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Desertification Indicator System for Mediterranean Europe

1. Definition



Brief definition

Area of agricultural land no longer cultivated

Unit of measure

Ha/unit of time (year, decade...)

2. Position within the logical framework DPSIR

Type of Indicator

Driving force or Response

3. Target and political pertinence


The objective of this indicator is to measure the importance of the process of land abandonment on land use evolution processes.

Importance with respect to desertification

Land abandonment may be a driving force for desertification if the abandonment is caused by, for example, economic factors. Abandoned lands in arid or semiarid conditions often suffer degradation processes quickly after being abandoned. Land abandonment can also be a response to land degradation processes initiatiation, as a result of natural climatic processes or perhaps unsustainable practices, making continuing farming uneconomical. It is very important to understand why farmers abandon their cultivation in order to develop programmes to prevent the tendency. The role of farmers in combating desertification is crucial.

International Conventions and agreements

The UNCCD emphasizes that combating desertification must be tackled within the general framework of actions to promote sustainable development.

Secondary objectives of the indicator

This indicator gives information about the consequences of the EU and national agricultural policies (their effects on the rural social structure).

4. Methodological description and basic definitions

Definitions and basic concepts

Area of land no longer cultivated. The farmer may cease cultivation because the income from the land has declined, or perhaps he retires and there is no one to succeed him. Sometimes the current productivity of the area is not enough to assure future net farm income. On the other hand land is sometimes divided among the sons, and smaller areas are even less economical.

Benchmarks Indication of the values/ranges of value

Highly dependent on local conditions

Methods of measurement

Statistics or consultation with the cooperatives (recommended because their data are updated more often than public statistics). The use of GIS is also really useful.

Limits of the indicator

Sometimes it is difficult to know who is the holder of the farm, or who is cultivating the land, or when it is actually abandoned.

Linkages with other indicators

Area of marginal soil used is linked to land abandonment since marginal areas cultivated are the most likely to be abandoned first. Also Farm ownership, Family size, Farmers age, Fragmentation of land parcels, Net farm income, Land use evolution, Depopulation caused by degradation.

5. Evaluation of data needs and availability

Data required to calculate the indicator

Official statistics; Cooperative reports

Data sources

Necessary data are usually available and accessible and the cost/benefit ratio is reasonable.

Availability of data from national and international sources

Data can be obtained from various regional, national or international institutions involved in collecting and elaborating agricultural statistics and the cooperatives

6. Institutions that have participated in developing the indicator

Main institutions responsible

Universidad de Murcia, Spain

Other contributing organizations

Universities of Lisbon, Agricultural University of Athens, Basilicata, Amsterdam, Leeds

7. Additional information


V. Kakembo and K. M. Rowntree. The relationship between land use and soil erosion in the communal lands near peddie town, eastern cape, south Africa. Land degrad. Develop. 14: 39-49 (2003)

G. Ruecker, p. Schad, m. M. Alcubilla and c. Ferrer. Natural regeneration of degraded soils and site changes on abandoned agricultural terraces in Mediterranean Spain. Land degradation & development land degrad. Develop. 9, 179±188 (1998)

Jo de baerdemaeker, Dirk J. Oostwoud Wijdenes, Jean Poesen, Liesbeth Vandekerckhove, Jeroen Nachtergaele. Gully-head morphology and implications for gully development on abandoned fields in a semi-arid environment, Sierra de Gata, Southeast Spain. Earth surf. Process. Landforms 24, 585±603 (1999)

Other references

Contacts Name and address

University of Murcia
F. López-Bermúdez
email: lopber@um.es, jorgegg@um.es