Land is a vital resource to humankind, like air and water. Land degradation—the deterioration or loss of the productive capacity of the soils for present and future—is a global challenge that affects everyone through food insecurity, higher food prices, climate change, environmental hazards, and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Land degradation is happening at an alarming pace, contributing to a dramatic decline in the productivity of croplands and rangelands worldwide.
Land degradation is one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems and it will worsen without rapid remedial action. Globally, about 25 percent of the total land area has been degraded. When land is degraded, soil carbon and nitrous oxide is released into the atmosphere, making land degradation one of the most important contributors to climate change. Scientists recently warned that 24 billion tons of fertile soil was being lost per year, largely due to unsustainable agriculture practices. If this trend continues, 95 percent of the Earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050.
Globally, 3.2 billion people are affected by land degradation, especially rural communities, smallholder farmers, and the very poor. The world population is projected to increase by about 35 percent to 9.7 billion in 2050, with rising demands for agricultural products including food, feed, fiber, and fuel. However, pressure on the global land resource is increasing due to other factors as well, such as agricultural production systems made less resilient by the loss of biodiversity, and natural factors such as climate variability and extreme weather events. Climate change exacerbates variations in yields and income from agriculture, threatening the resilience of agro-ecosystems and stability of food production systems.
The problems are particularly severe in the driest parts the planet. Dryland landscapes cover approximately 40 percent of the world’s land area and support two billion people. The vast majority of people who depend on drylands live in developing countries, where women and children are most vulnerable to the impacts of land degradation and drought.
What We Do
The GEF recognizes that all productive landscapes, from the drylands of Africa and Asia to the sub-tropical grasslands of South America, and temperate forests in Europe must be managed carefully and sustainably. Our investments to arrest and reverse desertification and deforestation cover a wide range sectors — from crop and livestock production to water resource management.
The GEF is the financial mechanism for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and has a mandate to invest in global environmental benefits from production landscapes. The Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD recognizes Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) as a concept that can help communities, businesses, and governments reconcile the need to intensify food production without degrading land resources. Essentially, LDN is about managing land more sustainably to reduce degradation, while increasing rates of land restoration. The two ends converge to give a zero-net rate of land degradation.
Since 2006, when land degradation became a focal area, the GEF has invested more than $1.069 billion in resources for at least 190 projects and programs that encourage use of sustainable land management practices (SLM) to support national and regional development priorities. 143 million hectares are now under SLM, benefitting more than 80 million smallholders. Our investments have greatly enhanced the potential for restoring degraded land. And our work in land degradation supports other focal areas such as Biodiversity and Climate Change by generating multiple benefits.
In Burkina Faso, several multilateral partners financed the Sustainable Rural Development Program implemented by IFAD in the North Central Plateau. The GEF support helped to mainstream SLM into village development plans, develop conflict resolution systems, including specific financing mechanisms, and training. In terms of outcomes, the land related conflicts significantly decreased, 109 cases of access to land, services, and infrastructures were solved, and 26,000 producers were given sustainable access to land for cultivation and market gardens, 67% of beneficiaries being women. The project also successfully supported the restoration of 64,000 hectares of lands using indigenous soil and water conservation techniques locally called zaï and demi-lunes (respectively circular pits and half-moon ridges).
The GEF is well-placed to help countries implement convention decisions and facilitate coordinated investments in sustainable land management practices, including LDN. GEF investment will seek to address the drivers of land degradation, robust assessment of experience and existing knowledge, and knowledge and experience. The GEF strategy has two primary objectives:
Support on the ground implementation of sustainable land management
The three GEF Impact Programs form a major component of the GEF delivery towards combating land degradation and deforestation. The Food Systems, Land Use, and Restoration (FOLUR) Impact Program provides the opportunity for an integrated approach to implementing sustainable land management to increase the prospects for food security for smallholders and communities that are dependent on farming for their livelihoods. The Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Impact Program seeks to avoid further degradation, desertification, and deforestation of land and ecosystems in drylands through the sustainable management of production landscapes. The Sustainable Cities Impact Program will create opportunity for countries to integrate voluntary LDN targets into urban planning.
Creating an enabling environment to support voluntary LDN target implementation
A conducive enabling framework and overarching political support through the Convention is essential for LDN investments. GEF, for example, is working to embed the LDN concept into existing planning frameworks and participatory land-use planning, and is promoting policy work at national levels leading to the resolution of land tenure issues that are obstacles to LDN objectives. GEF will also make targeted investments to sustain and rebuild productive areas, mitigate the effects of drought, increase resilience, and prevent conflict and migration.