UN Drylands ambassador calls for greater focus on restoration of tropical drylands

Degraded tropical savannah with remnant trees in deep gullies in East Sumba, Indonesia. Photo: World Agroforestry/Robert Finlayson


Dennis Garrity, United Nations Drylands Ambassador, called for increased attention on restoring tropical drylands during a visit to the island of Sumba in eastern Indonesia.


‘Sumba is an extreme case with many challenges,’ said Garrity, speaking in the field on the island, 8 May 2019, ‘but I have seen achievements here that demonstrate that restoration can be done, for the benefit of the farmers and the environment.’

Drylands cover an estimated 40% of the Earth’s land area. Of that, perhaps up to 60% are in the tropics. In the race to restore degraded tropical landscapes to counter global warming and improve the livelihoods of the inhabitants, it has usually been the humid tropics that receive the most attention.

‘It’s time now that we also focus our attention on the tropical drylands as well,’ said Garrity. ‘With a likely increase in their area owing to climate change, we must address the unique challenges that these areas present if we are to contain and, indeed, lessen negative effects both locally and globally.’

Ambassador Garrity, left, learning about sandalwood cultivation from farmer Hendrik Mbolu Manggal. Photo: World Agroforestry/Robert Finlayson

According to Garrity, the technologies exist to meet the challenge and the peoples of these drylands have proven eagerly willing to deploy them, if given the chance. However, because of the often remote and scattered populations, sharing the technologies and building the capacity of communities to deploy them has proven more difficult than in the humid tropics.

‘We see in the pilot successes in Sumba,’ said Garrity, ‘and in tropical drylands in Africa and other parts of the world, that it is possible if there is a well-designed, coordinated approach that takes into account the needs of each unique community and is sustained over a longer period than is usual for wetter areas with higher growth rates of trees and crops. Water shortages is the first obstacle that must be overcome in the dry tropics, through technologies such as small dams, improved wells, fencing from free-grazing livestock that would otherwise eat tree seedlings, better management to restrict wild fires, and addressing land-tenure issues to provide long-term security for communities.’

Early stage of farmer-managed natural regeneration in Haharu Sub-district, East Sumba. Photo: World Agroforestry/Robert Finlayson

Through models such as farmer-managed natural regeneration with fast-growing tree species that can quickly restore soils and return springs, communities can intercrop with seasonal crops, convert to more complex agroforestry systems with a range of productive trees for food security and improvement of livelihoods, and develop cooperatives and small enterprises that improve negotiating positions and incomes for farmers.

‘A model like this might take ten years of consistent work,’ posited Garrity, ‘which is a longer time period than most development projects, but the results are worth it: restored landscapes that store carbon and help farmers adapt to climate change, enhanced biodiversity including wildlife corridors, less pressure on remnant forests, increased fuelwood, greater food security and new or improved value chains that can contribute not only to local markets but help meet the increasing global demand for the special products that are indigenous to tropical drylands, such as sandalwood on the island of Sumba.’


Ambassador Garrity’s visit to Sumba and meetings in Jakarta with representatives of the Government of Indonesia was supported by World Vision in collaboration with World Agroforestry.



World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.


Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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