Home 2. Assessment with indicators

Assessment with land degradation indicators

Research theme coordinator: Agricultural University of Athens


Desertfication and land degradation are complex processes with causes that range from climate change to change in land use or change in environmental protection legislation. The way in which an area responds to these pressures is determined by how resilient the landscape (soil, water, vegetation) and local economy are.


Indicators are often used as a tool to understand this complexity and to help answer questions such as:

  • How vulnerable is this area to desertification?
  • How rapidly is the land degradation progressing?
  • How effective are the actions that we are taking to mitigate it?


What are land degradation indicators?

  • An indicator is a parameter (or value derived from parameters) which provides information about a phenomenon.
  • Indicators should not be confused with raw data from which they are derived.
  • Indicators are quantified information which helps to explain how things are changing over time and space for decision making.
  • An environmental indicator is a parameter which provides information about the situation or trends in the state of environment, in the human activities that affect or are affected by the environment or about relationships among such variables.
  • Land degradation indicators are a sub-set of environmental indicators focusing on a particular trend in state of the environment and associated human activities.

(additional sources: EEA 1998, USA EPA 1995)


How are land degradation indicators used?

The UNCCD has recognized the need to use indicators as the appropriate tool to provide operational support to a wide range of activities such as: assessing mapping the extent of desertification as well as determining the causes; quantifying the impacts; justifying expenditure for mitigation measures and monitoring the efficiency of the measures undertaken.



Developing the use of indicators in DESIRE


  • Extensive research has already been done into desertification and land degradation indicators, so the first step was to select from the literature, previous and on-going research programmes a short-list of indicators to use in the DESIRE study sites. This short-list is accompanied by an extensive manual describing how to measure each indicator and to record the data.
  • Indicators have to be relevant to the particular desertification issues that each study site is facing. Consequently an analysis was made of the stakeholders' perceptions of desertification. The main stakeholder groups were characterised (according to different sectors, regions and socio-economic backgrounds) together with their interests, power, the current formal and informal institutional settings.
  • Data was collected for 72 different indicators from 1641 locations in the 17 study sites and a database developed for the main land use types affected by desertification in Mediterranean environments.
  • Analysis of the database then allowed indicators to be linked to land management practices.
  • Finally a Desertification Risk Assessment Tool was developed to simulate and evaluate the effects of various land management practices on land degradation.


More details ...

This research theme is developed in four stages.

»Stage 1: Identify potential land degradation indicators Review and evaluation of desertification indicators from previous research; provision of guidelines for identifying and cataloguing indicators; characterisation of stakeholder groups and analysis of their perception of desertification; identification (in collaboration with stakeholders) research priorities and knowledge gaps in different domains of desertification; documentation and development of a database of indicators for different land use types, based on the stakeholders' inventory and field survey.
»Stage 2: Evaluate and short-list proposed indicators A comparative analysis of indicators and land management practices for different land use types; development of a methodology to use indicators to evaluate land management practices and techniques according to their effects on land degradation and their economic feasibility.
»Stage 3: Improving indicators Although there is a body of research on desertification indicators additional research was done in a few specific areas: sediment yield, fire, composite indicators of vulnerability.
»Stage 4: Desertification Risk Assessment Tools A summary manual fully describing the indicators developed and used in DESIRE and the development of algorithms to calculate a composite Desertification Risk Index under different land management practices. There are both online and offline versions of the Tool and examples of its use to determine desertification risk at the study sites and as a result of changing land management practices.






fp6 logo 3 50 x 43
The DESIRE project was 
co-funded by the
European Commission,
Global Change and
Contract no: 037046 GOCE

DESIRE brought together the expertise of
26 international research institutes
and non-governmental organisations.

This website does not necessarily
represent the opinion of the
European Commission. The European
Commission is not responsible for
any use that might be made of the
information contained herein.

Citing website content

For the terms under which the content 
of this website may be used see 
»Disclaimer, copyright and privacy

When referenceing page contents
please cite as Brandt, C. J. (ed). 
2012. "page title". DESIRE Project 
Harmonised Information System.
DESIRE Consortium.  

If citing a deliverable use the authors'
names, date and title as given on the 
cover page and add "available at 

Follow us