100 million hectares of arable land lost yearly to degradation, shows UN report

Eastern and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean regions experience the most severe degradation

By Zumbish
Published: Wednesday 25 October 2023
Photo: iStock

From 2015-2019, the world lost at least 100 million hectares of healthy and productive land each year, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) data. This is twice the size of Greenland, it added.

Land degradation across all regions of the world is becoming worse at an astonishing rate, showed UNCCD’s first data dashboard compiling national figures from 126 countries launched October 24, 2023.

The launch, UNCCD stated, comes at a critical juncture as world leaders and experts will soon gather in Samarkand, Uzbekistan from November 13-17, 2023 for the 21st session of the committee. 

The planned assembly for the 21st session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention. At the scheduled event, delegates will review global progress made towards land degradation neutrality (LDN). 

They will also take up pressing issues like enhancing drought resilience, promoting women’s land rights and combating sand and dust storms. 

The proportion of land degraded varied according to the region, UNCCD data showed.

Eastern and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean regions experience the most severe degradation, affecting at least 20 per cent of their total land area.  

Sub-Saharan Africa, Western and Southern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced land degradation at rates faster than the global average, the analysts observed.

Notably, in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, 163 million hectares and 108 million hectares, respectively, succumbed to land degradation since 2015, they added. 

Proportion of degraded land, 2019

Bright spots

“As we gather in Uzbekistan next month, the message is clear: land degradation demands immediate attention,” said UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, highlighting the alarming situation across the globe.

“At the same time, we are seeing some ‘brightspots’ — countries effectively tackling desertification, land degradation and drought,” he added.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, Botswana reduced land degradation from 36 per cent to 17 per cent of its territory.

The country has committed a total 45.3 million hectares to land degradation neutrality, including both measures to avoid further degradation as well as restoration interventions in selected land degradation hotspots. 

Botswana also reported 1.42 million hectares as “brightspot” areas, or areas that have been rehabilitated by implementing appropriate remediation activities.

In the Dominican Republic, the proportion of degraded land has decreased from 49 per cent to 31 per cent between 2015 and 2019, with ongoing efforts to restore 240,000 hectares in the Yaque del Norte River basin and in cocoa production areas in San Franscisco de Macoris province.

While Uzbekistan reported the highest proportion of degraded land — 26.1 per cent in the Central Asia region, it also saw the largest decrease from 30 per cent to 26 per cent compared to 2015. 

Total three million hectares of land in Uzbekistan have been degraded due to the drying of the Aral Sea. From 2018-2022, Uzbekistan carried out saxaul planting on an area of 1.6 million hectares to eliminate salt and dust emissions from the drained bottom of the Aral Sea, the reported stated.

LDN goal

The UNCCD data goes on to warn if current trends (land degradation trends) persist, the world will need to restore a staggering 1.5 billion hectares of degraded land by 2030 to reach LDN targets enshrined in the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals.

UNCCD Chief Scientist Barron Orr said, “Although global trends are going in the wrong direction, it is still possible to not only meet but exceed land degradation neutrality goals. This can be done by stopping further degradation while accelerating efforts on existing commitments to restore one billion hectares of land by 2030 with funding and action hand-in-hand.”

In a promising commitment towards building a more resilient future, 109 countries have set voluntary LDN targets for 2030, with another 21 in the process of doing so, the report highlighted. 

“Between 2016 and 2019, around $5 billion in bilateral and multilateral sources flowed into global efforts to combat desertification, land degradation and drought. This helped 124 nations roll out a wide range of projects aimed at achieving land degradation neutrality and addressing the challenges posed by desertification, land degradation, and drought.”

UNCCD, as described by the convention, is a multilateral commitment to mitigating today’s impacts of land degradation and advancing tomorrow’s land stewardship in order to provide food, water, shelter and economic opportunity. 

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