Land Degradation Endangers Livelihoods and Climate

The land on our planet is rapidly degrading, causing a chain reaction of loss of livelihood, hunger, land-use change, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and human migration. A recent scientific study on global land degradation estimates that 23% of global land is already degraded, at the unfathomable rate of 5-10 million hectares per year. Climate change exasperates the chain reaction of land degradation.

© Keerthi Bandru

Large scale land restoration and effective soil protection are vital for the achievement of many of the sustainable development goals, as well as for climate change adaptation and mitigation, recognition of which is visible on many levels, not least in the INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions under the UNFCCC-process). A number of large scale land restoration initiatives will be launched in Paris at the COP21, and the Global Landscapes Forum, the leading platform for the discussion of land- use issues taking place from 5-6 December 2015. With an expected 3000 stakeholders from forestry agriculture, water, energy, law, and finance, is the largest side event to the COP FCCC climate negotiations. Pledges for restoration and protection of degraded soils make a real contribution to climate protection when the further conversion of forest land to farm land can be avoided through restoration and protection of farm land (more here and here). Sustainable land management (SLM) techniques on agricultural soils can support climate change mitigation through the increase of soil organic carbon, (UNCCD, 2015). 

Restoring soil fertility through land restoration is a win-win-win opportunity:

  1. Food security through a better capacity to produce food
  2. Climate adaption through a more resilient agriculture
  3. Climate mitigation through the increase of soil organic carbon in soils 

Land restoration provides a triple win for small scale farmers on the front lines of climate change.

The most compelling benefit from the perspective of small holder farmers who provide subsistence for their families is the potential for climate change adaption to make their farms more productive and resilient. Support for small holder farmers is crucial for efforts to reach globally agreed goals to end hunger. The International Food Policy Research Institute reports that in In Asia 85% of farmland is cultivated by families with an average farm size of 1 hectare, and in Africa 62% of cultivated land is managed by small holders with an average farm size of 2.2 hectares. These small holder famers are often at the front lines of climate change. While it is thus important to include smallholder land in initiatives for restoration and protection, the overarching aim must be first to improve livelihoods of those living off the land.

Engage with us in the discussion!

IASS/ IDDRI Session at the Global Landscapes Forum: Large scale soil restoration for climate change adaptation, mitigation and food security – what’s in it for smallholder farmers?

A discussion of the conditions for a human rights approach to large scale restoration took place at a session organized by the IASS and IDDRI at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris. Realizing the implementation of ambitious land restoration goals on the ground in an inclusive manner will require the participation of stakeholders affected locally. In order to incorporate a most broad range of perspectives, we invite you to participate in the discourse by giving input on best practice examples, and concerns for livelihood security from a rights based perspective. Please use the comment function of this blog, or send your comments directly to carolin.sperk[at]

Bridging Knowledge!

  • Practitioners implementing restoration & rehabilitation projects in developing countries: Share your experience about projects that integrate livelihood approaches or follow an inclusive approach in general.
  • NGOs & other grass-roots actors: What are the dangers and pitfalls of increased land values? How could initiatives take precautions to protect the poor and vulnerable? Share your experience of approaches of empowerment & inclusive/ participatory planning. What has worked and what has not?
  • Scientists working on land use, land management & governance: Share your knowledge on the integration of food security goals and climate goals in measures for SPR, carbon storage via soil management; implementation mechanisms, balancing potentially competing demands
  • Finance community: Share your experience of best practice examples that show, how increasing food security and protecting the climate can result in feasible investment cases

Further session questions:

  • How to include strategies to improve livelihoods of smallholder farmers within soil protection and rehabilitation initiatives?
  • Criteria for the following: project selection, rehabilitation area, or project success evaluation of the success of projects?
  • How to ensure inclusive processes for planning, implementation and monitoring of land restoration programmes that contribute to fair and equal distribution of benefits?
  • Lessons from Clean Development Mechanism projects
  • Role of the new climate regime and instruments such as the Green Climate Fund to support sustainable land management and livelihood improvement in smallholder contexts

One thought on “Large scale soil restoration for climate change adaptation, mitigation and food security – what’s in it for smallholder farmers?

  • 25 April 2016 at 3:16 am

    I was a development practitioner for 12 years in my country. I believe in poor people’s empowerment and exercising their rights, accountability and responsibility to live and be out from poverty. The challenge is how to do it in a sustainable way. If given the chance again to be in direct contact with the communities with degraded resources and poor soil fertility i would do it again. I can still be a facilitator for them to restore the degraded environment and soil condition.


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