Land degradation, one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century

Photo credit: RTCC

When land stops being productive, it drives forest clearance (Flickr/CIFOR)

Why restoring degraded land is crucial to the climate

A new UN fund is aiming to cut emissions from bad land management and improve food, energy and water security

By Simone Quatrini and Harald Heubaum

Land is a fundamental natural resource, providing food and livelihoods for billions of people around the world.

Degraded land in Uzbekistan (Flickr/IFPRI -IMAGES) -
Degraded land in Uzbekistan (Flickr/IFPRI -IMAGES) –×337.jpg

Soil and land also play a key role in addressing economic inequality, maintaining biodiversity and combating global climate change. Whether it is forests, grasslands, savannahs or deserts – terrestrial ecosystems are a key to building a more sustainable future.

Yet, land is under threat. Land degradation – the reduction in the quality and productive capacity of land and soil due to extreme weather conditions and human activities such as deforestation, unsustainable agriculture and invasive mining – has quickly becomedation, one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

Worldwide, two billion hectares of land are currently degraded – an area larger than South America. Of this, 500 million hectares are abandoned agricultural land.

With an expected global population of 9.5 billion by 2050, land degradation, population pressures and climate change increasingly tax our natural resource base beyond its carrying capacity. Available cropland per person is falling precariously.

With 52% of agricultural land moderately or severely degraded and with more than 12 million hectares lost to production each year; demand projections for crucial resources – especially productive land for food, fuel, fibre and water – outstrip all future scenarios for supply.

Read the full article: RTCC

Forests and climate change

Photo credit: Nature World News

Climate change related disturbances weaken temperate forests. (Photo : U.S. Forest Service photo by Constance Millar.)

Climate Change Causes Megadisturbances in Temperate Forests

By Samantha Mathewson

Temperate forests are vulnerable to worsening droughts, diseases, and massive wildfires, and the USDA Forest Service, warms that if actions aren’t taken, some forests could be transformed into shrublands or grasslands in the near future.

While we have been trying to manage for resilience of 20th century conditions, we realize now that we must prepare for transformations and attempt to ease these conversions,” Constance Millar, lead author and forest ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station, said.

Their study, recently published in the journal Science, explains that forests have been resilient in the wake of logging, and while they have been re-growing, they are being stressed by hotter, drier air temperature that overheat their leaves and steal all their moisture. It also doesn’t help that snow, which would be stored for emergencies, is instead falling as rain. As a result, trees are experiencing a much higher mortality rate.

Read the full article: Nature World News

Dams and biodiversity

Photo credit: bluechannel24

Balbina Dam has hit populations of mammals, large gamebirds and tortoises, researchers say, warning against hydro push.
Widely hailed as ‘green’ sources of renewable energy, numerous hydroelectric dams have been built worldwide, but research reveals they are far from environmentally friendly.

Brazil: Hydroelectric dams drastically reduce tropical forest biodiversity

A study puiblished in online journal PLOS ONE from the University of East Anglia (UEA) has revealed the drastic effects of the major Amazonian Balbina Dam on tropical rainforest biodiversity. The research reveals a loss of mammals, birds and tortoises from the vast majority of islands formed by the creation of the vast Balbina Lake, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric reservoirs.

Lead author and UEA graduate Dr Maíra Benchimol, of the Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Bahia, Brazil, said: “Hydroelectric dams have been thought to be an environmentally friendly source of renewable power, and in recent years have been built to supply the burgeoning energy demands of emergent tropical countries.

Previous studies have shown that large dams result in severe losses in fishery revenues, increases in greenhouse gas emissions and socioeconomic costs to local communities. Our research adds evidence that forest biodiversity also pays a heavy price when large dams are built.

Read the full article: bluechannel24

Better water management practices in Ghana


Improving water productivity in crop-livestock farming systems in northern Ghana


Smallholder farmers in northern Ghana face a number of water-related challenges. Soil fertility is inherently low and in decline due to continuous cropping. Erratic rainfall patterns result in alternating floods and droughts, and there are limited small-scale irrigation technologies to bridge farmer family income and food security during 6-monthly dry season.

Some of these challenges could be addressed through better water management practices. For example, rainwater harvesting or sourcing groundwater through shallow wells for supplementary irrigation during the rainy season. This enables farmers in northern Ghana to increase the productivity of their crop and livestock farming systems. They can grow vegetables in the dry-season when they are in strong demand and the higher prices will provide important income for better livelihoods during the dry season.

Read the full text: Africa Rising

Studying and sharing the best practices towards “bottom up” approaches to improving agriculture

Photo credit: CGIAR-WLE

Ahmed sets up his satellite imaging equipment in the field

Photo Credit: Faseeh Shams

The region’s best farmer…and an eye in space can prove it!

New innovations are revolutionizing the measurement of water productivity

By James Clarke

Farmer Ahmed may not know it yet, but he is a water productivity champion. Satellites scanning the Doukkalla Irrigation Scheme in Morocco have identified his fields as being the most productive in the area – up to 3 times the crop yield of his neighbors for a similar amount of water used.

So what is he doing right?

At this point, explained Wim Bastiaanssen of UNESCO-IHE, speaking at the session Agricultural water productivity; Can it be monitored?, part of this year’s Stockholm World Water Week, we don’t really know. The power of real-time satellite imaging has allowed researchers to single out such successful farms, but extension workers would need to pay Ahmed a visit to find out why he does so well. Being able to identify such productive individuals, enthuses Bastiaanssen, opens up new possibilities for learning and sharing.

In development jargon, Farmer Ahmed is a “positive deviant” – an individual who seems to be getting it right, without necessarily getting direct assistance from development professionals. The concept originally arose in public health, but now agriculture wants in on the act. Studying and sharing the best practices of such people has been part of a growing trend towards “bottom up” approaches to improving agriculture.

“Farmers look to their neighbors to measure their performance,” said session convener, Jopp Hoogeeven of FAO, so agriculturists and water managers need to take note.

Targeted Technology

To assess water productivity (WP) at field level in this way, satellites measure evapo-transpiration – the rate at which plants are growing and emitting water into the atmosphere. It is a technique that is fast developing and provides a hitherto unattainable degree accuracy on how plants are performing, and where and when they are doing so. This approach will also be important for measuring the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals relating to water and sustainable agriculture.

The session overall reflected on the huge possibilities that modern remote sensing and big data is now opening up for improving WP.

Read the full article: CGIAR-WLE

Training programs cultivating a new generation of farmers

Photo  credit: Food Tank 

22 May 2012, Dangala, Central African Republic – Farmer Field School (FFS) facilitator Samson Dangaza (center) discussing with local farmers the outcome of an improved peanut cultivation. –

As the global farmer population ages, training new farmers becomes critical to sustainably feeding the world.

Growing Farmers Around the Globe

Worldwide, the average farmer is around 60 years of age. Recruiting new and young farmers and helping them get the training they need to sustainably feed the world is essential to long-term food security. Here are 10 training programs cultivating a new generation of farmers.

A project of the Cargill Sustainable Cocoa initiative, Cargill’s Farmer Field Schoolsreach 25,000 farmers annually at 300 locations around the world, including Côte d’Ivoire, Vietnam, Brazil, and Indonesia. The Field School is a 10-month intensive course on agricultural techniques, bookkeeping, personal health, and environmental and social issues. Upon completing the course, farmers are eligible for sustainability certification through Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance.

Apprenticeships in Ecological Horticulture at the University of California Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems provide training in organic and small-scale farming. The six-month course, held at the Center’s 30-acre farm and 3-acre garden, teaches a variety of organic and sustainable farming techniques through hands-on experience with greenhouses, gardens, orchards, and fields.

The University of Vermont’s (UVM) Farmer Training Program combines classroom learning and field experience on the university’s 10-acre Catamount Educational Farm. Students learn sustainable farming from expert farmers and educators, and graduate with a Certificate in Sustainable Farming from UVM.

In Zanzibar, the International Fund for Agricultural Development has established over 700 farmer field schools in nine rural districts. Each field school is led by smallholder farmers and has 15 to 20 members, 62 percent of whom are women. The groups get together throughout the growing season to learn new skills and techniques from each other, a method which has shown tangible results for reducing poverty, improving food security, and increasing incomes for farmers.

Read the full article: Food Tank

Healthy indigenous crops to feed the world

Photo credit: Food Tank

Food Tank has compiled a list of indigenous fruits, vegetables, and grains from many regions that are nutritious, delicious, and contribute to sustainable livelihoods in rural communities across the globe.

34 Indigenous Crops Promoting Health and Feeding the World

Every day, plant species across the globe are disappearing. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that approximately 75 percent of the Earth’s plant genetic resources are now extinct, and another third of plant biodiversity is expected to disappear by 2050. Up to 100,000 plant varieties are currently endangered worldwide.

Unfortunately, most investments in agriculture are for crops such as wheat, rice, and maize, rather than for more nutritious foods or indigenous crops—and this focus has had devastating consequences. Global obesity rates have doubled over the last 30 years, increasing the risk of diet-related illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease in industrialized and developing countries alike.

Many indigenous crops are environmentally sustainable, improve food security, help prevent malnutrition, and increase farmer incomes. Initiatives like the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC)’s Vegetable Genetic Resources System and Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste are working to catalog indigenous species of fruits and vegetables all over the world.

Food Tank has compiled a list of indigenous fruits, vegetables, and grains from many regions that are nutritious, delicious, and contribute to sustainable livelihoods in rural communities across the globe.


1. Fonio: This versatile and gluten-free species of millet from the savannahs of West Africa is nutritious, fast-growing, and suitable to dry conditions. Some ancient belief systems even claim the universe was created through a grain of fonio.

2. Baobab: This enormous African tree has fruits containing a dry pulp that is nutritious, flavorful, and useful as a thickening agent in food processing.

3. Moringa: Native to parts of Africa and South Asia, this versatile and fast-growing tree provides pods, leaves, and seeds that are packed with nutrients. Moringa is drought-resistant, grows well in sub-tropical regions, and even can be used to help purify water.

Read the full article: Food Tank