Land Restoration for Peace and profit

China’s Greening of the Vast Kubuqi Desert is a Model for Land Restoration Projects. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Andrew Stevenson

Land degradation is at the nexus of a vicious spiral which links low land productivity and biodiversity loss with poverty, hunger, instability and insecurity. Land degradation, for instance, releases carbon, worsening global climate change; it reduces crop yield, creating food insecurity; and it erodes livelihoods, driving migration. Under these conditions, instability can take hold, order can break down, and non-state armed groups can become established, leading in turn to impacts such as increases in wildlife poaching, deforestation and violence.

Land restoration and trust-building initiatives offer practical solutions. For example, carbon sequestration in soils and biomass can provide multiple ecosystem services like mitigate the impacts of climate change and boost agricultural productivity. Yet despite these multiple benefits, such initiatives are largely ignored by capital markets and often fail to attract significant investments. An ICRAF side event entitled “Land Restoration for Peace and Profit”, held as part of IUCN’s Landscape Restoration Day at the recent UNCCD COP13 in Ordos, China explored the relationships between land degradation, restoration, conflict and peace.

Pradeep Monga, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UNCCD. Photo: IISD/ENB | Francis Dejon

Pradeep Monga, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, opened the event by noting that there is clear evidence that land degradation induces migration and conflict: “where people do not have productive land, shelter and livelihoods, they are forced to move”. Dr Monga went on to say that land degradation could be a convergence point for making progress on a range of issues, but that this would require a range of partners to work together, including governments, the private sector, civil society and researchers.

In the view of ICRAF’s Patrick Worms, the solutions to land degradation are already available, but rarely receive the investment they deserve for several reasons. First, ideas which appear to be new or technologically innovative often capture funders’ and policymakers’ attention. Second, solutions that are proven to be effective such as agroforestry-based approaches are often known by a confusing variety of niche terms, while capital- and chemical-intensive methods have come to be known simply as “conventional agriculture”. Third, a business model which simply involves asking for money is one that is unlikely to attract large-scale investment or the involvement of the private sector. The challenge of tackling land degradation, therefore, is partly the challenge of communicating the message that “the difference between productive and unproductive land is knowledge.”

Land Restoration for Peace and Profit side event speakers. L-R Patrick Worms, Cait Mantang, Noel Oettle

Noel Oettle of Drynet spoke about building trust through the shared management of natural resources. In South Africa, members of an agricultural cooperative were able to build a thriving rooibos tea business whilst confronting biophysical obstacles including wind and water erosion, and the social pathologies which can afflict isolated, marginalized communities. This success was made possible by the use of Participatory Action Research techniques which utilized cycles of self-reflective planning rather than following a pre-determined or externally imposed plan.

Cai Mantang then described the efforts of Elion Resources to return the Kubuqi desert outside of Ordos to its previous ecological health. The lessons learnt during this decades-long process are now shaping the restoration work being carried out by Elion Resources elsewhere in China, and can help to inform the efforts of other countries. Dr Mantang stressed the need for both private companies and local communities to benefit from restoration efforts, an outcome which necessitates building a common vision of the future based on shared principles.

Ermias Betemariam, ICRAF. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Andrew Stevenson

ICRAF’s Ermias Betemariam gave an overview of CGIAR research on restoration of degraded landscapes by emphasizing the need to have robust evidence, appropriate portfolios of preventive and restorative interventions, capacity development and active engagement of key stakeholders to achieve restoration goals. The soil data and tools of the Soil-Plant Spectral Diagnostics Laboratory, spatial science and applications,  and Agroforestry Species Switchboard are example CGIAR products that stakeholders could use them in their landscape restoration projects.  Ermias also pointed out that interventions need to be evaluated across multiple metrics, as a narrow focus on a single measure of success is likely to underestimate the value of agroecological approaches such as agroforestry. Elizabeth Kucinich of the Kucinich Institute for Human and Ecological Security concluded the meeting with some reflections on how to cultivate wider support for land restoration. According to Professor Kucinich, “we need to build a movement around regeneration: if you are tenacious and use the right language, you can start a fire”.

[This is part three of a three-part 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 COP13, see here].


Andrew Stevenson

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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