Grasslands are one of the world’s most important dryland ecosystems, contributing to the livelihoods of more than 800 million people and providing numerous ecosystem services, including forage production, carbon storage, soil protection, and biodiversity preservation. However, these important resources are under enormous strain as a result of climate change and inappropriate human activity, threatening the very existence of the rural communities that depend on them.
Protecting the livelihoods of grassland dwellers requires a thorough and on-going assessment of these trends, and scenarios that inform the development of appropriate policies designed to safeguard ecosystems and natural resources.
Within this context, and in conjunction with Spain’s Mediterranean Agricultural Institute of Zaragoza (IAMZ), Dryland Systems held a course on the sustainable use of forage resources in grasslands, bringing together scientists from a range of international research institutes.
The course covered a broad agenda, incorporating: an understanding of the factors limiting forage production; the strategies needed to improve and restore these vital resources; outlining the full range of ‘ecosystem services’ that grasslands in the dry areas provide; and understanding the major biotic, abiotic, and socio-economic factors that drive the structure and functioning of grasslands.
Strategies designed to improve and restore forage were presented: the introduction of drought-resistant plant species, for instance, and the formulation of forage mixtures. Efforts were also made to identify the main drivers of change, including demographic pressures, the governance and institutional framework, and economic policies.
However, a significant amount of time was devoted to creating future scenarios that could estimate trends over time and help scientists pinpoint challenges and threats. Scientists were instructed on the methodologies needed to analyze a whole range of date – from the effects of climate change to relative biodiversity changes.
Discussions also focused on the most important drivers of grassland degradation – including environmental (climate, over-grazing, soil erosion, etc.); Cultural (grazing and land tenure rights); and socio-economic issues (land abandonment, farm size and land tenure systems, and global and local policies).