Damage to land, primarily for food production, jeopardizes the ability to feed the world’s growing population.
Human-caused damage to land around the world is accelerating, with up to 40% now classified as degraded, while half the world’s population suffers the effects, according to UN data.
The world’s ability to feed a growing population is threatened by increasing damage, most of which is caused by food production. Women in the developing world are particularly affected as they often have no legal title to land and can be evicted if conditions are difficult.
Degraded lands, which have been depleted of natural resources, soil fertility, water, biodiversity, trees or native vegetation, are found all over the planet.
Many people think of degraded land as arid deserts, rainforests mutilated by loggers, or areas covered by urban sprawl, but it also includes seemingly “green” areas that are intensively cultivated or devoid of vegetation. natural.
Growing food on degraded land is becoming increasingly difficult as soils are rapidly being depleted and water resources are depleted. Degradation also contributes to the loss of plant and animal species and can exacerbate the climate crisis by reducing the Earth’s ability to absorb and store carbon.
Producing food degrades the land
Most of the damage caused by people comes from food production, but the consumption of other goods, such as clothing, also contributes greatly. Much of the degradation is most visible in developing countries, but the main cause of overconsumption occurs in the rich world, for example in the increased consumption of meat, which requires far more resources than growing vegetables. , and fast fashion, worn briefly then discarded.
Without urgent action, the degradation will spread further. By 2050, an area the size of South America will add to the death toll if current damage rates continue, according to the Global Land Outlook 2 report.
Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, said: “Land degradation affects food, water, carbon and biodiversity. This reduces GDP, affects people’s health, reduces access to clean water and worsens drought.”
Restoring degraded land can be as simple as changing farming methods to terracing and contouring, leaving land fallow or planting nutritious cover crops, practicing rainwater harvesting and storage, or to regrow trees to prevent deforestation and soil erosion.
Many farmers do not take these steps due to pressure to produce, lack of knowledge, poor local governance or lack of access to resources. However, for every dollar spent on restoration, the UN estimates a return of $7 to $30 in increased production and other benefits.
It can be restored but…
Thiaw called on governments and the private sector to invest $1.6 trillion over the next decade to restore the health of some 1 billion hectares of degraded land, an area the size of the United States or the China.
This would be just a small fraction of the $700 billion spent each year on agriculture and fossil fuel subsidies, but would protect the planet’s soils, water resources and fertility.
“All farmers, big and small, can practice regenerative agriculture,” he told the Guardian. “There are a variety of techniques and you don’t need high tech or a PhD to use them.”
Thiaw said: “Modern agriculture has changed the face of the planet more than any other human activity. We urgently need to rethink our global food systems, which are responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater use and the leading cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss.
According to the report, about half of the world’s annual economic output, or about $44 trillion a year, is at risk due to land degradation. But the economic benefit of restoring degraded land could amount to $125-140 trillion per year, 50% more than the $93 trillion in global GDP recorded by 2021.
Only the second such report published, the Global Land Outlook 2 report took the UN five years to compile with 21 partner organizations and represents the most comprehensive database of global land knowledge to date.
By Fiona Harvey. Articles in English