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].




联合国防治荒漠化公约副执行秘书长Pradeep Monga的发言开启了会议的序幕,他指出,有显著证据表明土地退化造成人口迁徙和冲突:“如果人们无法拥有可供生产的土地、房屋及生计,他们不得不选择搬离”。Monga博士继续强调,土地退化可成为一系列问题进展的聚焦点,但这需要多方合作伙伴共同努力,包括政府、私营企业、民间团体及研究人员。

ICRAF的Patrick Worms认为,目前已经有了解决土地退化的方法,但还未能收到其应得的投资,这主要有几个方面原因。其一,往往是显得新颖或科技创新的想法容易吸引投资者和决策者的注意。其二,被证实有效的技术如以农用林业为基础的方法往往受到各种误解,而资本密集型及化学为主导的方法通常被认为是“传统农业”。此外,单纯索要金钱的商业模式已经不太可能吸引大规模投资或私营企业的参与。因此,应对土地退化的挑战,有一部分是沟通信息的挑战,即“肥沃的土地与不毛之地之间的差距是知识。”

干旱网 的 Noel Oettle讲述了通过共同管理自然资源建立信任的方法,在南非,一个农业合作社的成员能够将南非博士茶贸易开展得如火如荼,同时还能对抗生物物理方面问题,包括风水侵蚀及使社区隔绝和边缘化的社会病态现象。这个成功的取得是通过利用参与式研究技术,在自我反思中不断规划,而非遵循单一的预先设定的方案或是外部强加的方案。


ICRAF的Elias Betemariam概括介绍了国际农业磋商组织(CGIAR)在退化土地修复方面的研究情况。他指出,干预措施需要经过多方衡量标准的评估,因为只通过单一测量方法很可能会低估像农用林业这样的农业生态学方法的价值。库西尼奇人类与生态安全研究所的Elizabeth Kucinich为此次会议作了总结,反思了在土地修复问题上如何争取更广泛的支持。如Kucinich所言,“我们需要开展关于重建的运动:如果你坚持不懈并且选对了方法,就能点燃希望的火焰”。



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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