Land management research activities


Land degradation, desertification and integrated coastal zone management

The start of the MEDCOASTLAND project in 2002 paved the way for the involvement of the L&W Division in land degradation, desertification and integrated coastal zone management research activities. These degradation processes particularly affect the Mediterranean region, as soil degradation is already intense in many parts of it. Prolonged droughts and more irregular precipitation, in combination with the unsustainable use of water and agricultural practices could lead to desertification that the UNCCD (1994, 2007) defines as “land degradationin arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities”. Otherwise desertification is implied as the “culmination” or the final product of dryland degradation when it reaches a state of irreversibility, unless immense resources are invested to mitigate its impacts. A recent assessment (DISMED, 2008) has shown the sensitivity to desertification and drought in the Mediterranean.  In southern, central and eastern Europe 8% of the territory, corresponding to about 14 million ha, currently shows very high and high sensitivity, increasing to more than 40 million ha if moderate sensitivities are also taken into account.

Recent European droughts (e.g. 2003, 2008) have highlighted the impacts of desertification and showed that there is a significant effect on European economies. Rubio and Recatala, 2006, estimate that desertification affects 30% of semiarid Mediterranean drylands, 65% of European drylands, and 10% of Europe. Correia (1999) estimates also that 27% of the population residing in European Mediterranean countries is affected by severe land degradation. Desertificationis closely associated with a wide set of degradation processes (Brandt and Thornes, 1996, Safriel, 2009) including decline in soil organic matter, soil erosion, soil salinisation, decline in soil biodiversity, over-exploitation of groundwater, wild fires (forest, scrub and grass fires), soil contamination and even uncontrolled urban expansion (Sommer et al., 1998). Mediterranean desertification studies (Yassoglou, 1999) have confirmed the closer links between vegetation degradation (i.e. overgrazing, forest fires) and soil degradation as drivers of increasing soil erosion rates. Therefore, desertification is a cross-cutting issue and the most affected countries in Europe are Spain,Portugal, Southern France, Greece,Cyprus, Malta and Southern Italy. Some small parts of other countries may meet the criteria of desertification largely through ‘aridification’, where the ground water level has been lowered by over-exploitation, or intensive drainage has dried out the land, and prolonged periods without rainfall follow. Predicted changes in climate are expected to increase the vulnerability in these regions. The southern Mediterranean or the countries included in the MENA region are even more affected by desertification.

Land degradation, desertification and coastal degradation are serious threats to some of the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the Mediterranean (Zdruli et al. 2007). Water scarcity limits several ecosystems services normally provided by the soil.  A decline in soil biota and organic matter accumulations could eventually lead to the collapse of soil fertility and the associated production of crops, biomass and pasture.  Under such conditions, the agricultural system, which supports the local population, will fail.  The loss of soil fertility and subsequent failure of vegetation can increase the susceptibility to wind erosion and the formation of dust clouds that can cause health problems in distant areas. Furthermore, migrations of populations from drylands to areas lesser or non-affected by desertification can cause significant political and economic tensions.

Timing:
Starting: 8.01.2002
Scheduled ending: 25.06.2019
Real ending: 25.06.2019
Objectives:

The strategic objectives of L&W Division in the research area of LD, Desertification and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)  are as follows:

  • Mediterranean Assessment of Land Degradation and Desertification;
  • Participation in EU and international funded projects in desertification research;
  • Research studies (i.e. soil pollution) in specific areas and various Mediterranean countries;
  • Preparation of guidelines and manuals for ICZM.
Justification:

The experience accumulated within the context of MEDCOASTLAND project is a good prerequisite to continue this type of research line, as it was already tried in the 2007, 2008, and 2009 FP7 calls. In addition, the Division is invited to participate in its quality of international expert for the preparation of the second edition of the World Atlas of Desertification sponsored by ENEP and EC and it has conducted a scientific worldwide user survey on behalf of the FAO implemented LADA project. The Division is also member of the Advisory Board of the Association DesertNet International (DNI), a think-tank association that brings together more than 300 scientists from around the world dealing with desertification research. The experience from ECONET-COHAST and AMJOWELS projects in coastal habitat management is being further developed by two project proposals: MEDITAGE to be funded possibly by the ENPI programme and INCAM to be funded by FP7 ERA WIDE Programme. The MEDITAGE  proposal is currently under evaluation.

Potential:

Land degradation, desertification and coastal degradation are serious threats to some of the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the Mediterranean. A decline in soil biota and organic matter accumulations could eventually lead to the collapse of soil fertility and the associated production of crops, biomass and pasture. Under such conditions, the agricultural system, which supports the local population, will fail. Therefore, the loss of soil fertility and subsequent failure of vegetation can increase the susceptibility of wind erosion and the formation of dust clouds that can cause health problems in distant areas. All the above represents a strong potentiality for research on this topic in the Mediterranean region.

Results:
Notes:
  • Strengths

Since a decline in soil organic matter can lead to a collapse in soil fertility and associated production of crops, this research line is strategic for the L&W Division. In addition, it allows the integration with the research lines dealing with research on water.

  • Weaknesses

The weakness is mainly related to the difficulties in collecting field data. In fact, this requires a high number of qualified personnel for sampling which implies high costs that can only be covered if funding is provided.

Reference person/s: Zdruli Pandi /
Collaborators: Lahmer Fadila / Nerilli Enrico /
Thesis: Effect of water regime on squash yield and soil water characteristics using neutron scattering technique
Integrated ecosystem approach for sustainable natural resources management in the Ras Al-Ain district in Syria
Soil water movement in sandy soil cultivated with Snap Bean under drip irrigation system using neutron scattering gauge
Dégradation des couches de surface des sols du périmètre de Hmadna (plaine du bas–Chéliff) : salinité et état structural
Etude expérimentale de l’influence d’un conditionneur organique sur la stabilité structurale des sols salés du Cheliff : conséquences sur la battance et l’érosion hydrique
Study of soil moisture and chemical fertilizers distribution under drip irrigation system by using the neutron scattering meter
Investigation on soil erosion: evaluation of the protective action of Vetiver grass hedges
Institutions involved: Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD)
Conseil National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC)
Duke University, North Carolina
European Commission General Directorate (JRC-Ispra)
Institut de Recherche pour le développement (IRD)
Institut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
Land Research Centre (LRC)
Ministry of Agriculture & Agrarian Reform
National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS)
Università degli Studi di Sassari
University of Cukurova
University of Hamburg
University of Jordan (UJ)
 
 
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