Countries worldwide have pledged through the UN Convention to Combat Desertification to halt, and then reverse, land degradation that is affecting the health of soils and ecosystems globally.
Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) is an innovative approach to achieve this: it aims to prevent and reduce strains on land health while also reversing past damage. The ultimate goal is to achieve a balance where there is no net loss of healthy, productive land on a national and eventually international scale.
But how can leaders turn this concept from reality in practice?
The Global Environment Facility has been actively supporting countries’ efforts to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality through different initiatives over the past decade.
In its sixth replenishment cycle (GEF-6), from 2014 to 2018, it supported the UNCCD’s LDN Target Setting Process through a project that applies the LDN response hierarchy to avoid, reduce, and reverse land degradation as developed in the scientific conceptual framework that defines the national LDN target setting for 77 countries.
Subsequently, in the GEF's 2018 to 2022 funding period (GEF-7), the land degradation focal area strategy was fully aligned with LDN. More recently, an LDN approach has shown great potential to serve as an integrative framework for improving land-based natural capital and generating global environmental outcomes, and for achieving objectives of the GEF-8 Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Program.
To foster adoption of LDN as a policy priority, and to facilitate the exchange of information about challenges and lessons learned in this area, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the GEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Water and Ecological Transition in Ecuador, organized a regional workshop on Land Degradation Neutrality that gathered together leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean.
The workshop in Quito, Ecuador, brought together representatives from 13 countries that have pursued LDN projects, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkiye, Uruguay, and Venezuela, along with UNCCD's focal points and representatives of other organizations. Turkiye was invited to participate in the workshop to share their extensive experience with LDN practices and their development of a Decision Support System related to this area.
Throughout the workshop, practitioners and technical experts shared their experiences implementing LDN in different countries. One of the important concepts of these LDN projects highlighted during the workshop was the value of an inclusive approach.
Pablo Caza, from Ecuador, highlighted his country's achievements in revising LDN targets, first developed in 2017, through multi-stakeholder engagement, including with agricultural authorities. Ecuador is developing action plans related to LDN through collaboration with various ministries and stakeholders, including local governments and small-scale farmers.
Enrique Vargas, from FAO Panama, discussed the challenges of gender mainstreaming – engaging with more women on land use management and planning – in LDN since most landowners in the country are men. Sibel Tekin from FAO Turkiye shared experiences from efforts to address gender mainstreaming in LDN by engaging and empowering women through farmers' field schools.
Harold Gutierrez, from Nicaragua’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, also showcased his country’s management of ecosystem services in high-value pine forests by Indigenous communities, which played a crucial role in maintaining pine forests as a source of livelihood for Indigenous Peoples.
Promoting secure tenure rights and equitable access to land and forests was identified as another critical factor in achieving LDN, as it remains challenging in many countries.
For instance, in Ecuador, land tenure issues can extend beyond the mandate of a single ministry and the scope of individual projects. The GEF-funded project LDN Target-Setting and Restoration of Degraded Landscapes in Western Andes and Coastal areas addressed this through the provision of incentives for local governments to prioritize land tenure issues. Representatives also shared experiences from other countries, including Venezuela, where national and local authorities and farmers have worked together to support more sustainable agroforestry and other activities.
The workshop facilitated significant learning among participants.
Another area of interest was countries’ experiences with participatory monitoring, which involves engaging multiple stakeholders in target setting related to sustainable land use.
During the workshop, Panama expressed an interest in organizing stakeholder consultations to establish local LDN targets and participatory monitoring, instead of general project monitoring as a process.
Participants from other countries, including Bolivia and Uruguay, also noted the ways LDN could help enhance policy coherence and foster collaboration across diverse ministries and agencies, such as agriculture and environment ministries.
Several participants also noted the way in which sustainable land management, including through the pursuit of Land Degradation Neutrality, could help other environmental goals - including climate change mitigation and adaptation, and biodiversity conservation.
Integrated land use planning forms the foundation for achieving LDN, by leveraging critical information about different aspects including land degradation status and potential, socio-economic factors, and gender considerations.
The workshop highlighted the potential of this through presentations about the geographical information-based Decision Support System – a tool for integrated land use planning and monitoring.
This was first developed in Turkiye, supported by the GEF project Contributing to Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting by Demonstrating the LDN Approach in the Upper Sakarya Basin for Scaling up at National Level. Its development occurred in collaboration with the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies, a global network focused on sustainable land management knowledge sharing.
The Decision Support System has since been successfully implemented in more than 18 countries including Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Panama, and they introduced its practical application. The system facilitates data access, integration, and reporting to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and others.
With its focus on promoting integrated land use planning and incorporating LDN objectives into the full range of its projects, the GEF aims to advance efforts to protect and restore soil and ecosystem health and contribute to sustainable land management worldwide.
By incorporating the best practices and lessons learned from various countries, as shared in workshops such as that held in Quito, people working on Land Degradation Neutrality projects and policies are helping to ensure that LDN can shift from concept to reality, providing a path to conserve and restore land resources in different countries and regions.