Smart Solutions for Land Degradation

Land degradation is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. Drought and desertification destroys 12 million hectares a year (an area the size of Greece) and impacts 1.5 billion people – mainly the poor and underprivileged. It is mostly caused by human activity: poor agricultural practices, intensive farming methods that remove soil nutrients, flood irrigation, chemical pollution, etc. We are now running out of healthy soil, so critical for ecosystems to support life and human development.

Caux2013panelI was recently a guest speaker of Luc Gnacadja (Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification) and Martin Frick, the conveners of the Caux Forum Conference on “Land Degradation and Human Security”. Human rights activist Bianca Jagger opened the session with a keynote emphasizing that environmental, social and economic challenges are all connected. She noted that the dramatic weather conditions we are experiencing today are the result of “only” 0.8°C of warming – questioning how political leaders can say that 2°C of warming would be safe. Our lack of action to curb emissions puts us on a path towards much higher temperatures, climate disruptions that are impacting ecosystems, water and degrading productive soil around the world.

The good news on land degradation is that there are solutions and they do not require high technology or large investments as many would think. With just a “pocket knife” Tony Rinaudo explains that we can bring back to life trees and vegetation in areas that were turning into deserts. He says that it is not the average climate change temperature rises that are a problem but the extremes. Just one day at 46°C is enough to fry an entire annual crop as the temperature concentrates at ground level reaching a scorching 70°C! But trees can provide protection from such extreme temperatures, they maintain moisture, increase biodiversity, can help protect crops from pests and can dramatically increase yields. Reforestation can provide hope to the entire African continent.

As Allan Savory says in ancient times herds of animals were protecting lands from desertification. These herds are now gone and the land is degrading. Allan suggests that the use of cattle to “mimic” nature, a process called “bio-mimicry”, can help restore degraded lands. Check his TED talk:

Caux2013We often forget the long-lasting impacts on land of armed conflicts. The Gulf War resulted in the largest terrestrial oil spill in history and has permanently contaminated Kuwait’s groundwater. Industrial activity and toxic chemicals pollute water, soil and impact the lives of millions. Globally, obsolete pesticide stockpiles of 5 million tons are awaiting destruction. Their safe elimination will cost €20 billion and require the cooperation of civil society, governments and the private sector. More on that soon.

Yes, human activity has created these problems and time is running out. But through ingenuity and cooperation we can still repair and restore degraded lands and ecosystems. Even some of the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided. Innovative, low-tech and low-cost solutions are available. Their deployment at scale requires greater awareness and concerted action between government, business and civil society. The Caux Forum has become an important global platform to make this happen.

Those were my thoughts on this issue, I am looking forward to hearing yours.

26 thoughts on “Smart Solutions for Land Degradation

  1. A’ propos warming, there’s is a simple example which pictures this process. It could be very useful in environmental education for children, when we need to explain complex issues. What’s our immune system reaction caused by just 1 degree body temperature increase, from 36,6 to 37,6? Pain, sickness…


    • Thanks for the suggestion – this is a great way to illustrate a concept that may be difficult to understand. A few years ago President Putin said jokingly that a few extra degrees in Russia during winter time may not be a bad idea. Given the recent climate disruptions in Russia he no longer jokes about climate change.


  2. Excellent Blog. Very thought provoking and equally shocking by the simplicity of the actions we can pose to make a radical difference in our world. The old adage of “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” comes to mind, n’est-ce-pas?


  3. I was really impressed by Allan Savoury’s talk on reclaiming deserts through animal biomimicry. It seems almost too simple to be true. I also forget, day to day, how most of the people live in the world struggling only to survive and eat. There needs to be a reconnection with my lifestyle and the responsibility that goes with having it towards others that do not. Awareness is always the first place to start. Thanks.


  4. First off I want to say terrific blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if
    you do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
    I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my
    thoughts out there. I do take pleasure in writing however it just
    seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to
    figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Appreciate


    • Hello Roxanna, thanks for the kind comments and the interesting question. I asked several bloggers (whose blogs I liked) how they develop their content. You can check out Bill Becker (Huffington Post), Constantine Alexander or John Zimmer. You can also take a look at the blog my wife writes (I would be keen on your thoughts). Each has a different focus, style and approach but I find their material interesting and never get tired of reading them.

      I often get inspiration from speeches I prepare for conferences and from events I participate in. I like to discuss the ideas with several people from different backgrounds in order to widen my perspectives on a certain topic. I then put all my ideas or key words and the logic of the article on paper before I start typing. I also reread carefully the whole article several times. With each review I make changes and refinements. Certainly it takes time.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Kind regards, Adam


  5. Have you ever considered creating an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?
    I have a blog based upon on the same subjects you discuss and
    would really like to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my subscribers would enjoy your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e-mail.


  6. Pingback: Economists and the Mounting Cost of Natural Decline | Adam Koniuszewski

  7. Pingback: Celebrating The World Day to Combat Desertification | Adam Koniuszewski

  8. My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your post’s to be just what
    I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content available for you?
    I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on many of the subjects you
    write in relation to here. Again, awesome website!


  9. I like the blog. I have questions like (1) how a land degraded due to intensive cropping could be restore? (2) how degraded hills/mountain could be naturally reforested? (3) how coastal land could be protected from salinity intrusion?


    • Hello Jalal, indeed these are very good question. While I cannot respond to everything here I will start with your question on salinization and provide an article on that shortly. If you are interested in these topics I also suggest the forum on Land degradation that takes place every summer in Caux – it is well worth it!


  10. Thank you Adam for this wonderful post. I have recently had the opportunity to speak with Hans Herren who started Biovision in Switzerland. They are working on beautiful projects and bringing life back into the land. Their newspapers and programs to help communities build strong best practices are being shared in Kenya some other countries in Africa, and they could be shared further.


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