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Desertification: a project named DESIRE

Creeping desertification around the world affects more than 250 million people.

A newly launched research project is working to fight the phenomenon with new conservation strategies.

Funded under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the DESIRE project is international, bringing together 28 research institutes, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and policy-makers from around the world.

The aim of the €9 million project is to come up with alternative strategies for the use and protection of these vulnerable areas.

'Fragile arid and semi-arid ecosystems are in urgent need of integrated conservation approaches that can prevent and reduce widespread degradation,' said the coordinator of the project, Professor Coen Ritsema from the Alterra Wageningen University & Research Centre, the Netherlands.

The team of researchers has identified 18 hotspots from southern Europe to Australia, Chile and the United States of America, covering a wide range of problems, from soil erosion by wind or water, to salinisation and droughts or flash floods.

These hotspots will be the 'global laboratory' for researchers to apply both tested conservation techniques and remediation measures, and find new and innovative approaches to combat desertification.

The project will begin by making an inventory of local knowledge. Working with local residents, the scientists will study the methods and techniques used to prevent land degradation in that region and combine them with new scientific insights.

The researchers hope that this close collaboration of scientists with local stakeholder groups will lead to acceptable and feasible conservation techniques. Ultimately, the DESIRE project should lead to practical guidelines for responsible land use.

'We want to test new methods at these hotspots and follow the results long-term,' says Professor Retsima.

In addition, a web-based information system of 'best management practices' will be made available to target groups.

Virginia Mercouri | alfa
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