Main Issue

Land and forests are intimately connected to how people live, particularly in remote and rural areas. The Congo Basin forest, for example, is home to 24 million people. Most of them rely on forests for their livelihoods. 

Agriculture, forestry, and other land uses — known as AFOLU — is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but it can also be part of the solution. Converting forests into agricultural land emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Using sustainable forest and land management practices can instead help those ecosystems retain and store significant amounts of carbon. While emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, which make up about 12% of total global emissions today, are on a declining trend, agricultural emissions, currently at 12% of the global total, are projected to grow through 2030, driven by population growth and changes in dietary preferences in developing economies. 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AFOLU accounted for 24 percent of the total anthropic emissions in 2010, including 11 percent from forestry and other land uses. Through more sustainable use of lands and forests, along with adoption of climate-smart agriculture techniques, it may be possible balance the needs of people with the environment.

Land: Keeping carbon in the land (sequestration) can mitigate climate change through “avoided” emissions. Techniques include converting non-forest land to forests; planting trees or allowing forests to regenerate naturally; restoring peatlands; and converting crop land to permanent pasture. 

Forests: Mixing trees with crops (agroforestry) or with forage and livestock (silvopasture) can also be effective ways to sequester carbon. What’s more, these tactics are compatible with sustainable forest management (SFM) as well as climate-smart agriculture (use of perennials, low till or no-till practices, good fertilizer and feed management, and soil fertility techniques). 

What We Do

The GEF supports a broad range of activities in the AFOLU sector. These include increasing afforestation and reforestation; defining conservation areas to secure carbon sinks; securing and establishing positive incentives for sustainable management of forests; and building systems to monitor, verify, and report on carbon stocks. Some projects are focused regionally or globally and involve more than one country. Many complement our work on biodiversity, climate change adaptation, and/or land degradation. 

GEF projects cover the spectrum of land-use categories, as defined by the IPCC. These include reducing deforestation and forest degradation, enhancing carbon stocks in non-forest lands, and management of peatlands. 

Governance: GEF projects support good management practices with local communities. They strengthen networks of stakeholders and build capacity of national and local institutions.

AFOLU management practices: The GEF funds projects that strengthen management of carbon sinks, diversify livelihoods and build capacity for improved forest management. For example, we support protection of carbon reservoirs in peatlands, and the technology needed to restore such sinks, as well as reforestation. 

Climate-smart agriculture: The GEF supports a wide range of mitigation activities in the agricultural sector. These range from improved soil management and fertilizer methods to maintaining soil fertility and better livestock management. We also help control slash and burn shifting agriculture and open burning practices. Ultimately, we aim for the triple win of promoting food security, mitigating climate change and strengthening resilience of agricultural systems. 

Financial mechanisms: The GEF helps finance incentives to improve mitigation practices in forest, agriculture and land management or develop new ones. This can include insurance and risk guarantees, green subsidies for agriculture and training for farmers. 

Monitoring, verification and reporting (MRV): The GEF supports a variety of tools to improve measurement of changes to carbon stocks, including mapping systems with high resolution satellite imagery and field work. Our efforts complement the United Nations collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) that builds national inventories and other strategies.

Pilot projects: Where appropriate, the GEF funds pilot projects to reduce net emissions from AFOLU and to enhance carbon stocks. We look for synergies with our work on sustainable forest management, biodiversity, and land degradation. 


GEF investments are realizing the synergies between resilience and global environmental benefits in agriculture. The GEF’s Integrated Approach Pilot to Foster Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa has been developed to work with smallholder farmers in 12 African countries to protect and enhance the ecosystem services provided by lands, water, and forests that underpin food security and rural livelihoods. The program brings $116 million of GEF resources completing $800 million of co-financing. The Food Security program aims to enhance long-term sustainability and resilience over 10 million ha of production landscapes, reduce 10-20 million tCO2e, improve genetic diversity of 15% in productive landscapes, and reach 2-3 million beneficiary households.

Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) adopted by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is defined as “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems.” LDN has become a strong vehicle for driving the implementation of the UNCCD through support provided by the GEF to an LDN Target Setting Program targeting 60 developing countries. Since then, twenty projects have been developed investing approximately $80 million of GEF grant resources to address LDN. In addition to the usual enabling activities under UNCCD, five global/regional projects included activities related to the development of capacities and tools, including LDN.

Looking Ahead

In GEF-7, the GEF will seek to take advantage of new opportunities to foster a transformational shift to a more sustainable food and land-use system. For example, natural climate solutions, such as forest conservation and restoration, and improved land management practices, including safeguards for food, fiber, and habitat, can provide over one-third of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to stabilize warming below 2°C.

Government willingness to tackle this grand challenge is on the rise, and momentum has been building in the private sector and civil society as well. The Food and Land Use Coalition was created in 2017 as a public-private partnership dedicated to the transition toward a sustainable food and land-use system. Since the development of the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture in 2010, the crucial role of agriculture and the power of the soils within an integrated landscape approach has been increasingly recognized through the establishment of partnerships or initiatives, bringing together varied stakeholders from the public and private sectors, research institutes, and NGOs.

The Impact Program on Food Systems, Land Use, and Restoration offers a timely opportunity for addressing the underlying drivers of unsustainable food systems and land use change by helping countries take a more holistic and system-wide approach The Program’s focus on deforestation-free commodities accelerates and scales up efforts to eliminate deforestation and other habitat conversion from agricultural supply chains — which accounts for a significant proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. Building on a successful pilot program from GEF-6, GEF-7 will deepen engagement on beef, palm oil, and soy supply chains, and broaden focus to include cocoa and coffee. Maintaining natural habitat is a critical aspect of the long-term pathway toward more sustainable food systems and land use, especially in the tropical forest regions.