Land degradation vs. economic and environmental sustainability


Photo credit: CGIAR

A Taru woman selling homegrown produce at a local market in Rajbiraj, Nepal. Photo credit: Mark Schauer.

Putting economic and environmental sustainability hand in hand to protect our lands

*Note: This article first appeared in the Solutions Journal (Volume 7, Issue 5, p. 17-20)

Land degradation is an underestimated global concern with far-reaching implications affecting the ability of land to provide food and incomes. Globally, a large portion of the vulnerable human populations—the rural poor—live on degrading and less-favored agricultural lands without market access. Heterogeneous solutions that ensure both economic and environmental sustainability are needed at multiple scales.

On a policy level, awareness of land and soil degradation is increasing. Last year all countries adopted a set of goals as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The specific goal on land degradation includes a commitment for countries to take steps to achieve a land-degradation neutral world. This commitment is universal; it will apply to developed as well as developing countries and covers lands with sufficient rainfalls for agriculture as well as drylands across political borders.

However, a recent publication claims ‘the end of desertification’ and calls for a more nuanced approach to the serious problem of global land degradation that moves away from the emotional rhetoric of expanding deserts and sand-covered villages, forcing people to migrate into an uncertain future (1). Such doom and gloom stories dominated international discussions in the late 20th century and provided the arguments for the establishment of a UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which is now specifically addressing this issue. Others have countered this direction of thoughts with a more optimistic view of how populations can survive by building on traditional knowledge in a new paradigm for people, ecosystems, and development.

Despite these debates, no one contends that land degradation is not a very real and serious problem. This is especially so for the sectors of society who are mainly smallholder farmers in drylands and characterized as being the poorest,hungriest, least healthy, and most marginalized people on Earth. These people depend on land as the basis for their economic development and opportunities, as small as they might be. A sustainable management and rehabilitation approach of land must thus be engaged for their survival and well-being.

Read the full article: CGIAR

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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