Desertification or dryland degradation occurs when land loses its ability to sustain plant, animal and human populations as a result of climatic and human factors. It is a global problem with over 900 million people affected worldwide. In order to address some of the issues relating to desertification, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was established at the 'Rio Conference' in 1992. South Africa became a signatory to the Convention in 1995 and is now obligated to develop a National Action Programme (NAP) to combat desertification. As a first step in the development of the NAP a thorough literature review of the problem was necessary. In 1997, the National Botanical Institute and the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies tendered for and were awarded the contract to review the status of land degradation in South Africa.

Aims of the National Review

The primary aim of the project was to assess the extent, rate and causes of land degradation in South Africa through research and participatory workshops and to develop a series of consensus maps of land degradation based on the perceptions of people with a knowledge of the region. Secondary tasks included the creation of a bibliography of South Africa's literature on desertification, the development of a directory of key players involved in desertification research, and to make a significant contribution to South Africa's National Action Programme (NAP) to Combat Desertification. 

The results of this study have also been made more easily accesible in a popular review and in nine provincial fact sheets. The data from the workshops and other sources are also available to interested parties.




This project was co-ordinated by the National Botanical Institute and funded, in part, by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and incorporates as its main research partners, the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape, the National Department of Agriculture: Directorate for Agricultural Land Resource Management, and the Institute for Soil Climate and Water (ISCW).