands: A review


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Multifaceted Impacts of Sustainable Land Management in Drylands: A Review

Maria Jose Marques1,*, Gudrun Schwilch2, Nina Lauterburg2, Stephen Crittenden3, Mehreteab Tesfai4, Jannes Stolte4, Pandi Zdruli5, Claudio Zucca6,7, Thorunn Petursdottir8, Niki Evelpidou9, Anna Karkani9, Yasemen AsliYilmazgil10, Thomas Panagopoulos11,

Eshetu Yirdaw12, Markku Kanninen12, Jose Luis Rubio13, Ute Schmiedel14and Adrian Doko5

1 Department of Geology and Geochemistry, Autonomous University of Madrid, C/Francisco Tomás y Valiente, 2, Madrid 28049, Spain

2 Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Hallerstrasse 10, Bern 3012, Switzerland; Gudrun.Schwilch@cde.unibe.ch (G.S.); nina.lauterburg@cde.unibe.ch (N.L.)

3 Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, 325 Morrison Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA;


4 Norwegian Institute of Bio-economy Research (NIBIO), Frederik, A.Dahls, vei 20, Ås N-1430, Norway;

Mehreteab.Tesfai@nibio.no (M.T.); Jannes.Stolte@nibio.no (J.S.)

5 International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari, Via Ceglie 9, Valenzano 7001, Italy; pandi@iamb.it (P.Z.);

dokoadrian@gmail.com (A.D.)

6 International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), P.O. Box, Amman 950764, Jordan; clzucca@uniss.it

7 Department of Agricultural Sciences, Desertification Research Centre (NRD), University of Sassari, Viale Italia 39 07100, Italy

8 Department of Research and Development, Soil Conservation Service of Iceland (SCSI), Gunnarsholt, Hella 851, Iceland; thorunn.petursdottir@land.is

9 Faculty of Geology and Geoenvironment, University of Athens, Panepistimiopolis, Athens 15784, Greece;

evelpidou@geol.uoa.gr (N.E.); ekarkani@geol.uoa.gr (A.K.)

10 General Directorate of Combating Desertification and Erosion, Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, Ankara 6000, Turkey; y.karatas@ormansu.gov.tr

11 Faculty of Sciences and Technology, Centre of Spatial Research and Organizations (CIEO), University of Algarve, Faro 8005-139, Portugal; tpanago@ualg.pt

12 Department of Forest Sciences, Viikki Tropical Resources Institute (VITRI), University of Helsinki,

P.O.Box 27, Helsinki FI-00014, Finland; eshetu.yirdaw@helsinki.fi (E.Y.); markku.kanninen@helsinki.fi (M.K.)

13 Centro de Investigaciones sobre Desertificación—CIDE, CSIC, Carretera Moncada-Naquera Km 4.5, Moncada (Valencia) 46113, Spain; jose.l.rubio@uv.es

14 Research Unit Biodiversity, Evolution and Ecology of Plants, Biocentre Klein Flottbek, University of Hamburg, Ohnhorststrasse 18, Hamburg D-22609, Germany; Ute.Schmiedel@uni-hamburg.de

* Correspondence: mariajose.marques@uam.es; Tel.: +34-914-974-139 Academic Editor: Vincenzo Torretta

Received: 20 December 2015; Accepted: 11 February 2016; Published: 20 February 2016


Biophysical restoration or rehabilitation measures of land have demonstrated to be effective in many scientific projects and small-scale environmental experiments. However circumstances such as poverty, weak policies, or inefficient scientific knowledge transmission can hinder the effective upscaling of land restoration and the long term maintenance of proven sustainable use of soil and water. This may be especially worrisome in lands with harsh environmental conditions. This review covers recent efforts in landscape restoration and rehabilitation with a functional perspective aiming to simultaneously achieve ecosystem sustainability, economic efficiency, and social wellbeing. Water management and rehabilitation of ecosystem services in croplands, rangelands, forests, and coastlands are reviewed. The joint analysis of such diverse ecosystems provides a wide perspective to determine:

(i) multifaceted impacts on biophysical and socio-economic factors; and (ii) elements influencing effective upscaling of sustainable land management practices. One conclusion can be highlighted:

Sustainability2016,8, 177; doi:10.3390/su8020177 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability


Sustainability2016,8, 177 2 of 34

voluntary adoption is based on different pillars,

i.e. external material and economic support, and

spread of success information at the local scale to demonstrate the multidimensional benefits of sustainable land management. For the successful upscaling of land management, more attention must be paid to the social system from the first involvement stage, up to the long term maintenance.


drylands; restoration; rehabilitation; land management; participatory-approach; WOCAT

1. Introduction

Land degradation and desertification are mainly caused by land mismanagement, such as intensive agricultural practices, inappropriate use of irrigation, overgrazing, deforestation or urban sprawl, and driven by underlying forces such as a weak implementation of policies, national and international market demand, and poverty [1]. Bai

et al.

[2] indicated that 24.53% of land was degraded, and more recently the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) [3] (pp. 112–113) stated that, globally, 25% of land is severely degraded. These figures indicate that we are not doing enough to protect our land. This lack of effort will have enormous impacts on food security [4], climate [5] and human and environmental health [6]. Often, the reason for inaction lies in a trade-off between immediate human needs and ensuring long-term continuation of ecosystem services [7]. The economic consequences are increasingly recognizable as ecosystem services are lost when land is kept degraded [8,9]. The report “The Value of Land” launched by the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative provides evidence on ecosystem services, value losses from land degradation, and estimates that the global loss of ecosystem service values may cost between USD 6.3 and 10.6 trillion [10].

Losses of ecosystem services include provisioning services such as food, fresh water, timber, fiber;

regulating services such as pollution control; cultural services; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling, soil formation or water filtering. Its sustainable use will help to reduce poverty in all its dimensions [11,12]. The recently adopted UN Sustainable Development Goal, goal #15, explicitly stresses to “sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is trying to encourage global cooperation to support sustainable land management (SLM), the restoration of degraded land and raise awareness of the global benefits of soil and land generation and preservation [13]. Actions to combat desertification and land degradation can be broadly classified as prevention, mitigation, and restoration interventions [14]. The SLM concept was developed at the 1992 Earth Summit and first used by Smyth and Dumanski [15] based on criteria of productivity, resilience, protection, economic viability, and social acceptability. Many SLM practices proven to be effective in mitigating threats to drylands [16] are characterized by flexibility and multifunctionality in approach [17] and require a watershed or landscape perspective so that off-site impacts are kept in mind [18]. Some key principles in the reduction and mitigation of land degradation have emerged from proven practices, namely maintaining and enhancing soil cover, reducing top soil disturbance and compaction, rotating and interplanting crops/plants, integrating crop and livestock systems, enhancing plant and animal species diversity, and balancing nutrient withdrawal and replenishment [19].

Various SLM practices have been considered in many scientific papers on land restoration and rehabilitation in recent decades, but unfortunately established scientific evidence rarely drives adoption of SLM practices, mainly due to the lack of connection between science and practice [8].

Policies, in general, have also not furthered the adoption of SLM practices because they have not

recognized that landscapes are social–ecological systems [20]. As a result, policies may be contradictory,

subsidies inefficient [21], or practitioners not conscious of environmental and socioeconomic benefits

of sustainability and habitat restoration. In this puzzling context, policy makers must consider the

combined social–cultural, economic and ecological benefits of SLM projects whilst accounting for

trade-offs as well as off-site effects [16].



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