Dipartimento di Agraria

Università degli Studi di Sassari

PhD in Agricultural Sciences – An international curriculum in Land degradation and Desertification

PhD in Agricultural Sciences – An international curriculum in Land degradation and Desertification

The University of Sassari, in collaboration with the University “Nazi Boni” - Bobo Dioulasso (Burkina Faso), the University "Aube Nouvelle"- Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), the Awassa University (Ethiopia) and with the support of Desernet International (DNI), has recently launched in 2021 a new international PhD program in desertification and land degradation.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first initiative of a PhD program entirely and exclusively focused on desertification and land degradation issues.

The research topic of this curriculum is dedicated to all the forms of land degradation, intended as “the loss of actual or potential land productivity or utility as a result of natural or anthropic factors which affect food production and safety, livelihoods, and the production and provision of other ecosystem goods and services”. In this context, desertification is considered as a form of land degradation occurring in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas worldwide.

Specific research issues of this international curriculum are:

  • Factors and forces leading to land degradation and desertification
  • Impacts of climate change on land degradation and desertification
  • Monitoring and assessment methodologies at different scales (from field to landscape)
  • Mitigation and adaptation strategies to cope with land degradation and desertification
  • Socio-economic and policy dimensions of land degradation and desertification
  • The governance of desertification and land degradation issues


The overall objective is to promote the enhancement of the scientific capacities of young researchers, especially from the Global South, in dealing with land degradation and desertification issues. Specific objectives are:

  1. Strengthening national scientific capacities, particularly in developing countries, to combat desertification and land degradation by supporting local institutions.
  2. Attracting young scientists to enhance their capacities to work on land degradation and desertification issues.
  3. Establishing an international network of top-level experts able to develop national programs/plans for combating desertification and land degradation.
  4. Creating conducive conditions for future scientific partnership agreements and development of joint research projects based on national priorities.
  5. Promoting North-South and South-South scientific cooperation through student mobility and co-projecting of PhD research activities.  
  6. Mainstreaming research activities on land degradation and desertification into local, national, and regional priorities.

Brief structure of the PhD program

The PhD students will undertake a 3-years program including a period of at least 12 months at the University of Sassari apart from different agreements. Moreover, PhD students shall spend one semester in another university or Institution of the worldwide DNI network to conduct research. South-South initiatives will be encouraged..

The PhD fellowship program can be covered by several sources (e.g., research projects, National funds, private funds, etc.) coming from the partners of the PhD program who signed an agreement with the University of Sassari. If the funds are coming from one of the partners, a number of PhD positions are reserved to candidates from that country according to the resources available and the agreements taken.

PhD fellows will have two supervisors, possibly one from Europe and one from an extra-EU country. The two supervisors will be in charge of co-projecting the research activities of the PhD fellow.


UNISS members of the PhD Committee


UNISS member of the PhD Committee

Giovanna Seddaiu


I’m associate professor of Agronomy and Crop Science in the Dept. of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Sassari (UNISS). I’m a member of the Desertification Research Centre (NRD-UNISS; www.uniss.it/nrd) since 2008. I’m the general secretary of Desertnet International (https://www.desertnet-international.org/) since February 2021. My research interest concerns the analysis of the interrelations between cropping systems, the associated ecosystem services, and their environmental impact in terms of nitrate pollution, C sequestration and GHG emissions. The studies are referred to different spatial scales (from field to catchments and to districts) and governance levels. I’m currently coordinating the EWA-BELT project (www.ewabelt.eu) on the sustainable intensification of African farming systems funded by the EU H2020 program. I have coauthored over 70 scientific papers, WoS H-index is 27, with 1783 citations (Sept. 2022).


UNISS member of the PhD Committee

Alberto Carletti


I’m a researcher of Applied Geology in the Dept. of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Sassari. I’m a member of the Desertification Research Centre (NRD-UNISS; www.uniss.it/nrd) within which since 2003 I have collaborated on several international research and cooperation projects. My research interest concerns: (i) qualitative and quantitative evaluation of groundwater resources, (ii) nitrate pollution in aquifers from agricultural practices, (iii) aquifer vulnerability assessment, (iv) natural aquifer recharge assessment, (v) water harvesting and managed aquifer recharge (MAR) techniques, to be implemented in particular in developing countries. I’m currently the coordinator of the MENAWARA project (www.enicbcmed.eu/projects/menawara) on the reuse of non-conventional water in agriculture, funded by the EU ENI CBC MED program. I have co-authored over 20 scientific papers, Scopus H-index is 8, with 324 citations (December 2022).


UNISS member of the PhD Committee

Giovanni Garau


I’m associate professor of Soil Chemistry at the Dept. of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Sassari (UNISS) and I’m a member of the Centre for Innovative Agriculture (UNISS; https://en.uniss.it). My research interests concern the study of soil health in degraded environments and the development of green strategies for the recovery of soil physico-chemical, microbial and biochemical characteristics affecting plant growth and other soil ecosystem services. I’m currently participating in different projects on the assessment and remediation of soils contaminated by Potentially Toxic Elements, and I’m involved in the Salam Med PRIMA project (https://www.salam-med.org/) to develop microbial-based biotechnological solutions with positive effects on soil nutrient content and availability, soil carbon and plant growth in agroforestry systems. I have coauthored 67 scientific papers, H-index 24, with 1893 citations (Scopus, Dec. 2022).


UNISS member of the PhD Committee

Luciano Gutierrez


I’m full professor at the Dept. of Agricultural Science of the Univ. of Sassari and past Director of the NRD-UNISS; over 25 years of teaching experience in Undergraduate and Post-graduate Courses: Agricultural Economics, Agricultural Appraisal, Economics and Policy of Biotechnologies, Econometrics; 2013-2016 Coordinator of Teaching, Research and Advisory Services of Italian Universities in the College of Natural Sciences, University of Addis Ababa funded by Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs- Ethiopian Ministry of Education; 2014 task leader of Island Farming and the Labeling of its Products funded by EU Joint Research Center, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Spain; 2012 task leader of Study on the CAP's contribution to EU economic and social cohesion funded by European Commission; 2011 Coordinator of Short term predictions of Italian Production funded by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development. I have coauthored over 23 ISI scientific papers, WoS H-index is 10, with 364 citations (July 2022).

Foto Quirico.jpg

UNISS member of the PhD Committee

Quirico Migheli


I am professor of Plant pathology at the University of Sassari and director of the Desertification Research Centre (NRD-UNISS; www.uniss.it/nrd). Since 2022, I am charing the Global Network of Dryland Research Institutes (GNDRI; https://www.gndri.org/), an international network of research institutions committed to dryland research. Since 2021, I am a member of the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) WG “Pathogens”, that defines pathogens eligible for quarantine status. My research interests focus on plant health, plant pathogenic micororganisms, biological control, diagnostics and epidemiological studies, with emphasis on mycotoxin-producing fungi that represent a major threat to food safety and human and animal health. Bibliometrics (December 2022): H-index: 33 (WoS); 35 (Scopus); 43 (Scholar); i10-Index: 100 (Scholar). Total publications in WoS: 141; Scopus: 145; Scholar: 270. Citations: 3300 (WoS); 3600 (Scopus); 5700 (Scholar).


UNISS member of the PhD Committee

Pier Paolo Roggero


I’m full professor of Agronomy and crop science in the Dept. Agricultural Sciences, that I’m currently leading. I’m past Director of NRD with three mandates (2008-11; 2011-13; 2015-18). I’m past Secretary General of DeserNet International and chaired the Italian Society of Agronomy (www.siagr.it) from 2007 to 2011. I’ve been nominated as expert in agricultural sciences by the Italian ministry of University and Research for the Horizon Europe programme cluster 6. My scientific interests and expertise are focused on agro-silvopastoral systems, agri-environmental issues including water management and sustainable energy production systems, climate change adaptation, integrated assessments of agricultural systems through field co-researching and participatory approaches. I’m currently coordinator of the SALAM-MED project funded within PRIMA program. Bibliometrics: 99 articles, H-index 30, 2442 citations – Sept 2022, Scopus).



PhD student

Meron Lakew Tefera


I'm currently a doctoral student in the field of land degradation and desertification at the Desertification Research Centre (NRD), Department of Agricultural Science, University of Sassari. I'm contributing as a fellow to WP2 of the EWA-BELT project (www.ewa-belt.eu ) for the 2021/22-24. My research focuses on agri-environmental challenges including water and soil management, as well as desertification and climate change mitigation in west and east Africa climate, which is where my expertise lies. From 2008 till 2017 a researcher at Amhara Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI-GARC) and Ethiopian Ministry of Technology and Innovation (2019–to-date). My educational background consists of a BSc in Natural Resource Management and Environmental Science from (www.bdu.edu.et ) in 2012 and two MSc degree in Natural Resource Management and Tropical Rural Development (2017) and Agricultural Heritage System (2020) from (www.unifi.it ) Italy.


PhD student

Rodolphe Aziz

I’m a graduated agricultural engineer from USEK-Lebanon. I hold also a master of science in Sustainable Water and Land Management in Agriculture from CIHEAM Bari Italy. My master thesis project delt with combining monitoring and modeling for safe wastewater reuse in agriculture: case studies from Jordan and Palestine. This project was in the framework of MENAWARA funded by the EU ENI CBC MED program. I’m presently pursuing my PhD studies in Land Degradation and Desertification through funds from UNISS and the Ewa-belt project (www.ewabelt.eu). I seek through my work and studies international opportunities for exposure to different ways of environmental development, water management and reuse, crop development, and agriculture sustainability. I will always be working to experience my field from different lenses of different countries whenever I could through, internships, volunteering, work opportunities, and partnership.


PhD student

Maria Nieddu


I graduated at the University of Sassari where I took my bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Sciences and Technologies (2018) and my master’s degree in Land and Environment Management (2020). My master thesis project was focused on the restoration of soils contaminated by potential toxic elements (Pb, Cd, Zn) using biochar as a green amendment. I am attending the first year of the PhD course of Desertification and Land degradation. The general aim of my PhD project is about developing chemical and biological strategies for the resilience and restoration of degraded areas. My PhD position is funded by the University of Sassari and by the Salam Med PRIMA project (https://www.salam-med.org/) which is aimed to provide Sustainable Approaches to LAnd and water Management in MEditerranean Drylands.


PhD student

Alice Calvo


I’m a research fellow at IPSP-CNR of Turin since 2022 on WATDEV project (Climate Smart WATer Management and Sustainable DEVelopment for Food and Agriculture in East Africa) funded by DeSIRA initiative, and a PhD student at University of Sassari (UNISS). In WATDEV project (https://www.watdev.eu/) I’m working on inventory and stocking of best management practices (BMPs) with CIHEAM-Bari. I have a master’s degree in Plant Biotechnology (University of Turin, 24/09/2021). My master thesis project was focused on the characterization of bacterial communities associated to Tuber magnatum fruiting bodies.