Ambitious $104 million program targets land degradation in Africa and Central Asian countries

The global launch of a $104 million initiative signals an ambitious effort by a range of partners to safeguard drylands in the context of climate change, fragile ecosystems, biodiversity loss, and deforestation in 11 African and Central Asian countries.

Funded by the Global Environment Facility and led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Sustainable Forest Management Impact Program on Dryland Sustainable Landscapes helps pave the way for initiatives linked to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The Program will be implemented in partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the World Bank, and the World Wildlife Fund.

The Program, launched last week at the Global Landscapes Forum’s virtual event, Restoring Africa’s Drylands, will involve work across three critical dryland biomes – the Miombo and Mopane ecosystems of Southern Africa, the savannas of East and West Africa, and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands of Central Asia – to avoid, reduce, and reverse land degradation through sustainable land and forest management.

The 11 countries covered are: Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malawi, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

“As a multifocal and integrated initiative, the Program will support countries in addressing common dryland management challenges and result in numerous benefits in areas of land degradation, biodiversity and climate change and food security,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, at the event.

The program will bring 12 million hectares of drylands under sustainable land management, of which 1.1 million hectares will primarily benefit biodiversity and avoid deforestation of 10,000 hectares of high conservation value forests. The program will also reach more than 1 million direct beneficiaries, improve the management effectiveness in 1.6 million hectares of protected areas, restore nearly 1 million hectares of degraded land in the drylands, and reduce 34.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Through the next five years, the Program sets the ground for accelerated action under the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and will advance the national and global efforts in supporting countries in meeting their commitments under several international accords, including the Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Bonn Challenge, AFR100, and the Sustainable Development Goals. Drylands cover over 40 percent of the Earth’s landmass and are home to around two billion people, supply about 60 percent of the world’s food production, and support a wide array of critical biodiversity.

Drylands face increasing and combined threats of climate change, population growth, global demands for livestock, and new difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Common management challenges, such as limited connections between local knowledge with global networks and fragmented approaches, hamper the ability for communities and countries to turn the tide on land degradation.

An integrated approach, across sectors and regions

The  launch event featured participation from countries and partners, linking local and national perspectives to regional and global representations, such as the Southern African Development Community and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The event reflected the Program’s integrated approach by connecting land users to national governments and intergovernmental fora to elevate local action for impact at scale.

The Program takes a catalytic, country-driven approach to accelerating transformational and durable changes at scale by developing effective planning, management and governance systems, mobilizing national and international stakeholders to strengthen dryland value chains, and co-producing knowledge based on innovative spatial assessment tools. It expressly accounts for the similar and transboundary nature of many of the challenges facing drylands.

The program will be implemented in consortium with the UN Environment Program and the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies. The Program will be expanded to involve additional countries through regional and global mechanisms, such as FAO’s Committee on Forestry Working Group on Dryland Forests and Agrosilvopastoral Systems, to share knowledge and best practices on dryland ecosystems.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


Restoration of degraded dryland

Similarly, the UN REDD and Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) Projects, which is used by FAO to support government to develop a sub-national forest reference emissions level for Cross River state, was up scaled to National Forest Reference Emission level. The development sub-national forest monitoring system action plan for Cross River, Ondo and Nasarawa states was also up-scaled to National Forest Monitoring System including the capacity building of government officials in the use of modern laser equipment for national forest inventory through FAO open source satellite imagery (SEPAL and Collect Earth) to produce an updated land cover land use change maps Atlas for Nigeria.

“Functional 240 member community based project management committees were set-up at State, LGA and community levels to govern, manage and protect restoration sites and other natural resources, put a total of 2,240 Ha of degraded dryland areas under restoration in 7 LGAs, 19 communities including over 65 small villages and hamlets, utilized over 21,000 kg seeds of Woody and herbaceous fodder species and planted over 205,000 seedlings raised in community nurseries for restoration and distributed over 65,000 seedlings freely to interested community members for their individual tree planting on their private farms and lands.

“The FAO Constructed (8) solar powered boreholes for the provision of clean water for humans and animals consumption, established (8) community nurseries and micro-gardens sites with over 1,400 rural people benefiting from income generating activities.

Coastal Regreening Team Stops Desertification

ByMa Zhiping June 3, 2021

All-women tree-planting group persisted when experts said job could not be done

Through “Hainan-style perseverance”, Tao Fengjiao and her band of co-workers, who come from Changjiang in the western part of the island province, have accomplished a striking achievement, planting 5.88 million casuarina trees on 2,250 hectares of barren coastal areas across the tropical island over the past 29 years.

Standing beside Qizi Bay, now a popular tourist destination dotted with trendy hotels and villas, Tao rests her hands on the handle of a shovel and looks into the distance, admiring the emerald-green of the casuarina forest she helped plant, and which she considers as precious as her children.

“Can you imagine that this used to be vast, shifting dunes where, when the wind blew, the sand stung your face and filled your hair, which was hard to clean out again?” she said.

“Now, with the coastal forest acting as a fence, people living by the sea no longer have to be afraid of typhoons. This is the most comforting thing for us,” she continued.

Now in her early 60s, Tao has dreamed of growing a “green wall” to fence off the devastating tropical storms since she was a child.

In 1992, a typhoon hit Qizi Bay, destroying fishing boats and claiming the lives of more than 20 fishermen. Constant winds and the encroachment of coastal deserts also caused eye problems and degraded the quality of life for local residents for years.

“A business owner got a contract for a tree-planting project from the Changjiang county government that year, and I immediately joined up, abandoning my fish-selling business, which earned the family a comparatively good living,” Tao recalled.

For the sake of their livelihoods and the safety of local residents, Tao and her co-workers continued planting trees after the business owner abandoned the project two years later, when their afforestation efforts failed on the arid western coast, where evaporation rates were often two times higher than the 700 millimeter rainfall the area receives annually.

In 1995, a group of German experts visited Changjiang in search of somewhere to set up an international environmental aid program. According to local officials, they concluded that tree-planting was simply not feasible in the area.

But the women persisted, believing that they could succeed.

With the help of local experts, they attempted to stabilize moving sands by planting thatch screw pine, a small plant that is resistant to salt and sand. Once that was established, they planted casuarina trees, a taller evergreen capable of resisting strong winds.

“This approach greatly improved the survival rate of the saplings, from 10 percent to 80 percent,” Tao explained.

They also tried other innovative methods, such as using nutrition bags and water retaining agents, soaking the seedlings, and digging deeper holes for planting.

“The survival rate rose further to 97 percent. The coastal desert began to turn green, bit by bit,” Tao recollects happily.

Zhong Yingwei, one of Tao’s tree planting “sisters”, remembers that the women, then aged between their 20s and 50s, were able to climb the trees to harvest casuarina seeds better than men, and learned to raise the seedlings themselves.

“Transporting the seedlings to where we wanted to plant them was difficult. We had no vehicles or cement roads, so we used shoulder polls to carry 60 to 70 kilograms of saplings at a time, walking barefoot for as far as 50 kilometers a day on scorching sand that made us want to cry,” remembers Wen Ying’e, who turns 80 this year.

“Tao knocked on our doors at five o’clock in the morning. We each planted around 400 trees a day. The hot weather often made our food go bad, and our bodies would become swollen from drinking too much water before leaving home,” said Zhong.

“It was hard and tiring, but tree-planting was never disappointing. I wanted to give up sometimes when villagers scolded me or threw manure at me if I tried to stop their cattle from eating the casuarina seedlings, or over some other misunderstanding,” Tao said.

“Now the villagers all know the benefits of planting trees, and those who used to scold me are polite and friendly,” she added.

Though some of the group, which was more than 60-strong in its heyday, left due to the hardship, Tao said she and her co-workers cared for each other like a family, and their tree-planting footprints eventually extended from Changjiang to other parts of the island, including Chengmai, Wenchang and Haikou.

In 2020, Tao was recognized as a National Model Worker for her persistent, innovative efforts in environmental restoration. A memorial hall was built by the county government to commemorate the outstanding contribution of the tree-planting “sisters”, and to pass on the green and sustainable development concepts that have brought huge ecological benefit to the community.

“My brother and I are proud every time we patrol the forest. These trees were planted one by one by my mother and her sisters. Now it’s time for us to take care of them,” Tao’s son, Zheng Weijie, said. He has been taking care of the trees with his mother since he was 14 years old and two years ago, he and his elder brother joined the team as professional forest rangers.

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10 Billion Trees: A crucial project to avert threats of climate change, desertification


Highly susceptible to climate change due to its geographical placement, Pakistan is facing looming threats of water scarcity and food security due to losing of about 27,000 hectares of forests mostly in community and private lands per year due to rapid population growth, drought and desertification.

The climate change’s adverse effects in the country could be witnessed from floods of 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 besides worst drought during 1999-2003, two cyclones in Karachi and Gwadar Coast in 2008 and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GOLFs) including Atabad Lake in Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral.

According to National Forest Policy 2015, Pakistan is losing about 27,000 hectares of forest every year mainly in private and community owned forests especially in Gilgit Baltistan and KP where the green gold was under tremendous pressure due to rapid population growth, climate change and increased demand for wood for domestic consumption.

Iraq loses 100,000 dunams of farmland yearly due to desertification

June 5, 2021 at 11:39 am | Published in: IraqMiddle EastNews

Iraq’s Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture, Water and Marshlands reported on Friday that the country loses 100,000 dunams of farmland out of a total of 32 million dunams every year, due to desertification.

A member of the committee, MP Ali Al-Budairi, told the Iraqi News Agency: “Iraq is losing 100,000 dunams of agricultural land every year due to desertification, and there are no real solutions to this problem so far.”

Al-Budairi explained: “Desertification has caused temperatures to rise to very high rates, due to the absence of sufficient vegetation cover and the shrinkage of green spaces in the country.”

He stressed: “Ongoing meetings are being held between the committee and the Ministry of Water Resources, especially during the summer, to discuss the issue of water scarcity.”

Al-Budairi pointed out that: “Iraq is still using obsolete irrigation methods, which lead to a significant waste of water resources. There are visions to build dams to preserve water in times of abundance and use it in periods of scarcity.”

The total agricultural area in Iraq amounts to 32 million dunams, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

To ensure water security, Iraq relies mainly on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries, which all originate from Turkey and Iran and converge near the city of Basra in southern Iraq to form the Shatt Al-Arab that flows into the Persian Gulf.

Iraq has suffered for years from a steady decline of water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Hence, the water shortage crisis has also been exacerbated by the low precipitation rates in recent years.

Iraq plans to build dams to stop ongoing desertification

Source: Xinhua| 2021-06-04 18:52:40|Editor: huaxia

BAGHDAD, June 4 (Xinhua) — Iraq is planning to build some dams to stop the annual loss of agricultural land due to desertification, the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) said on Friday.

“There are plans to build dams to take advantage of water during the rainy seasons and use it in the dry seasons,” Ali al-Bdeiri, a member of the agricultural and water parliamentary committee, told INA, noting that Iraq still uses primitive irrigation methods that cause a huge waste of water.

Citing a UN report, Iraq is losing more than 250 square km of its agricultural land annually due to desertification, and there is no effective action from the Iraqi authorities so far, al-Bdeiri told INA.

He said that the parliamentary committee is holding meetings with the Ministry of Water Resources, especially in summer times, to discuss the issue of water scarcity, according to INA.

“It is important to have high coordination between the executive and legislative authorities to secure water,” al-Bdeiri said.

According to Iraq’s State Board of Combating Desertification, up to 90 percent of its total area is threatened by desertification, while 45 percent of the agricultural land faces drought and desertification.

Iraq also complains about the decreasing water flowing from the two neighbors, Turkey and Iran, which are building dams on the rivers that enter Iraq without coordination with the downstream country

Chinese farmers fight desertification in Gobi Desert

After spending decades planting trees in the Gobi Desert, farmer Wang Jinyi has helped make the vast land green again. Under the state-driven Green Great Wall, armies of volunteers have joined the reforestation of Gobi Desert as part of China’s goal to expand total forest coverage there to 24.1% by 2023.

‘Ecosystem restoration key to save Punjab from desertification’

85.4L trees planted under ‘Mission Tandarust Punjab’: Official

Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, June 2

The Pushpa Gujral Science City, jointly with the Punjab Pollution Control Board and the Centre for Environment Communication, is observing the World Environment Week by organising online quiz competitions and film festival from June 2 to 5.

On the first day of the festival, an online quiz competition on “Nature, environment and sustainable development” was organised for students aged between 11 and 15 years. Saurav Gupta, IFS, Director, Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, was the chief guest on the occasion.

Speaking on the occasion, he said the state government had launched “Mission Tandarust Punjab” to push the state among the healthiest ones by taking care of its air and water quality, ensuring safe food and good living environment. He said 85.44 lakh trees had been planted under the mission and 66 lakh saplings of native species had been distributed under the Ghar Ghar Haryali Programme. He called upon the students to take initiative for the restoration of ecosystem of Punjab.

Dr Neelima Jerath, Director General, Science City, during her introductory remarks said the celebration of the World Environment Day (June 5) reminds us to restore our ecosystems in every possible way. She pointed out the need of promoting education for sustainable development and said science museums such as Pushpa Gujral Science City could play a major role in this direction by reaching out to the children and their parents by simplifying complex scientific concepts and involving them in conservation in a fun way. She said: “If we all put our best foot forward to stop the rampant global warming, then we can expect certain rewards in the future. There are solutions to global warming available today and its time we put them to use. These solutions will reduce the amount of heat-trapping gases that we emit into the atmosphere.”

Dr Rajesh Grover, Director, Science City, said Punjab, primarily an agrarian economy and the food bowl of the country, was facing a threat of desertification. Bad agricultural practices such as over use of pesticides and fertilizers, besides following the same crop cycle of wheat-paddy, were the factors contributing towards diminishing soil fertility. He stressed on adoption of best agricultural practices to restore ecosystems.


University Of Tübingen: Desertification Drove Mammals From Eurasia To Africa

By Iednewsdesk On May 18, 2021

The formation of deserts on the Arabian Peninsula has had a decisive impact on the migratory movements and evolution of large mammals and our human ancestors over the past millions of years. This is the result of an international team of researchers led by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen in a new study. The scientists reconstructed the climatic history of the northern Arabian Peninsula between 12.5 and 2.5 million years ago using data they obtained from rocks in Mesopotamia. This resulted in new indications of the causes of the animal migration. The results were published in the journal Nature Communication Earth & Environment released.

The evolution of today’s African savanna fauna took place in relative isolation over the past five million years. This had been known for a long time – as was the fact that the ancestors of many savannah animals such as rhinos, giraffes, hyenas and big cats came from Eurasia. So far, however, it was unclear what prompted the animals to move between the continents over a large area.

Rock stores climate data
The northern Arabian Peninsula is the gateway to Africa. Today it includes desert areas such as the Syrian Desert, the Israeli Negev Desert and the Saudi Nefud Desert as well as more humid steppes and semi-deserts in Mesopotamia, the greater part of which is in what is now Iraq. The research team examined the 2.6 kilometers thick rock layers at the foot of the Zagros Mountains in what is now Iran, on the edge of Mesopotamia, using chemical, physical and geological methods.

It found evidence of four short periods of desertification in Mesopotamia, each lasting only a few tens of thousands of years. These phases 8.75 million, 7.78 million, 7.5 million and 6.25 million years ago were each interrupted by sections with a more humid climate. “5.6 million years ago, at the same time as the temporary drying out of the Mediterranean, there was an extreme drought that lasted 2.3 million years in Mesopotamia,” says Madelaine Böhme. This exceptionally long period with a desert climate – called NADX (Neogen Arabian Desert climaX) by Boehme’s team – was only ended by global warming 3.3 million years ago.

Stages of migration and isolation
Mighty strata of rock in the northern Arabian Peninsula
The researchers examined 12 million years of climatic history of the northern Arabian Peninsula on 2.6 kilometers of rock.
“Contrary to what we expected, these desert phases on the Arabian Peninsula did not match those in the African Sahara,” reports Böhme. Desertification in the Sahara is causally linked to polar ice formations, while those on the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia, according to the results, are linked to a low water level in the Caspian Sea. “The reciprocal emergence and disappearance of deserts in the Sahara in northern Africa on the one hand and on the Arabian Peninsula in western Asia on the other hand resembles a kind of swing, a desert swing,” says the researcher.

The research team suspects that these changing and initially short-term desert formations in Mesopotamia, as push factors, were the driving force behind the spread of mammals from Eurasia to Africa. In the following extremely long desert phase NADX, however, the African continent was cut off from immigration and exchange with Eurasia for 2.3 million years. “During this time, today’s African savanna fauna emerged from the Eurasian immigrants, and the Australopithecids, our human ancestors, developed,” explains Böhme. With the global warm period 3.3 million years ago, the deserts on both continents gave way and ended the isolation of Africa. A mutual exchange developed between the fauna of Africa and Eurasia. The first dogs appeared in Africa,

Explanation for two phenomena
“Our study provides climatological explanations for two central phenomena for the first time,” summarizes Böhme. On the one hand, these underpinned the ‘Out-Of-Europe’ hypothesis she formulated, according to which the ancestors of African great apes and humans developed in Europe, but migrated south six to seven million years ago, so that their further evolution in Africa played. On the other hand, it could explain why the evolution of the African savannah fauna, including human ancestors, took place in a long phase of isolation.

Scientific initiatives, multiplayer efforts prove China’s anti-desertification drive in Inner Mongolia stands test of time

By Lin Xiaoyi in Inner MongoliaPublished: May 19, 2021 –

“In the past, when the wind blew in the spring, we were bound to be hit by sandstorms. As long as you went out, the crazy sand would try to get into your mouth and nose.” Several massive sandstorms that recently passed through northern China have brought back heart-wrenching memories for Baijilin Baiila, a forest ranger on the Horqin grassland in North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which also suddenly made him realize that in his hometown, the last spring like this year happened long ago.

But faced with the wider vilification of such a storm targeted at China in the Western media which portrays the sand as coming from outside China as the result of China’s “ecological crisis” and the “degradation of grasslands and woodlands,” Baijilin Baiila felt very angry.

“We clearly know that most of the sandstorms this year did not originate in our country, because now in Inner Mongolia, you can see greenery everywhere. Even a strong wind wouldn’t blow up much sand,” he told the Global Times.

From 2016 to 2020, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has prevented and controlled desertification on an average of 12 million mu (800,000 hectares) per year, effectively curbing the spread of deserts.

Expert, officials, and herdsmen reached by the Global Times applauded China for courageously taking the responsibility of improving the condition of affected ecosystems and populations, guaranteeing its people’s right to life and development. Under the unremitting efforts of countless Chinese people, there are fewer and fewer cases of large-scale dust storms directly generated in China. People’s lives are also increasingly becoming happier.

Scientific and effective initiatives

The sea buckthorn forest, gave 54-year-old Baijilin Baiila more hope for spring. Even though his living conditions have greatly improved, he has not given up his hard work as a forest ranger, patrolling 300 acres of the forest at five o’clock every morning on his motorbike no matter the weather.

Baijilin Baiila lives in Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner of the Hinggan League, where the ecological environment was extremely fragile in the past, with desertification and salinization accounting for about 54 percent of the total landmass.

The harsh environment constrained local economic development. “We have endured years of drought, and when the wind blew, the crop fields would become nests of sand. We were even afraid to leave our homes,” he said.

Fortunately, since 2016, local authorities have been pushing forward with reforestation campaigns, completing a total of 28,500 mu (1,900 hectares) of caragana microphyllaand sea buckthorn planting in 2018. In 2019, a total of 70,000 seedlings on 1500 mu (100 hectares) of sea buckthorn were added, with the survival at above 92 percent.

The data revealed that scientific tree-planting actions have built a green ecological barrier for Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner. Presently, the deforested land has been reduced from 6.11 million mu (407,333 hectares) to 710,000 mu (47,333 hectares). The comprehensive vegetation coverage rate of grassland has increased from 35.17 percent in 2016 to 63.96 percent. The annual average number of days with good air quality has also reached 332 days.

The protection forest has firmly locked the moving sands and has improved the livelihoods of local residents. In 2019, Baijilin Baiila signed up to be a forest ranger in his village, responsible for inspecting and reporting the growth of sea-buckthorn trees to the local forestry bureau. At the same time, he received a special government subsidy of 10,000 yuan ($1,556) per head of cattle. Combined with dividends from the sea-buckthorn forest and the cattle industry income, he could earn more than 50,000 yuan ($7,783) annually.

“Compared to cattle, sheep eat more grass and will eat it along with the roots, causing more ecological damage, so our government allows but discourages sheep farming and instead encourages herdsmen to raise cattle,” Wang Chao, the first secretary of the Khattobuki Village told the Global Times.

In the Jaruug Banner in Tongliao, 240 kilometers away from the Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner, more than 160 calves were born in Honggelbatel’s Modern Joint Family Ecological Ranch, which will bring him an annual income of approximately 2 million yuan ($310,794).

This considerable income is due to a risky decision made by Honggelbatel a few years ago.

In 2017, responding to the local government’s “reducing sheep and increasing cattle” policy, Honggelbatel sold 1,000 sheep and built a more than 3,000 square meter modern standard shed to focus on developing a high-quality cattle breeding industry.

“In the past, many grasslands became wasteland because of long-term overgrazing, causing sandstorms in spring and heavy rains in summer, which resulted not only in income decrease but also in casualties. Now under the support of the government, the profit of raising one head of cattle is equal to five sheep, the grass is greener every year, and our revenue has also becomes higher,” he said.

During the current spring grass growing season, Honggelbatel has been strictly following the government’s zoned rotation grazing policy by temporarily confining cattle in the shed to prevent the grass from being prematurely eaten by the livestock. 

According to Unen, deputy director of the Jaruug Banner, local authorities also recently set up more than 2.3 million mu (153,333 hectares) of grazing prohibition areas, establishing 12 management stations with 130 patrol personnel to provide all-round supervision and protection throughout the year.

“There has been no random grazing, or large-scale destruction of vegetation for several years because many people realized that desertification control is closely related to our vital interests, and our next generations will still live and develop on this vibrant soil in the future,” Unen told the Global Times.


Restored Land, healthy people, green recovery

Restored Land, healthy people, green recovery

12/05/2021 UNCCD News

Protecting and restoring nature can help drive a green recovery and prevent future pandemics. Investing in nature-based solutions, specifically land restoration, will allow us to build forward better, greener, healthier, stronger, and more sustainably.

COVID-19 has revealed how vulnerable our societies and economies are to global, systemic risk. Its root causes – land degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change – are interlinked. Furthermore, they are planetary crises in themselves.

The pandemic, rooted as it is in exploitation of the environment, has been a devastating but timely wake-up call. It has shown that if we continue to abuse nature, waves of crises will cascade across our economies and societies.

On the other hand, it has also shown that we can respond decisively when political will, collective action and sustained investment are aligned.

Today, more than ever, societies are ready for change; there is broad consensus that it is not only desirable but possible to build forward better, towards sustainable development anchored in multilateralism and global solidarity.

Land restoration is an essential component of any building-forward strategy. In preparation for the UN PGA High-level event on desertification, land degradation and drought, the UNCCD secretariat prepared a brief that presents land-centered solutions for green recovery post COVID-19.