Drylands are not only dry but they are also characterised by extraordinarily high levels of climatic uncertainty. Variations in annual rainfall of as much as 50% of the mean are unremarkable – the deviation may be far in excess of this in drought or wet years – and variability is equally great across dryland landscapes. Dryland ecosystems and societies are well adapted to this variability, but in many cases these adaptations are under pressure. Sustainable land management practices that were formerly widespread in the drylands have been compromised by a variety of factors, including weakening of local governance, poorly-informed land use changes and demographic shifts. These changes have been driven by a variety of policies including some that were deliberately designed to change dryland management strategies and others that lead indirectly to such outcomes.
Restoring ecosystems and sustainable land management practices is often essential to ensure resilient livelihoods. This requires effective natural resource governance at local, national and international levels. It also requires support to integrate new science and ideas into local land use strategies and development of markets and other services that enable sustainable drylands management: for example, markets for sustainably managed biodiversity. Sustainable land management often also requires partnerships between communities, government, civil society, and the private sector to establish more sustainable dryland policies and investments with more equitable benefit sharing.