Desertification and Land Resource Stresses in Africa

The desertification is the degradation of land in arid and dry sub-humid areas, resulting from anthropic and natural activities and influenced by climatic variations. We now know anthropic activities are the major cause of the desertification. Indeed this phenomenon is mainly induced by several factors like overgrazing, over-cultivation, increased fire frequency, water impoundment, deforestation, overdrafting of groundwater, increased soil salinity, and global climate change. The major impact of desertification is biodiversity loss and loss of productive capacity.

Former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has said that desertification undermines the fertility of the world’s land, with productivity losses reaching 50% in some areas. Today, a third of the Earth’s surface is threatened by desertification, which adds up to an area of over 4,000 million hectares (ha) of the planet.

Even though it is a global problem, its impact is more devastating in Africa, where an important part of the population lives in the rural areas whose major occupations are farming and animal rearing. The land for these occupations are being lost every day through desertification and other forms of land degradation.



World Day to Combat Desertification 2019 concept note

The theme

2019WDCD will be celebrated under the theme of 25 years of implementation of the Convention and beyond, focusing on the path the Convention has taken, and the future the Convention could bring.
The past 25 years

Since its adoption in 1994, UNCCD has contributed to the advancement of sustainable land management. Today, its 197 Parties implement the Convention under coordinated and results-oriented actions with clear targets to recover and restore degraded land. The end goal is to protect our land, from over-use and drought, so it can continue to provide us all with food, water and energy. 

There are clear evidences of recovery and restoration of degraded landscapes through sustainable land management (SLM) practices over these years. For example, over five million hectares of degraded land in the Sahel region have been restored through a practice known as ‘farmer-managed natural regeneration’, producing additional half a million tons of grain each year. Re-introduction of Agroforestry increased trees on farms worldwide, most notably in Brazil, Indonesia, China, and India. 

Still, much more needs to be done – and sooner rather than later. The current pressures on land are enormous and expected to continue growing. Nearly 170 countries continue to be affected by desertification, land degradation or drought. The recurrent and growing threats of forest fires, heatwaves, mass migrations, flash floods, sea-level rise and food and water insecurity are more evident. 

The next 25 years

The importance and urgency of addressing these challenges are more widely recognized than it was two decades ago as shown in the adoption of achieving land degradation neutrality as one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

2030 will be a significant milestone for achieving land degradation neutrality as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. But it is a stepping stone towards a true land-based sustainable future. By achieving land degradation neutrality, we would have more land available for further sustainable development. What becomes more important, then, will be to generate and sustain fundamental and sustainable positive change by keeping the productive land productive.

As an international agreement on good land stewardship, the Convention must move forward to achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030 and dive into the world beyond 2030 where land degradation neutrality ensures an enabling environment for people, communities and countries to create wealth, grow economies and secure enough food, clean water and energy. Towards this ambition, the Parties to the Convention are taking concrete steps. These steps include tackling of the root causes of instability in Africa (3S Initiative); developing comprehensive national plans for drought management; and restoring Africa’s degraded landscapes at massive scale (Great Green Wall Initiative).

Key messages

  • As the world has become more and more fragile against the effect of a changing climate, the Convention must grow, and be recognized as the authority and leader on achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and leveraging LDN as a stepping stone towards true land-based sustainable development beyond 2030. 
  • The 197 Parties to the Convention renews their commitment to good land stewardship that helps people, communities and countries create wealth, grow economies and secure enough food, clean water and energy by ensuring land users an enabling environment for sustainable land management.
  • Sustainable land management is everyone’s business. Together, we can restore the productivity of over 2 billion hectares of degraded land and improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people around the world. 

The slogan

Let’s grow the future together

‘Creating an Enabling Environment for Sustainable and Climate-Resilient Agriculture in Africa’

GSW Bulletin

Volume 206 Number 7 | Sunday, 2 June 2019

Summary of Global Soil Week 2019

27-30 May 2019 | Nairobi, Kenya

Languages: EN (HTML/PDF) FR (HTML/PDF)Visit our IISD/ENB+ Meeting Coverage from Nairobi, Kenya at:

Global Soil Week (GSW) 2019 convened under the theme, ‘Creating an Enabling Environment for Sustainable and Climate-Resilient Agriculture in Africa.’ The conference adopted a “bottom-up” approach that first allowed participants to discuss lessons learned from more than 20 projects in Africa and Asia that are promoting sustainable land management (SLM) at the local level. Taking place on the first two days of the conference, the aim of this technical segment was to draw broader insights for policy makers, agricultural services providers, development partners and other stakeholders on how to build an enabling environment for achieving the SDGs by strengthening the “missing middle” between global and national targets, and local realities.

The technical sessions addressed project experiences under the broad themes of: practices for empowering women’s participation in SLM and decision making; business models to strengthen financial and market inclusion for smallholder farmers and pastoralists; and mechanisms for bridging macro- and micro-level land governance structures.

Building on the case studies, ‘Dimension Workshops’ on the second and third days further distilled the lessons learned into key strategies for achieving an enabling environment for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture. During these workshops, participants focused on insights gained on how to do projects differently in order to bridge the gap that exists between the Global Goals and action on the ground.

Following this a high-level segment bringing together officials from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, India and Germany, as well as technical experts from international and regional organizations. The discussions focused on identifying entry points to channel the results from the technical segment of GSW 2019 into national and global policy processes. In a series of peer-review workshops as well as a ‘GSW Lab,’ participants examined the final set of strategies and recommendations against the realities of day-to-day policy formulation and implementation.

During the interactive exchanges, speakers stressed that what is needed is nothing less than transforming and modernizing agriculture and associated policies for an estimated 1.5 billion smallholder farmers, “the biggest workforce on our planet.” The discussions also brought in the perspectives of diverse “voices from the ground” – representatives of women’s and farmers’ organizations and youth – who underscored the importance of, inter alia, focusing on women’s empowerment as managers of land and natural resources, providing farmer-friendly extension services, and making agriculture “cooler” in order to attract youth.

In parallel to the peer-review workshops, the GSW Co-Host governments (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Madagascar), as well as funding and technical partners, discussed an outcome document reiterating the urgency of the climate crisis and the importance of building the case that investing in nature-based solutions – such as facilitating access to voluntary carbon markets for farmers – makes sense from an ecosystem, livelihoods and financial perspective. TMG Research informed the group that the document would be finalized with a view to providing input to the Nature-Based Solutions stream of the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, as part of contributions being submitted by Major Groups.

GSW 2019 brought together more than 200 experts, policy makers, civil society representatives and representatives of international organizations and development partners. The event was convened by Töpfer, Müller, Gaßner – Think Tank for Sustainability (TMG Research), with support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

A Brief History of the Global Soil Week


Combating desertification in the EU: a growing threat in need of more action

About the report

Desertification is a form of land degradation in drylands. It is a growing threat in the EU. The long period of high temperatures and low rainfall in the summer of 2018 reminded us of the pressing importance of this problem. Climate change scenarios indicate an increasing vulnerability to desertification in the EU throughout this century, with increases in temperatures and droughts and less precipitation in southern Europe. Its effects will be particularly acute in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania.

We found that the risk of desertification in the EU was not being effectively and efficiently addressed. While desertification and land degradation are growing threats, the steps taken to combat desertification lack coherence. There is no shared vision in the EU about how land degradation neutrality will be achieved by 2030. We recommend the Commission aims at a better understanding of land degradation and desertification in the EU; assesses the need to enhance the EU legal framework for soil; and steps up actions towards delivering the commitment made by the EU and the Member States to achieve land degradation neutrality in the EU by 2030.

This publication is available in 23 languages and in the following format: PDF

Executive summary


Desertification, a form of land degradation in drylands, is a growing threat in the EU with significant effects on the use of land. The term is usually used to describe human- and climate-related processes leading to problems affecting dry areas, such as diminished food production, soil infertility, decreases in the land’s natural resilience, and reduced water quality. Projections on climate change in Europe show that the risk of desertification is increasing. Hot semi-deserts already exist in southern Europe, where the climate is transforming from temperate to dry. This phenomenon is extending northwards. The long period of high temperatures and low rainfall in Europe in the summer of 2018 reminded us of the pressing importance of this problem.II

We examined whether the risk of desertification in the EU was being effectively and efficiently addressed. We assessed whether the Commission had made adequate use of available data and whether the EU had taken steps to combat desertification in a coherent way. We audited projects addressing desertification in the EU, and examined whether the EU’s commitment to achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030, whereby the amount and quality of land resources remains stable or increases, is likely to be achieved.III

We conclude that, while desertification and land degradation are current and growing threats in the EU, the Commission does not have a clear picture of these challenges, and the steps taken to combat desertification lack coherence. The Commission has not assessed progress towards meeting the commitment to achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.IV

Although the Commission and the Member States collect data about various factors with an impact on desertification and land degradation, the Commission has not analysed it to come up with a conclusive assessment on desertification and land degradation in the EU.V

There is no EU-level strategy on desertification and land degradation. Rather, there is a range of strategies, action plans and spending programmes, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU Forest Strategy, or the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, which are relevant to combating desertification, but which do not focus on it.VI

Desertification-related EU projects are spread across different EU policy areas – mainly rural development, but also environment and climate action, research, and regional policy. These projects can have a positive impact on combating desertification, but there are some concerns about their long-term sustainability.VII

In 2015, the EU and Member States committed to achieving land degradation neutrality in the EU by 2030. However, there has not been a full assessment of land degradation at EU level, and no methodology has been agreed on how to do so. There has been no coordination between the Member States, and the Commission has not provided practical guidance on this topic. There is not yet a clear, shared vision in the EU about how land degradation neutrality will be achieved by 2030.VIII

Based on the above, we make recommendations to the Commission aimed at better understanding land degradation and desertification in the EU; assessing the need to enhance the EU legal framework for soil; and stepping up efforts towards delivering the commitment made by the EU and the Member States to achieve land degradation neutrality in the EU by 2030.

Protecting Europe’s Agricultural and Rural Land
Aerial view of a suburban area and agricultural land in Germany.Small village is suburb from Celle, in Lower Saxony, Germany.

The LANDSUPPORT project aims at supporting sustainable agriculture and forestry, evaluating the trade-off between land uses, and contributing to a better implementation of land policies in Europe.

The project is managed by the Research Executive Agency and received EU-funding of €7 million under Horizon 2020. It began on 1 May 2018 and will last for 42 months.

A press conference on 3 July presented the project and allowed attendees to get hands-on with some of the web-based tools at its core. Comments and input came from agriculture and soil experts from LANDSUPPORT, the European Council of Spatial Planners (ECTP), the Istituto Nazionale di Urbanistica (INU), and the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA).

The loss of fertile soil to urban sprawl is one of the most prominent causes of land degradation affecting the European agricultural landscape. Without decisive action, we face compromised food security, reduced biodiversity, flooding, water scarcity, and increased global warming. Once healthy soil is lost, future generations will not see it come back within their lifetimes.


Soil erosion in Europe: Current status, challenges and future developments

Abstract: Soil erosion is the most widespread form of soil degradation worldwide. Major policy responses should reverse the impact of soil erosion in degraded areas taking into account the population increase, the climate change trends and the water crisis. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) recognized soil erosion by water and wind as the major cause for land degradation globally. The Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS) of the FAO recognized that globally the most significant threats to soil function at the global scale are soil erosion, loss of soil organic carbon and nutrient imbalance . Soil degradation due to erosion is also a European problem. During the past decade, the problem of soil erosion has become part of the environmental agenda in the European Union (EU) due to its impacts on food production, drinking water quality, ecosystem services, flooding, eutrophication, biodiversity and carbon stock shrinkage. The EU Soils Thematic Strategy, adopted by the European Commission in September 2006, indicated accelerated soil erosion as major threat to European soil. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union recognizes the importance of protecting our soils and address the issue of reducing soil erosion and maintaining soil organic carbon at European agricultural lands. In this policy framework, it is important to have an updated ‘picture’ of the current status and address policy measures to challenge the problem of soil erosion. The mean soil loss rate in the European Union’s erosion-prone lands (agricultural, forests and semi-natural areas) was found to be 2.46 t ha-1 yr-1, resulting in a total soil loss of 970 Mt annually; equal to an area the size of Berlin at 1 metre deep. Policy interventions (i.e. reduced tillage, crop residues, grass margins, cover crops, stone walls and contouring) in the EU such as the Common Agricultural Policy and Soil Thematic Strategy have served to introduce measures to decrease erosion during the last decade by around 9% . However, a lot has to be done as soil erosion rates are higher by a factor of 1.6 compared to soil formation rates. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has developed a modelling framework to incorporate climate change scenarios, future land use projections and policy interventions. This framework has been expanded with important components on sediment distribution, soil erosion by wind and effect of soil erosion in current carbon balance .

URI: Authors: PANAGOS Panagiotis


Publication Year: 2017

Science Areas:

Publisher: Soil Environment Center of the Korea

Citation: All That Soil Erosion: the Global Task to Conserve Our Soil Resources p. 20-21