17 June 2024
Land Restoration: Our Legacy for Generations to Come
Photo Credit: Lynn Wagner
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This year, on Desertification and Drought Day, UNCCD is shining a light on the future of land stewardship and the importance of youth.

We must ensure that ancestral knowledge of the land is preserved and shared, and we must put land stewardship at the center of sustainable development so that younger generations can live off healthy land, and the world can be food secure.

By Tiina Vähänen and Moctar Sacande, FAO

Future generations deserve a lifeline. But with more than 40% of the Earth’s land classified as degraded and with scientists predicting that this could reach over 90% by 2050, the wellbeing of those to come is increasingly at risk.

This is why every 17 June, the UN marks Desertification and Drought Day and calls on the world to support all efforts to restore degraded land. This year, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is shining a light on the future of land stewardship and the importance of youth.

Healthy land provides us with a lot more than what we might expect. First and foremost, it supplies us with almost 95% of our food. It also generates employment, protects us from the effects of climate change, and clothes us. The ongoing loss of land is having devastating effects on multiple fronts – and will only get worse if it’s not halted or reversed.

The ramifications are varied and multifaceted. Crop yields would decrease, putting rural livelihoods at risk, driving up food prices and aggravating food insecurity. Habitat loss would result in increased carbon emissions, reduced biodiversity, and fewer protective barriers between us and the effects of climate change, like floods and wildfires. Desertification and drought are also drivers of forced migration. Each year, tens of millions of people are at risk of displacement due to these environmental challenges – and that alone can cause global ripple effects.

We must take urgent action to reverse this trend. But how?

Ecosystem restoration offers hope for a thriving planet and people. It aims to reverse damage, restore habitats, and bring back biodiversity. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration recognizes this potential and acts as a global call to action to revive billions of hectares, covering both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Countries have also committed to the Bonn Challenge in a bid to restore at least 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2030.

But there is still a long road ahead to achieve the land degradation-neutral world set out in the SDGs. And its success depends largely on youth as key changemakers.

In Africa, for example, efforts are being made to ensure that young people on the ground are involved in the development of the Great Green Wall – an African-led restoration initiative spread across the Sahel, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east.

It’s no secret that African youth have the power to transform their communities through innovative change. However, they are also up against some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Few regions are as vulnerable as the African continent when it comes to sustainable land management (SLM), land restoration, and the effects of climate change. As much as 65% of productive land in Africa is degraded, while desertification affects 45% of the land area. It’s also seeing the world’s greatest increase in the severity and frequency of droughts.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has been contributing to the Great Green Wall restoration initiative since 2015, reaching more than 100,000 households across ten countries and contributing to the restoration and re-vegetation of 100,000 hectares of land, among other projects.

Across the world, FAO’s land restoration model brings together several key elements in a delicate balance of technological innovations, plant science, Indigenous knowledge, and community participation.

For example, communities prioritize native species that produce fruit, nuts, and seeds to improve the availability of nutrients and healthy foods and support the development of value chains. Particular emphasis is placed on supporting women and youth through non-timber forest products value-chain activities and on encouraging them to contribute to management committees of restored lands. The close involvement of local communities and their knowledge of native plants also creates an incentive for sustainable post-planting management, contributing to an average of 60% seed survival and growth rate after three rainy seasons.

These efforts can lead us in the right direction, but only if young people everywhere in the world are also involved.

We must ensure that ancestral knowledge of the land is preserved and shared, and we must put land stewardship at the center of sustainable development so that younger generations can live off healthy land, and the world can be food secure. Let sustainable land management, which balances science, technology, and traditional knowledge, be a lifeline towards a greener future for future generations.

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Tiina Vähänen is Deputy Director of, and Moctar Sacande is International Project Coordinator at, Forestry Division, FAO.


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