Water resource and land degradation, reduction in vegetation and soil fertility, soil erosion, salinity and water logging, can result in declining biodiversity and productivity. Lower yields from crops or grazing animals and lack of food and fodder can lead to famine and poverty. People living in the vicinity of deserts also suffer, with strong winds carrying dust and sand hundreds of kilometres – just ask a Beijinger about the Gobi Desert as their skin is blasted away by sand in wind in winter. This may also contribute to social, economic and political tensions.
The harsh environmental conditions in deserts are challenging for agricultural developments as desert soil and life are exposed to sun and wind constantly and dry out rapidly. Deserts are susceptible to drought, flash flooding, dust related air pollution, dust storms, temperature extremities – very hot during the day and very cold during the night – strong winds, dry air and lack of rainfall. Natural vegetation and animal life that may once have been found in these areas will have mostly disappeared, crops and pastures will not grow to produce food humans or animals, rivers and streams will have dried up, and the land may be affected by salt.
The Australian Government, through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), funds agricultural research projects in collaboration with research institutions in Australia and developing countries on subjects of mutual interest. Land degradation and desertification are important focal points for this research. ACIAR also funds international agricultural research centres, many of which operate within the framework of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) are active in anti-desertification research, and are supported by Australia both through core funding and funding for specific combating desertification related projects.
ACIAR funded research aims to provide methods to combat desertification including:
- undertaking research and develop policies to best deliver sustainable agricultural systems.
- undertaking research on tillage and cropping systems to reduce soil erosion, improve fertility and increase economic returns.
- planting well-adapted, deep-rooted perennial forage crops to arrest soil problems and increase animal production.
- revegetating hilly regions to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality of neighbouring rivers.
- rehabilitating grasslands and dune country, and reducing livestock grazing through identification of profitable alternatives.