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Sustainable Management of Marginal Drylands 


MAB, Drylands and Desertification

Drylands 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.


The flagship project of UNESCO-MAB's programme on Drylands and Desertification during phase III was the SUMAMAD Project. This project studied 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.

Its Overall objectives were:

  • 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:


  • Bolivian Highlands (Bolivia);
  • Mare aux Hippopotames Biosphere Reserve (Burkina Faso);
  • Hunshandake Sandland /Xilin Gol Biosphere Reserve(China);
  • Omayed Biosphere Reserve (Egypt);
  • Arid western plain zone, Thar Desert (India);
  • Gareh Bygone Plain (I.R. of Iran);
  • Dana Biosphere Reserve (Jordan);
  • Dingarh / Lal Sohanra Biosphere Reserve (Pakistan);
  • Zeuss-Koutine Watershed, Tunisia.
  • With the participation of Ghent University and K.U. of Leuven (Belgium)


SUMAMAD activities during Project 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.

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

SUMAMAD website Phase 2

Project Proceeding can be found on UNESDOC