Land-related issues will continue to threaten global stability, especially if the effects of climate change exacerbate existing problems. Deforestation and unsustainable land use have degraded soils, altered rainfall patterns, and increased the incidence of extreme weather events, especially in Africa. Continent-wide, 65% of land has been degraded, and 3% of agricultural GDP is lost annually, owing to soil and nutrient loss on farmland.
Fortunately, there are ways to reverse land degradation, while simultaneously augmenting crop yields and household incomes. Tree planting on degraded land, for example, can increase agricultural productivity by anchoring farmland, increasing soil fertility, and providing shade for crops and livestock.
After farmers in Malawi expanded their tree cover, crop yields increased by 50-100%. And, as a Kenyan maize farmer told me, “No trees, no rain.” Indeed, farmers have always intuitively known what scientists are now confirming: trees and other vegetation can stimulate more rainfall.
Land restoration is not a choice; it is a necessity. If African countries’ land is not salvaged, they will fall into a vicious cycle of poverty and political turmoil, similar to what we are now witnessing in Ethiopia. More severely degraded land is tougher to restore, so every day restoration is delayed is a lost opportunity for the environment, the economy, and peace.
Photo of Ethiopian farmer via Adobe Stock.
Author: Sofia Faruqi, manager of the New Restoration Economy initiative at the World Resources Institute.