The Acacia project of the Food and Agriculture Organization aims to show how trees can provide food, fuel, shelter and income during times of hardship, the BBC reported Monday.
Arid zones, also known as drylands, cover 30 percent of Earth's land area and are found in 100 nations.
"People do not often associate forests with arid areas, yet they are critical in terms of soil protection, mitigating climate change, maintaining biodiversity, etc.," Eduardo Rojas, FAO's assistant director general, told BBC News. "In terms of supporting livelihoods for local communities, forests are very important."
Acacia trees, well adapted to dryland conditions, can offer vulnerable villages a steady income, as well as fuel and fodder for animals, program officials said.
Six nations, including Senegal and Sudan, have hosted tree-planting schemes for at-risk communities.
The project began in 2004 with the goal of helping people plant and manage acacia forests in an effort to halt desertification.
"The management, conservation and sustainable development of dry forests are central to combating desertification," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.