Africa has some of the most degraded lands in the world, and is only second to Asia in land degradation globally, experts say.
“Our land. Our home. Our Future,” is the slogan of this year’s UN World Day to Combat Desertification, according to a statement from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) released last month (9 February).
Monique Barbut, UN top advisor on combatting desertification and drought, says land is a timeless tool for creating wealth, but explains that there is no silver bullet to fixing land degradation everywhere.
“Investment in restoration of degraded lands is critical in enhancing household food and income security.”
Oliver Wasonga, University of Nairobi
“The solution depends a lot on a diagnosis of the local soil and climatic conditions, which can vary a lot even within short distances,” Barbut tells SciDev.Net.
Barbut notes in the statement: “This year, let us engage in a campaign to re-invest in rural lands and unleash their massive job-creating potential, from Burkina Faso, which will host the global observance of the World Day to Combat Desertification, Chile and China, to Italy, Mexico, St Lucia and Ukraine.”
Batio Bassiere, minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change of Burkina Faso, adds: “Since the early 1980s, we have been rehabilitating degraded land by building on our traditional techniques such as the Zaï or adopting new techniques that work, such as farmer-managed natural regeneration. We intend to be land degradation neutral by 2030.”
Pablo Muñoz, a programme officer of UNCCD’s global mechanism, told SciDev.Net in an interview this month (7 March) that land degradation costs Africa about US$ 65 billion annually, around five per cent of its gross domestic product. Globally, the cost of land degradation is estimated at about US$295 billion annually.
Sasha Alexander, a policy officer of UNCCD, explains that land degradation increases rural families’ chances of facing hunger and reduces rain water seeping into the ground, which diminishes the ability of fresh groundwater to replenish rivers, lakes and wells.
According to Oliver Wasonga, a dryland ecology and pastoral livelihoods specialist at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, there is little investment in sustainable land management, especially in the drylands and yet many communities living in rural Africa increasingly lose their livelihoods due to loss of land productivity resulting from land degradation. “Investment in restoration of degraded lands is critical in enhancing household food and income security, especially for the majority of Africa’s rural populace that rely almost entirely on natural resources for their livelihoods,” he tells SciDev.Net, adding that sustainable land management is key to tackling poverty and achieving sustainable development goals.
According to Wasonga, who is a senior lecturer, the UN World Day to Combat Desertification has value only if it can be used to showcase success stories that may motivate land users, decision makers, development agencies, and private investors to engage in sustainable land management (SLM) practices.
Wasonga says that desertification affects around 45 per cent of the continent’s land area. He calls on African governments to develop policies that promote sustainable land management, and specifically those aimed at restoration of degraded lands.
Involvement of land users or the communities is key to success of any attempt to promote SLM and restoration of degraded lands. Such approaches should seek integration of low-cost customary practices that are familiar to the communities, Wasonga explains.
“There is also need to sensitise and motivate private sector to invest in SLM,” says Wasonga. “Payment for ecosystem services should be promoted as way of giving incentives to communities to use land in a sustainable manner.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.