Restoration potential of degraded wastelands

Globally, current rates of land degradation are touching the figure of ten to twelve million ha per year. At the same time, the terrestrial food production needs to be increased by some 70 percent by 2050 to satisfy demands of a growing population. As per a working paper ‘Scaling up sustainable land management and restoration of degraded land’ this calls for an urgent need to scale up and out successful, profitable and resource-efficient sustainable land management practices to maintain the health and resilience of the land that humans depend on.

The paper by Thomas R J et al for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) states that “as much as 500 million out of two billion ha of degraded land, mainly in developing countries, have restoration potential, offering an immediate target for restoration and rehabilitation initiatives.” It suggests that there is a need to recognise the inter-connectedness of the factors driving land degradation, so that solutions can be taken to scale, transforming management practices for millions of land users. The piecemeal approaches to achieving sustainable land management in the past have had limited impact.

The concept of sustainable land management is a unifying theme for global efforts to combat desertification, drought and land degradation, climate change and the loss of biodiversity. It combines technologies, policies and practices aimed at integrating socio-economic principles with environmental concerns that maintain or enhance production and ecosystem services, reduce the level of production risks, are economically viable, socially acceptable and protect natural resources. The paper examines how sustainable land management can be scaled up and out globally. Scaling up and out generally focuses on “expanding, replicating, adapting and sustaining successful policies, programs or projects in geographic space and over time to reach a greater number of people.”

The paper deals with the institutional changes – both within donor and development organisations as well as initiated by policy makers – that are needed to create an enabling environment that can promote scaling out via the adoption of sustainable land management practices from farmer to farmer, and community to community. The key elements that explain how and why sustainable land management policies and practices are adopted institutionally and on the ground were identified from the literature on the theoretical and operational frameworks for scaling up and out are discussed.

An analysis of the critical barriers and incentives to achieve scaling up suggests that the most appropriate options should be selected through the involvement of stakeholders at all levels, from local to national and international. Then, barriers and success factors are considered, identifying seven principles for successfully scaling sustainable land management up and out. Incentives for the private, farming and policy communities to scale up sustainable land management are proposed. New incentives for land managers as well as the public and private sectors are required to achieve a land degradation-neutral world.

The paper presents a case study by Shalander Kumar et al on community led solutions for sustainable land management in western Rajasthan covering the most vulnerable arid districts of Jodhpur, Barmer and Jaisalmer in India. It deals with how resilience of the communities living in dryland regions has been strongly compromised by unsustainable land management practices, such as continuous cropping without fertility and organic matter augmentation, losses in the perennial component, overgrazing, neglect of soil and lack of water conservation. It is the poor smallholder farmers who are the ones who bear the brunt of social and environmental costs of degradation and reduced resilience.

Any effort addressing land management needs to consider the agro-ecosystem as a whole, and take into account capacity constraints, weak policies and institutions and the available methods of transmitting scientific knowledge. The guiding principle of the interventions has been restoring productivity and profitability of degraded lands and maximising the potential of limited land resources available to smallholder farmers by creating incentives for stakeholders to invest in sustainable land management.

The approach considered the involvement of communities and appropriate institutions as an integral part of the strategy to restore the degraded land, provide farmers and pastoralists with sustainable income, improve their livelihoods and secure the productivity of land in the future. The project focused on private and common lands (in particular common pastures), and the integrated approach to management of both types of land resources.

Finally, the working paper presents a practical framework for scaling sustainable land management up and out to reverse land degradation and help meet Sustainable Development Goal target 15.3 and the objectives of UNCCD to achieve land degradation neutrality and promote sustainable land management.

The full report is available here


One thought on “Restoration potential of degraded wastelands

  1. Most of the farmers do not have access to reliable soil testing facilities. Even in small pockets where there are reliable soil testing centers getting soil test reports take very long. Also, very little extension work has been done to make the farmers aware about the optimum soil water potential of the crops being cultivated, and about the irrigation practices based on optimum soil water potential. Agricultural extension staff should first be made aware of the sep for each crop and be equipped to test soil at the farmers fields, to make farmers practice better soil nutrition and water management.


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