Indicator 85. Annual change in degraded or desertified arable land (% or ha)

Rationale and definition:

The FAO defines land degradation as a reduction in the condition of the land, which affects its ability to provide ecosystem goods and services and to assure its functions over a period of time.1 Components of land degradation include salinization, erosion, loss of soil nutrients, and sand dune encroachment. Data on land degradation is continuously being improved through advances in remote sensing, digital mapping, and monitoring. A central objective should be to halt all net land degradation by 2030.


The FAO supports methodologies to determine the extent of degradation, distinguishing between light, moderate, strong, and extreme. Data will be disaggregated by these categories and by sub-region.

Comments and limitations:

To date, data on degraded and desertified arable land has been patchy. Efforts have been stepped up since the UN appointed 2010-2020 “the decade of desertification,” mostly led by FAO and UNCCD,2 but there is still some way to go. Investments in remote sensing, digital mapping, and monitoring will be crucial to this effort. It is important to note that despite the FAO definition, there is no single measure or approach to measuring land degradation.

Preliminary assessment of current data availability by Friends of the Chair:


Primary data source:

Remote sensing/satellite and administrative data.

Potential lead agency or agencies:


  1. See FAOSTAT.

  2. See for example a new methodology being developed by the FAO: Land Degradation Assessment; and an example of current data availability in UNCCD (2014). Desertification: The InvisibleI Front Line. UNCCD: Bonn.