Land is the foundation for all life-sustaining processes on the planet. It provides us with food and water. It helps us manage environmental risks such as floods and drought. It supports natural processes such as soil formation and nutrient cycling. And it offers opportunities for social and cultural activities. In economic terms, land benefits billions of people, including a large proportion that depends entirely on farming and forest products for their livelihood. For all these reasons, it’s imperative to maintain sustained and productive use of land. Read more+
Yet, globally, one-third of the Earth’s land surface is degraded, affecting more than 2.6 billion people in more than 100 countries. When land is degraded, it cannot support all the processes that depend on it. Some irrigated lands, for example, have become heavily damaged from salt. Every year, this salinization causes the loss of some 1.5 million ha of arable land and an estimated US$11 billion in production.
Since ecosystems are so connected, land degradation can have cascading effects across the entire biosphere. Erosion, salinization and compaction of soil can reduce the soil’s capacity to regulate water. Loss of biomass, through vegetation clearance and soil erosion, produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change.
What We Do
The GEF recognizes that billions of people depend on land — from the drylands of Africa and Asia to the sub-tropical grasslands of South America. Our investments to arrest and reverse desertification and deforestation cover a wide range sectors — from crop and livestock production to water resource management. We see enormous potential for a “triple win”: increased production, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and enhanced climate resilience through adaptation.
In the long run, our investments will not only help sustain agriculture and forests, they will reduce vulnerability to climate change. Since environmental degradation is a serious threat to global security, our work can also help reduce tensions between farmers and pastoralists. It may even help reverse migration patterns toward urban areas and abroad.
Through its Land Degradation focal area, the GEF has focused primarily on sustainable land management (SLM). TerrAfrica (2005) defines SLM as “the adoption of land use systems that, through appropriate management practices, enables land users to maximize the economic and social benefits from the land while maintaining or enhancing the ecological support functions of the land resources.”
In practice, SLM is about minimizing land degradation, rehabilitating degraded areas and ensuring the optimal use of land resources for the benefit of present and future generations. SLM merges the needs of environment and agriculture through twin objectives: maintaining the health of land, water and biodiversity, while increasing productivity, especially of safe and healthy food.
As a complement to SLM, the GEF has also committed to promoting land degradation neutrality (LDN). In 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), embraced LDN as a clear and straightforward approach to reconciling 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.
“The GEF’s Land Degradation focal area is anchored in its role as a financial mechanism for the Rio Conventions. Specifically, our work supports the 2018 – 2030 Strategic Framework of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), as well as the priorities of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In this way, it also contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Since 2006, when land degradation became a focal area, the GEF has invested more than US$876 million 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. 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.
The intrusion of salt water into Senegal’s Groundnut Basin combined with recurrent droughts have led to impoverishment, food insecurity and the subsequent migration of land users. With support from the GEF, the government of Senegal improved the soil through crops that involved use of the peanut shell (which is rich in calcium ions and enhances infiltration capacity), and the integration of adaptive species into salt-affected areas. Through a participatory process, the project tested peanut shells with two staple food crops — millet and maize production — and showed significantly high yields.