Land and Human Security

Achieving land degradation neutrality - by preventing land degradation and rehabilitating already degraded land, scaling up sustainable land management and accelerating restoration initiatives - is a pathway to greater resilience and security for all.


Some 135 million people may be displaced by 2045 as a result of desertification (1).

Land and Human Security

Land and soil degradation undermine the security and development of all countries.

The geo-political and security challenges we face are complex. But by better implementing good land management practices, we can simultaneously help populations adapt to climate change and build resilience to drought; reduce the risk of forced migration and conflict over dwindling natural resources and secure sustainable agricultural and energy production. Land truly is the glue that holds our societies together. Reversing the effects of land degradation and desertification through sustainable land management (SLM) is not only achievable; it is the logical, cost-effective next step for national and international development agendas. It is a clear goal for the UNCCD and an exciting challenge.

Food security

12 million hectares of productive land become barren every year due to desertification and drought alone, which is a lost opportunity to produce 20 million tons of grain. We cannot afford to keep degrading land when we are expected to increase food production by 50% by 2050 to feed the entire world population.

Sustainable intensification of food production, with fewer inputs, that avoids further deforestation and cropland expansion into vulnerable areas should be a priority for action for policy makers, investors and smallholder farmers. Over 250 SLM techniques that, at once, combat land degradation and build its resilience to drought and climate change are available through the Convention alone. Land users in China, for instance, have access to over 1,000 SLM practices. SLM methods are cheap, but durable. With the right incentives, they can be disseminated widely and rapidly to land users.

Water security

The increase in droughts and flash floods that are stronger, more frequent and widespread is destroying the land – the Earth’s main fresh water store. Droughts kill more people than any other single weather-related catastrophe and conflicts among communities over water scarcity are gathering pace. Over 1 billion people today have no access to water, and demand will increase by 30% by 2030.

International efforts to tackle water security and to mitigate the effects of drought are ongoing. In follow-up to the High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy held in March 2013, the UNCCD secretariat in collaboration with members of UN-Water supported the capacity building for the development of national drought management policies (NDMP) through a series of workshops. Also, at the Africa Drought Conference held in August 2016, the African parties to the Convention called for a development of a binding protocol on Drought Risk Management for Enhancing Resilience under the framework of the Convention. These policies will help Parties transition from a reactive response to drought disasters to proactive drought risk reduction based on early warning and preparedness – potentially saving millions of lives and livelihoods.

Related topic: Land and Drought

Energy security

Getting sustainable energy to all represents one of the biggest development challenges of the 21st century. Research suggests that 1.4 billion people — over 20% of the global population — lack access to electricity, and that at least 2.7 billion people — some 40% of the global population — rely on the traditional use of biomass for cooking.

Land, water and energy as resources are all pillars of our survival and of sustainable development. They stand or fall together. To be sustainable and in particular to reach poor rural populations, we need to enhance supply, access and security across all three pillars, at the same time, while supporting global climate ambitions. If done right, renewable energy technologies can contribute to meeting the sustainable development challenge for food and water security.

Sustainable renewable energy relies to a great extent on healthy and functioning ecosystems. The production of renewable energy requires the use of additional land and water, which can affect the availability of these resources for future generations, especially in combination with the effects of climate change and population growth. Planning sustainable land, water and energy management and supply together can be the only practical solution.

National security

40% of all intrastate conflicts in the past 60 years are linked to the control and allocation of natural resources 2. The exposure of more and more poor people to water scarcity and hunger opens the door to the failure of fragile states and regional conflicts. Non-state actor groups are increasingly taking advantage of large cross-border migration flows and abandoned lands. Where natural assets including land are poorly managed, violence might become the dominant means of resource control, forcing natural resource assets out of the hands of legitimate government.

Economic growth, development and poverty eradication are the building blocks for lasting peace and national security. Agriculture is a key driver of these processes for most developing nations, but many are losing crucial Agricultural Gross Domestic Product (AGDP) through land degradation. Without rights to land, however, people have little incentive to manage the land and other natural resources sustainably. Granting users the rights to own and use the resources they depend on can reverse trends, pull the poor out of poverty and create the conditions to build peace and a lasting security.


The number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly over the past fifteen years reaching 244 million in 2015, up from 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 2000.3 Behind these numbers is the links between migration and development challenges, in particular, the consequences of environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty and the importance of addressing the push and pull factors, and the root causes of irregular migration, as expressed in the 2014 Rome Declarations of the Rabat and Khartoum processes. Read about the processes (external link). 

Losing productive land is driving people to make risky life choices. In rural areas where people depend on scarce productive land resources, land degradation is a driver of forced migration. Africa is particularly susceptible since more than 90% of our economy depends on a climate-sensitive natural resource base like rain-fed, subsistence agriculture. Unless we change the way we manage our land, in the next 30 years we may leave a billion or more vulnerable poor people with little choice but to fight or flee.

Improving yields and land productivity will allow the time to increase food security and income of the users of the land and the poorest farmers. This in turn stabilizes the income of the rural population and avoids unnecessary movement of people. UNCCD works with partners such as the International Organization for Migration to address the challenges arising from land degradation, large scale population movements and their consequences. At the same time, we aim to demonstrate how the international community could leverage the skills and capacities of migrants along with the remittances, sent home by migrants, to build resilience.

1 Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF). 2009. Human Impact Report – Climate Change. GHF, Geneva.
2 UNEP: From Conflict to Peacebuilding. The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment 2009, p. 8
3 International migration report (2015)