Redressing the land degradation scar through restoration

23 October, 2013 by (comments)

By Paul Vlek and Lulseged Tamene

This blog originally appeared on the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) blog on 23 October 2013 and is part of the Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog’s month-long series on Restoring Landscapes.

Getting the basics right

Considering the issues of land degradation and what might fit the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems theme NOW, it is evidently clear that emphasis and priority should be given to ‘getting the basics right’. This will lay the foundation for managing land degradation through sustainable land management and restoration.

Unless clear indicators and thresholds are established, it will not only be difficult to communicate objectively about the severity of land degradation to NGOs, planners, decision makers, and other relevant stakeholders, but it will also be difficult to monitor trends and design problem-oriented, site-specific management options. Below we highlight some of the fundamental issues that need to be addressed and established to tackle land degradation, restore degraded areas and sustainably manage our resources.

Land degradation and its level of destruction. Photo Credit: Kifle W. Aregay/Mekelle University, Ethiopia
Land degradation and its level of destruction. Photo: Kifle W. Aregay/Mekelle Univ., Ethiopia

The trace of pressure on resources can be dated back to the beginning of civilization. When society started cultivating crops and rearing animals thousands of years ago, it effectively amplified its pressure on planet earth, its ecosystems and functions. When trying to manage productivity decline through chemical fertilizers and insecticides, society adds further pressure that can affect the resistance of land to external forces and, unless properly managed, can speed up degradation. With more mouths to feed under declining land quality, society’s increasing desire to eat better, dress well and its ability to invent and deploy sophisticated technologies increases the pressure on already constrained resources.

As recently as a century ago, resources were relatively ample and with the ‘luxury’ of space, farmers abandoned degraded areas enabling them to recover. Over the past decades, however, land degradation accelerated over 36 times its historical rate.

Currently the cost of land degradation reaches about US$490 billion per year, much higher than the cost of action to prevent it.

To rectify this we should first get the basics right: credible quantitative information about current status, drivers, indicators, thresholds, and spatial variability.

Read the full post on the WLE blog.


About the Authors:

Paul Vlek is a Professor at the University of Bonn. He is the Director of the Center for Development Research (ZEF) Div. Ecology and Natural Resources. He is also the Executive Director of WASCAL, West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use.

Lulseged Tamene is a Scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), based at the Chitedze Agricultural Research Station, Malawi.


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