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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 101b - Monday, 4 October 2010
The DESIRE Project and Sustainable Land Management
By Simone Verzandvoort, on behalf of the DESIRE consortium (
Full Article

Sustainable Land Management (SLM) is increasingly observed to improve conditions of environments and livelihoods in rural dryland areas. The DESIRE project ( seeks to develop and test strategies for SLM in such areas. The project works in 16 areas in 11 countries with land degradation problems in dryland areas (figure 1).

The project has assessed what type of land degradation is actually happening in the study sites and why, and what SLM measures have been applied using a mapping methodology jointly developed by WOCAT, LADA and DESIRE ( (figure 2). The drivers of land degradation in the areas and related policies were inventoried based on information from researchers and stakeholders in the areas.

In each study area, observations on indicators were collected to assess desertification risk and to analyse the effectiveness of SLM practices, reaching a total of 1641 observations. The set of indicators was compiled from the literature, and previous and ongoing research programs.

Scientists and stakeholders together identified and assessed options for SLM in a structured participatory process at the local level, leading through the whole procedure from initiation to final decision on SLM strategies. The methodological framework for this process used the WOCAT standardized questionnaires and database of best practices in SLM (, a participatory learning approach and a multi-objective decision support system as supporting instruments. 42 technologies and 20 approaches have been documented and assessed for the study areas.

Stakeholders are more confident to promote or try new ideas if they see evidence of success demonstrated in scientific experiments. Therefore, 22 SLM technologies were selected for implementation and monitoring in 57 on-farm field experiments. The field-based experiments investigated whether or not the selected technologies are helping to combat desertification and improving the livelihoods of stakeholders. The monitoring is currently done in collaboration with stakeholders, and will comprise 1-3 growing seasons for each site (Figure 3). The evaluation of the SLM technologies is at two levels: within each of the study sites, by comparison with reference field experiments without SLM technologies, and between sites, by comparing production impacts, socio-economic impacts and ecological impacts using the WOCAT QT questionnaire.

In order to support decision making on the regional level, on where land degradation needs to be addressed, and which SLM technologies should be spread, DESIRE will make regional scale analyses of the physical impact and economic viability of SLM technologies. For this purpose, a combined biophysical and economic model was developed. This model combines an adapted version of the process-based erosion model PESERA with a new, spatially-explicit economic model (DESMICE) to evaluate the financial viability of sustainable land management strategies. The model takes into account various land degradation processes and spatial variation in investment costs at a grid-cell resolution of 100 m. The model is intended to analyse the effect of policy options on the potential uptake of mitigation measures at the regional scale, and can be used to analyse where the cost-effectiveness of investment is highest. Stakeholders will be involved in a workshop in each study area, where the model results will be jointly evaluated with them in order to agree on recommendations for agricultural extension and national/district policy. These results will be disseminated to a wider audience to promote cross-site learning.

DESIRE uses the Harmonized Information System ( to communicate the project results to policy makers and other stakeholders. The information is provided in various formats, in non-scientific language, and in various languages (query tools, newsletters, thematic booklets that can be downloaded, video clips, powerpoint presentations and podcasts).

The DESIRE consortium will gather for its fourth plenary meeting in Xi’an, China. Parallel to the meeting, the project will contribute to the International Conference on Combating Land Degradation in Agricultural Areas (LANDCON 1010) (, which is taking place from 11-15 October 2010, with about 20 presentations. A grasp from the subjects includes the mapping and field-based assessment of SLM, assessment of SLM in the Euro-Mediterranean region, the participatory appraisal and selection of SLM strategies, modeling of SLM and the collaboration between and the role of CSOs in the communication of science to policy makers and other stakeholders.
Figure 1 Location of the DESIRE study areas.
Figure 2 Map with groups of SLM measures in the Tunisian study site. IRA-Médénine and ISRIC ©.
Figure 3 Discussion on SLM options with stakeholders in the field. Secano Interior, Chile. INIA ©.
Figure 4 Example of cost-effectiveness analysis in the regional economic modeling in the DESIRE project. Source: Luuk Fleskens, University of Leeds ©.
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