Land management & restoration
From the tea plantations of Sri Lanka to smallholder farms that dot the Sahel, land is a central part of our ecosystems, our economies and our public health. Ensuring our land is both healthy and productive is a key part of feeding the planet, reducing emissions and bringing balance to our natural world. And land restoration constitutes a pillar of this process.
Land restoration is the ecological process to restore a natural and safe landscape for humans, wildlife, and plant communities. This process paves the way to protect our ecosystems, create economic development, help prevent natural disasters such as floods, and increase soil productivity and food supplies. In short, land restoration is vital if we are to protect the environment, build resilience to drought, and help feed a growing global population.
The economic benefits of land restoration are huge. A UNEP study revealed that half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature, and every dollar invested in restoration generates up to USD 30 in benefits. Land restoration is at the core of the UNCCD’s mission, as actions that protect and revitalize land resources such as soil, water and biodiversity are critical to achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030 and constitute a proactive way to build resilience to drought.
We encourage countries to combine local actions and land restoration techniques to reverse past degradation thus achieving ‘zero net losses’ in their healthy and productive land. Some of these techniques include:
- planting trees
- rotating crops
- using water retention techniques such as building retention ditches and cut-off drains
- applying organic manures and mineral fertilizers.
To date, land restoration commitments by 115 countries – including restoring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes – total one billion hectares, an area roughly the size of Canada.
Restoring agricultural land
About 250 million hectares of the land pledged for restoration under the convention is agricultural land. Restoring agricultural land is a must if these economic benefits are to be unlocked. Productive farm lands are key for providing jobs and ensuring food security for a growing global population.
IPBES estimates that an additional 20 per cent of intact natural ecosystems could be converted to agricultural land by 2050 to meet the growing food demand. Restoring 150 million hectares of degraded agricultural land could generate USD 85 billion in net benefits to national and local economies, including USD 30-40 billion a year in additional income for smallholder farmers, and increased food security for nearly 200 million people.
Preventing topsoil loss is a key part of agricultural land restoration, and its associated economic benefits. Topsoil – a thin layer of soil at ground level – is a security blanket for plants and vegetables as it surrounds and protects roots and locks in moisture. It is also home to micro-organisms which play a role in the decomposition of plant residues and the recycling of nutrients. Preventing topsoil loss could generate nearly USD 1 trillion over the next 15 years in Africa alone, compared to losses of up to USD 2 trillion without action.
Of course, one key challenge in achieving land restoration is finance. This is why the LDN Fund was set up in 2018. The Fund – co-promoted by the UNCCD and the sustainable finance company, Mirova – is an impact investment fund that invests in profit-generating sustainable land management and land restoration projects globally. So far, it has secured more than USD 150 million in funding and has screened over 220 applicant projects, supported 10 projects under the Technical Assistance Facility, and financed five.
In Bhutan, the LDN Fund funded the restoration of degraded land through sustainable orchards and helped the development of the hazelnut sector. In Peru and Colombia, the Fund supported the implementation of agroforestry systems and the development of sustainable production in certified organic and fair-trade coffee sectors.
UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
All of this work ties into the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which aims to boost investment in restoration activities such as restoring peatlands and mangroves, increasing forest cover on mountains and protecting wetlands. These activities will help create thriving ecosystems and generating economic benefits.
million hectares of agricultural land restored will ensure food security for a growing population
trillion USD could be generated via topsoil loss prevention over 15 years in Africa alone