Scaling-Up investment into Land Restoration: Getting the Biggest Bang for the Buck

Land degradation has long been recognized as a major problem which threatens ecological health, social stability and economic prosperity. For several decades, a series of solutions have been devised and attempted with varying degrees of success. However, efforts to combat land degradation have been hampered by a lack of resources and the sheer scale of the problem. According to the UNCCD’s new flagship publication, the Global Land Outlook, from 1998 to 2013 approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated land surface declined in productivity; and 1.3 billion people, most of whom live in developing countries, currently live on degrading agricultural land.

Drought-resistant plants growing in the Kubuqi desert near Ordos, China

Two of the biggest challenges facing efforts aimed at avoiding, reducing or reversing land degradation are therefore how to tackle degradation at a massive scale, and how to ensure that any investment generates the ‘biggest bang for the buck’. This was the subject of an event at the recent UNCCD COP13 in Ordos, China, and which was organized jointly by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the European Commission (EC), and the Economics of Land Degradation initiative (ELD) on 13 September. The event took place at the outset of a new European Union-funded project aimed at uncovering pathways for large-scale restorations across the world.

The EC’s Bernard Crabbé introduced the new project, which involves eight African countries and focuses on two components. First, the project will work with ELD to help participating countries assess the costs and benefits of investing in different approaches aimed at combating land degradation, raising agricultural productivity and restoring land health. Second, the project will work with partner organizations including the World Agroforestry Centre and local NGOs to implement low-cost, high-impact Sustainable Land Management (SLM) measures. As Mark Schauer of ELD explained, project activities would draw upon ELD’s experience in providing toolkits for economic analysis and stakeholder integration “to keep scientific information both credible and usable for decision-makers”

Dennis Garrity. Photo by World Agroforestry Centre/Andrew Stevenson

Dennis Garrity, Senior Fellow at ICRAF, laid out the scope of the challenge at hand: “for any serious hope of success, we must provide solutions that are applicable, desirable and affordable for massive populations of smallholder farmers and pastoralists”. Yet he emphasized that not only is this achievable, it is already happening, in some of the poorest countries in the world. Over the past two decades, millions of hectares of farmland in Niger and other countries in the Sahel region of Africa have been transformed by the adoption of Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). This approach encourages farmers to select and protect existing tree stumps and stems, pruning them to promote growth alongside other crops, which then benefit from increased soil fertility, organic matter and moisture. As a result, FMNR provides a low-cost, low-risk method for large scale restoration of degraded landscapes while supplying farmers with valuable benefits such as fuelwood and fodder. According to Dr Garrity, similar ideas have taken root in several African countries including Sengal, Mali, Ethiopia, and Malawi, resulting in vast increases of tree cover: what Garrity called “the biggest single positive environmental change ever witnessed in Africa”. In addition, new tools such as Collect Earth enable non-scientists to access high resolution satellite data in a free and user-friendly manner, raising the exciting possibility of farming communities being able to track changes in tree cover in their landscape.

The meeting also heard from several speakers who shared their countries’ experiences of reversing land degradation. Cai Mantan of Elion Resources recounted Elion’s efforts to transform the Kubuqi desert near Ordos, noting that private-sector involvement could bring important resources and ideas. However, he also emphasized that private companies need to be incentivized to pursue restoration efforts over long-term timescales, potentially lasting several decades.

Speakers from several African countries including Ethiopia, Niger, Mali, and Senegal said that smallholders also need to be supported so that they would be willing to make long-term investments: most importantly, through ensuring legal rights and access to their land. For Abdou Malam Issa, Director-General of Niger’s Water and Forests Service, “SLM techniques including agroforestry and FMNR are a strong and durable basis on which to improve the lives of communities”, but that the successful implementation of these techniques depends on key legal issues including land tenure. Teshome Tamirat, UNCCD technical focal point for Ethiopia, spoke about his country’s experience of restoration and its success in having already achieved more than half of its international restoration commitments. Diaminatou Sanogo, Forestry Research Director at Senegal’s National Centre for Forestry Research, described the damage done to the land by years of monoculture crops in Senegal’s ‘peanut basin’. In her view, FMNR-based agroforestry has the potential to repair this damage under three conditions: that all stakeholders are included, that the legal environment gives farmers confidence that their efforts will be rewarded, and that the government provides an overall strategy that can attract the necessary financial resources.

Elvis Tangem of the African Union made the point that the work under the EC-funded project could add great value to the existing Great Green Wall initiative, which also targets land degradation, climate change, poverty and food security.

Patrick Worms, Senior Science Policy Advisor, World Agroforestry Centre

Summing up, ICRAF’s Patrick Worms emphasized the potential for techniques such as FMNR to attract funding based on their ability to address multiple challenges such as climate change, land degradation, biodiversity loss and resource conflicts at low cost. While it may be disheartening to see research funding go to expensive, high-tech solutions which make marginal gains, Worms reminded participants that it is up to them to inform funders and policymakers about more effective, cost-efficient methods: “if we can convince people that land degradation is of prime importance and that solutions exist, we can transform the world”.

[This is part two in a series of blogs reporting on ICRAF’s activities at UNCCD COP13, which took place in Ordos, China, from 6 to 16 September 2017. For more on ICRAF at UNCCD COP13, visit:].




欧盟的Bernard Crabbé介绍了这个新项目,关乎8个非洲国家,主要专注两个方面。其一,这个项目将同ELD共同合作帮助参与国评估旨在对抗土地退化、提高农业生产力及修复土地健康的不同投资方案的成本和收益。其二,这个项目将同其他伙伴机构合作,包括世界农用林业中心和当地非政府组织,以便实施低成本、高效能的可持续土地管理(SLM)方法。如ELD的Mark Schauer所言,项目活动能够吸取ELD在提供工具上的经验,包括经济分析以及利益相关者整合,从而“为决策者提供可信/可行的科学资讯“。

ICRAF的资深研究员Dennis Garrity指出了即将面临的挑战:“我们必须为大多数农户和牧民提供可应用的、满足需求的并且负担得起的解决方案,这样才有希望获得成功“。而他强调,这不仅仅是能够实现的,而且在世界上一些最贫困的国家,已经正在实现。在过去二十年间,在尼日尔及非洲萨赫尔地区的其它国家,通过应用农民管理的自然再生法(FMNR),百万公顷农田历经变革。这个方法激励着农民选择和保护现存树种,进行栽培以促进其在其它作物之间生长,而后从提升的土壤肥力、有机物质和水分中获益。由此,FMNR为提高土地生产力及为农民供应有价值的薪材和饲料提供了低成本、低风险的方法。


会议还听取了一系列发言人分享其本国同荒漠化及土地退化做斗争的经历。亿利资源集团的Cai Mantan讲述了亿利资源集团为转变邻近鄂尔多斯的库布齐沙漠所做的种种努力,提出私营力量的参与可带来重要的资源和创意。但他也强调了需想办法激励私人企业进行长期的修复努力,可能要持续数十年。

来自若干个非洲国家的发言人指出小农户也需要得到支持,这样他们才愿意做长期投入:最重要的是,要有法定权利及其土地使用权的保障。尼日尔水资源与森林服务机构的主任Abdou Malam Issa指出,“包括农用林业和FMNR在内的SLM技术是强大且可持续的,能够改善农村社区人民生活 “,但这些技术方法的成功实施依赖于一些关键的法律问题,包括土地所有制。UNCCD在埃塞俄比亚技术部门的Teshome Tamirat讲述了他们国家土地修复的经验,如今关于修复问题一半以上的国际承诺已经兑现。

非洲联盟的Elvis Tangem提出,欧盟资助的项目工作能够为当前绿色长城行动增添更多价值,绿色长城行动同样旨在应对土地退化、气候变化、贫困及粮食安全。塞内加尔国家林业研究中心的林业研究主任Diaminatou Sanogo讲述了在塞内加尔因多年以花生为单一作物栽培令土地受到的损害。在她看来,FMNR为基础的农用林业发挥修复损害的潜力需要满足三个条件:让所有的利益相关者参与进来,健全法律让农民相信他们的付出有所回报,政府提供可吸引所需财政资源的全面战略。

ICRAF的Patrick Worms做了总结发言,强调了诸如FMNR等科技因为能够以低成本应对包括气候变化、土地退化、生物多样性流失和资源冲突等多种挑战,具有吸引投资的潜力。但也有可能沮丧地发现研究资金流向昂贵的、高科技手段获得边际收益。Worms提醒与会者,是他们决定着让投资者和决策者选择更加有效且更具成本效益的方式:“如果我们说服人们,让他们了解土地退化是我们所面临的首要问题,而解决方案又是存在的,我们可以改变这个世界。”'

Andrew Stevenson

Andrew Stevenson is the East and Central Asia office’s communications specialist. He has previously worked in Switzerland, Nepal and the UK with the UN and various NGOs on international trade, intellectual property and sustainable development. He holds an MSc in Environment and Development from the University of East Anglia, UK.

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