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Feature Story

Supporting national efforts to restore Azerbaijan's degraded lands

February 5, 2021

Desert landscape with views of the Absheron Peninsula in Azerbaijan
A GEF-funded project implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Azerbaijan will seek to promote sustainable land management in the salt-affected landscapes of the Absheron Peninsula. Photo: Evgeny Starkov/Shutterstock

The Global Environment Facility’s latest work program includes a series of projects designed to help countries protect and regenerate nature amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is one of these projects. For details on the Council proceedings, please click here.

Azerbaijan’s farmlands are under pressure.

The land degradation underway in the country, whose ecosystems range from alpine meadows and temperate forest to wet tropical forest and dry steppe, is no small issue.

Agriculture is the country’s third-largest economic sector, after energy and construction, and employs more than a third of the country’s working population including many women. But in the absence of sustainable land management practices, the country is experiencing depleted lands and an increased vulnerability to food crises.

To reduce rising food security threats and support more sustainable land management practices in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency, the Global Environment Facility is financing a new initiative focused on strengthening Azerbaijan’s land health policies and improving land management monitoring mechanisms across the country.

The new project, to be led by Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and the Food and Agriculture Organization, will seek to promote sustainable land management by demonstrating its effectiveness in salt-affected landscapes in the Absheron Peninsula, which is home to more than 60 percent of Azerbaijan’s population and most of its industry.

“The project is going to support our efforts to develop and implement land degradation neutrality national targets through effective land management, leading to sustainable dryland agriculture and farming in the Absheron Peninsula,” said Rashad Allahverdiyev, representative of the GEF Operational Focal Point in Azerbaijan.

“Furthermore, this initiative will bring additional co-benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and biodiversity conservation. As Azerbaijan is now bringing back to life its liberated areas, these activities take on the special significance,” Allahverdiyev said.

The drivers of land degradation in Azerbaijan vary according to geography.

In the cooler, moister mountain region, these include over-grazing, uncontrolled logging, and the replacement of beech and oak forests with hornbeam and hornbeam-linden arboreal vegetation. In the Kur-Araz depression, the causes are aridity and heat, which lead to the salinization of soils, reducing crop yields and pasture productivity.

The Absheron Peninsula suffers from water scarcity and its soil is high in saline, while poor vegetative cover makes it vulnerable to wind erosion. Desertification caused by overpopulation and climate change has in recent years impaired the region’s main agricultural activities: sheep farming and wine growing.

The project team plans to engage with and teach farmers and authorities across a variety of landscapes. In areas with medium-level saline land that has been depleted by agricultural use, they will plant olive groves and other salt-tolerant tree species with potential to deliver both local and global environmental benefits.

Restoration of degraded land can offer local communities the ability to produce timber, biomaterials, and biofuels without competition from food production. At the same time, the trees can help with carbon sequestration and help protect soil from wind erosion.