Land degradation is the result of a number of largely human-induced factors, such as poor soil and water management practices, deforestation, overgrazing, improper crop rotation and unsustainable land use. In turn, these can significantly affect soil fertility, resulting in diminished crop yields and food insecurity. Traditional methods of modelling and monitoring soil erosion usually require a large number of parameters and many years of taking measurements. However, over the past decade, nuclear technologies and isotopic techniques have been introduced, which can effectively assess the soil and water status of an area, as well as identifying hot spots of land degradation. But how does it work?
In September 2011, at a high-level meeting of world leaders, the Bonn Challenge was launched, with an ambitious goal to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s degraded and deforested land by 2020. This target was recently supplemented by the New York Declaration on Forests, which added an further 200 million hectares to be restored by 2030, putting the total area at 350 million ha, equivalent to an area the size of India. Earlier this year, at the second Bonn Challenge conference, environment ministers discussed the progress that had been made. Over 60 million hectares have already been taken under active restoration, and further pledges are in the pipeline. With one-third of the world’s largest restoration initiative already within reach, there appears to be widespread recognition of the importance of forests in achieving multiple objectives such as tackling species extinction, climate change and restoring livelihoods.
Why we need to value our ecosystem services
A recent report The Value of Land: Prosperous lands and positive rewards through sustainable land management published 15th September by the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative (ELD) estimates the value of ecosystem services lost worldwide due to land degradation at a staggering US $6.3 trillion to $10.6 trillion annually, or the equivalent of 10-17% of global GDP. The report goes further to say that the effects of land degradation and desertification are distributed unevenly throughout the human populations, and often impact the most vulnerable – the rural poor – who largely depend on land for both sustenance and income.
June 17 has been designated by the United Nations as World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCD). The slogan of this year's WDCD is 'Land Belongs to the Future, Let’s Climate Proof It’, which aims to ‘highlight the benefits of mainstreaming sustainable land management policies and practices into our collective response to climate change’. The objectives of this year’s WDCD are to increase the attention given to land and soil within climate change adaptation; mobilise support for sustainable land management and call for the inclusion of land and soil and their role in food security into national climate adaptation policies.