Main Issue

In most developing countries, sustainable land management (SLM) opens up major opportunities for both the environment and the people who depend on it. SLM enables farmers to intensify existing land more sustainably, enhancing productivity without degrading land resources. It also ensures improved management of agro-ecosystem services across production systems, reduces pressure on natural resources and helps improve and sustain economic productivity and environmental sustainability.

For many countries, the challenge of achieving SLM comes down to short-term profit over long-term sustainability. Decision-makers, for example, will often replace natural forests with plantations or farm land. Those ready to adopt SLM approaches may face economic, institutional or other kinds of barriers, and lack knowledge and technology innovations to overcome them.

The three Rio Conventions have overlapping concerns regarding biodiversity loss, land degradation and deforestation, including implications for livelihoods and food security. As a result, there is potential for greater synergy among the CBDUNCCD and UNFCCC. Through adoption of SLM, countries can implement the conventions in a collaborative way that address climate change, introduce renewable energy technologies and combat deforestation.

What We Do

As financing mechanism of the Rio Conventions, the GEF is the world’s largest source of funding for sustainable land management. We focus on desertification and deforestation through removal of economic, policy, knowledge and institutional barriers to SLM. In so doing, we help build a foundation to improve the livelihood of millions or rural people who rely on agriculture to survive.

The GEF has been a major catalyst of innovations in sustainable land management. Such innovative approaches, for example, have helped conserve biodiversity and agrobiodiversity, reduced risk of pollution and degradation of water resources and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased sustainability and resiliency. Our investments in SLM can serve as an important entry point to promote climate-smart agriculture and food security.

The GEF channels most of its investments in SLM through the Land Degradation focal area. Our priorities are linked to the UNCDD objectives, enabling countries to deliver on commitments toward implementation of the convention. We help strengthen national-level processes for SLM such as capacity building, institutional collaboration, knowledge management, and mainstreaming across sectors. On the ground, GEF projects improve livelihoods and economic well-being of local communities, as well as preserve or restore ecosystems.

GEF’s Land Degradation Focal Area strategy in GEF-7 (2018-2022) has the overarching goals of aligning GEF support to promote UNCCD’s land degradation neutrality (LDN) concept through an appropriate mix of investments, to seek effective integration within the Impact Programs for generation of multiple benefits, and to harness private capital and expertise to finance investments in sustainable land management in cooperation with the LDN Fund and other innovative financing mechanisms. 

The LD Focal Area allocation for GEF-7 is $475 million, an increase of 10 percent compared to GEF-6.

It is expected that these investments contribute to the overall corporate targets of GEF-7 to bring 320 million hectares under improved management, to restore 6 million hectares of degraded landscapes, and to mitigate 1.5 billion tCO2e in greenhouse gas emissions.

GEF’s Impact Programs form a major component of the GEF delivery towards combating land degradation and deforestation. Specifically, the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration (FOLUR) Impact Program provides the opportunity for an integrated approach to implementing SLM. It targets countries seeking to meet growing demand for increased crop and livestock production, without the risk of further expansion of farmland, erosion of genetic diversity, overexploitation of land and water resources, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and inefficient practices that lead to greenhouse gas emissions and food loss and waste. Private sector involvement is important to link smallholder producers and pastoralists to markets, introduce sustainable supply chains, and create stable revenues from agricultural commodities.

Restoration of productive landscapes features as an important element of this program, especially in degraded agro-forestry systems. Countries have pledged to restore more than 200 million hectares of land through various landscape restoration initiatives such as the Bonn Challenge, Africa 100, and the Initiative 20 x 20 in Latin America. The GEF enables countries to deliver on these commitments through investments that will shift degraded lands into production systems for food and commodities. A sustainable supply chain including production, processing, and demand for key agricultural commodities is vital for achieving LDN.

Furthermore, the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Impact Program focuses on globally important biomes such as the Amazon and the Congo Basin, and selected dryland ecoregions. In the latter, the Impact Program seeks to avoid further degradation and deforestation in drylands through the sustainable management of production landscapes, addressing the complex nexus of land degradation, climate change, livelihoods, and environmental security. The objective of the Dryland Sustainable Landscapes Program is to avoid, reduce, and reverse further degradation, desertification, and deforestation of land and ecosystems in drylands, through the sustainable management of production landscapes. The program will transform the management of drylands in selected regions and countries, establishing the basis for carrying out of sustainable dryland management to regional and global levels. The program will focus specifically on three dryland regions: the Miombo and Mopane ecosystems of southern Africa (with participating countries Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe); the savannas of west Africa (Burkina Faso); and the temperate grasslands, riparian forests, and shrublands of Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Mongolia).


Since 2006, the GEF has invested more than $1.0 billion in 220 integrated land management projects. These funds have leveraged another $3 billion from partners. Together, the GEF's SLM portfolio has placed over 143 million hectares under sustainable land management, benefitting more than 80 million smallholders. Our achievements have reinforced humanity’s capacity to harness goods and services from nature and transform them into sustainable production landscapes.

The Great Green Wall Initiative is “greening” Africa from west to east by establishing a wide belt of sustainable land management schemes to tackle desertification. In so doing, it is helping communities in the sustainable management and use of landscapes including forests and trees, rangelands and other natural resources. By 2019, some 1.5 million hectares of lands and forests were being managed sustainably. This was contributing to better carbon sequestration and increased resilience of the region’s ecosystems and livelihoods. To date, at least 22 million people have benefited.