UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) proposes an interdisciplinary research agenda and capacity building aiming to improve the relationship of people with their environment globally. Launched in the early 1970s, it notably targets the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and the reduction of this loss. It uses its World Network of Biosphere Reserves as vehicles for knowledge-sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making.

Drylands and Desertification

c/ T. SchaafDrylands are particularly vulnerable due to climatic variability and human ressures. Deterioration of soil and plant cover has adversely affected 70% of the world's drylands. Moreover, the countries and people most affected by desertification are often those with the least resources. Yet it is possible to combat desertification by sustainably managing drylands, rehabilitating degraded areas, and by educating youth. The MAB drylands programme notably promotes: 



  • On-site dryland field studies;
  • Sharing of scientific expertise among dryland and desertification-affected countries;
  • Conservation of dryland ecosystems using the biosphere reserve approach;
  • Education and capacity-building.


FUST, MAB and Drylands


The flagship project of UNESCO-MAB's programme on Drylands and Desertification is the FUST-funded 'Sustainable Management of Marginal Drylands (SUMAMAD)' Project. SUMAMAD

This project studies sustainable management and conservation of marginal drylands in Africa, Arab States, Asia, Latin America. The project, which started in 2002, uses harmonized methodologies for 9 selected study sites, allowing results comparing and knowledge sharing. In its second phase (since 2009), scientists from Belgium, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Egypt, India, I.R. of Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Tunisia collaborate on dryland research to combat desertification.

Overall objectives



  • Improved and alternative livelihoods of dryland dwellers;
  • Reduced vulnerability to land degradation in marginal lands through rehabilitation efforts of degraded lands;
  • Improved productivity through identification of wise practices using both traditional knowledge and scientific expertise;
  • Sharing of scientific knowledge among participating countries.

Participating project sites

SUMAMAD activities during Phase 2 (2009-2013)

(1) Fostering scientific drylands research: Improvement of dryland agriculture (crop and livestock production) through the sustainable use of natural resources focusing on sustainable water conservation and harvesting practices; Restoration and rehabilitation of degraded drylands focusing on biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural biotic resources.

(2) Preparation of policy-relevant guidelines for decision-makers in drylands: Developing scenarios for land-use changes (also in the context of climate change) including the assessment of trade-offs and economic valuation of dryland services; Interfacing with relevant policy-formulation institutions and processes in the respective countries.

(3) Promoting sustainable livelihoods in drylands: Encouraging alternative income-generating activities - diversification of economic options, such as ecotourism, handicraft production, forages, herbal medicine, dietary diversification, in order to reduce dependencies on traditional dryland agriculture.

In 2009, the project sites focused on specific activities.

The SUMAMAD project is implemented by UNESCO-MAB and executed by the United Nations University - Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

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