Desertification is a cause of direct and indirect social and economic effects. The first approximation to assess the costs related to reduced productivity is the estimate of soil physical damages and loss of fertile soil. A United Nations source in 1992
reported that Turkey, Tunisia, and Morocco lost due to soil erosion 54,237, 18,000, and 2,200 ha of cultivated land each year, respectively (UNEP 1992). A more recent study (Matallo 2006), based on the use of the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), estimated that the loss of fertile soil may reach tens of billions of tons per year.
The only available economic estimate of desertification costs is based on the division of world arid areas in irrigated agricultural areas and non-irrigated grazing land (Dregne and Chou 1992). This classification was based on UNESCO reports for each country and was applied to estimate the economic cost of desertification per hectare, depending on land types or productive activities. Loss of yearly productivity per hectare due to soil degradation was calculated to be about 7 US$ for grazing lands, 38 US$ for non-irrigated land, and 250 US$ for irrigated land. This study shows that the worldwide annual cost of desertification in 1990 amounted to 42 billion US$, whose distribution for irrigated land, non-irrigated land, and pasture accounted to 11, 8, and 23 billion US$, respectively.
Other studies have measured economic losses caused by land degradation in terms of agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Many of these studies are based on models of general equilibrium mostly related to developing countries (Diao and Sarpong 2007; Young 1999; Bojo 1996; Jebuni et al. 1994; Drechsel and Gliele 1999; ISSER/DFID/World Bank 2005). The estimates generally indicate an annual loss of agricultural GDP ranging from 2 to 10%, with a median around 5%. However, among the various possible effects of land degradation, these figures account only for loss of agricultural productivity and the impact that a productivity decline may have on the rest of national economies.
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