Scientific research in and on drylands truly began at the beginning of the 20th century. It was first developed in a colonial context with the ultimate aim of adding value to the land. It expanded again during the independence years for States, particularly in Africa. The major droughts of the 1970s gave a new impulse to this research. The efforts were devoted to making inventories of ecosystems as well as their functioning. Human and social sciences emphasised land tenure issues, demography, migrations and economic anthropology. However, we should not forget that since the invention of agriculture and livestock breeding, farmers and herders were the first to observe their own environment.
Faced with the major problems which have emerged since the end of the 20th century, the basic question is to know how to combine traditional knowledge with progress due to scientific research. The increase in population, the climate change and the global market require that solutions be found to overcome land degradation.
This CSFD file attempts to describe the civil society of countries affected by desertification and the way in which farmers, livestock breeders and politicians take decisions, which parameters and information they need and how scientists can meet these needs. It also describes the contribution of some research-development projects that the CSFD selected and monitored at the beginning of the 21st century. These projects, financed by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs and French and African scientific institutes, were undertaken through North-South scientific partnerships and partnerships between researchers and users of research for some themes which are particular to the fight against desertification. To conclude, the file raises the issue of the transfer of knowledge from researchers towards the final users and suggests that attention be paid to media or intermediary bodies between researchers and civil society.