Land degradation has become one of the world’s major problems facing policymakers, governments, and other stakeholders. This issue adds to the innumerable challenges facing human survival as a result of climate change: Land degradation has threatened food security, availability of fresh water, loss of biodiversity and siltation in water bodies.
According to a 2013 scientific report, losses associated with land degradation stood at 3.5-7.5% of the global GDP with developing countries recording 4-8% loss, North Africa, and West Asia dry lands both recorded a loss of 2-7%.
The growing population in developing countries, demand for food and farmlands as well as diminishing resources continue to push a larger portion of the population into poverty. This has made it difficult for people to integrate socio-economic principles with environmental concerns to enhance production, protect the natural resource potential, prevent soil and water degradation, leading to unsustainable economic benefits from land resource. As a result, people opt for alternative sources of livelihood which include overexploitation of forest products and poor management of land resources which become key drivers of land degradation.
For the 2 billion people living in drylands, land degradation can result to a loss of 8-10 million hectares of land per year. The World Bank and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) development indicators show that agriculture accounts for 43% of the total GDP in East Africa, but over 50% of the daily income does not accrue from the productivity of sustainable land productivity.
Consequently, the effects of environmental degradation directly affect the rural population living in a fragile ecosystem in marginal lands whereby their survival is closely intertwined with environmental degradation. East Africa is facing a high level of land degradation: a land degradation assessment report estimated that the Kenyan government incurs an annual economic loss of USD 390Million or 3% of the national GDP due to land degradation. This, in turn, affects 61.4% of the total land in Kenya.
The 15th goal of the Sustainable Development Goal 2030 agenda aims to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss”. The United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD) set a goal for “zero net land degradation” to reverse effects of degraded land and avoid further degradation in order to reduce the threat to food security and improve the livelihoods of poor people living vulnerable marginal lands.
A number of restoration programs that also have been initiated towards the restoring the land in Africa are now successfully implemented. One such project is the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), an ongoing project launched in 2015 brought together 15 African countries that pledged to restore 100 millions of hectares of degraded land by 2030. Afr100 registered an increase of 5million tree cover which, in turn, impacts the livelihoods of almost 2.5 million people in Niger.
Tangible restoration outcomes have also been witnessed in Ethiopia with the support of the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund. The fund has enabled farmers to restore 2,700 hectares of degraded and deforested land. In the Kagera Basin, sustainable land management techniques and approaches have helped tackle land degradation and climate change.
Sustainable land management models have been developed for land restoration purposes. Kenya and Zimbabwe carried out successful holistic land management programmes that incorporate sustainable management of environmental and social-economic activities.