Every minute, land equivalent to the size of a football field becomes unproductive, lost to degradation through desertification and drought. At the same time, world population is growing rapidly, estimated to reach nine billion by 2050. There are only two options to meet the needs of future generations: to further cut down forests, or to make degraded land productive. Solutions for restoring degraded lands already exist-- communities, scientists, policy makers and others are already at work, but their efforts are under appreciated, and therefore, underutilized.
The consequences of land degradation can be severe, and people in the drylands are particularly vulnerable. It is estimated that more than half of land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation. Without productive land, people face hunger and poverty. Struggles for resources lead to conflict, and people are forced to leave their homes, searching for better lives as economic migrants and environmental refugees.
Land degradation does not only occur in the drylands. It can happen anywhere in the world and is often caused by human activities such as over-cultivation, deforestation, and poorly planned irrigation systems. When land is degraded, it emits more greenhouse gases and in turn worsens climate change.
Land degradation does not have to be permanent
Recent studies show that up to two billion hectares of degraded land and forest globally have the potential for restoration. There are many ways to restore degraded land, such as through enriching soil, planting trees and diversifying crop and animal production. Restoring degraded lands can also offer solutions to climate change, as healthy soils and vegetation store more carbon.
There are many benefits to sustainable land management, which can simultaneously conserve natural resources and increase yields. These benefits can include:
* Increased crop yields and food security
* Local access to sustainable fuel and energy sources
* Clean water
* Increased vegetation cover preventing erosion
* Preservation of soil moisture, enabling soil development and mitigating degradation
* Optimised water, nutrient, carbon and biomass cycle
* Preservation of biodiversity at the farm level through agroforestry, intercropping and locally adapted seed
* Reconsituting carbon pools in soil and vegetation cover resulting in less carbon emissions
* Reducing floods through regulation of river, lake and groundwater levels
* Protection of cultural heritage and natural landscapes through promoting practices that utilize indigenous knowledge.
Everyone can make a difference
The good news is that everyone can make a difference, from ordinary individuals and farmers to political leaders, businesses, scientists and media. Through sustainable land management, dry and degraded land can become an asset. There are many ways to support sustainable land management through policy, innovation, changing agricultural practices and education and awareness raising.
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