With this in mind, some countries have taken on the challenge of, and been successful to varying degrees at restoring land.
In this guide, we outline a few examples of countries that have undertaken land restoration and re-greening of land affected by degradation such as soil erosion and desertification.
We also outline the things we can learn from these undertakings.
Summary – What We Can Learn From Land Restoration & Land Re-Greening In Different Countries
- Each region has different causes of land degradation, along with different local climates, conditions, pre existing soil profiles and makeup, farming practices, local knowledge – factors that make each area unique
- Each region therefore requires a different specific approach (one approach for one land restoration project won’t necessarily work for another), but some general principles can be applied to all projects. Rather than trying to introduce something new – trying to do what the region or area does well already or has done well in the past based on local conditions and knowledge is usually the best approach. New sustainable practices and testing can be done from there
- Land restoration at scale usually involves large amounts of investment from the government and private partners
- Changes can be seen as immediately as a few years, but over the course of several decades (10 to 30 years), large changes can be seen
- Benefits can be very wide ranging – provision of jobs, lifting people out of poverty, improvement of soil quality, meeting carbon sequestration goals, decreasing the risk of landslides and floods, improving biodiversity and a return of wildlife, and more
- There can also be cons and challenges such as farmers losing existing land and losing income in the short term if the government has to take over land rights and land operations. Some land is permanently converted/retired from cropland to forestland, and farmers lose their land permanently
- Land restoration and re-greening, although it generally provides improvement, is not a silver bullet type solution. Some of the success can depend on the existing soil profile or local conditions, and long term success is still a question in some areas with concerns such as continued incentive for farmers and citizens to keep land in a healthy state, and issues like a lack of crop diversity in some places leading to the same issues developed countries eventually face such as having to add agricultural chemicals to promote growth and yields
- It’s in the interest of the whole world to share lessons, information and data from land restoration projects so that future projects can be done more affordably, easily and effectively
Qianyanzhou Region in Jiangxi Province, Southern China
- In the 1980’s, this area faced severe soil erosion due to deforestation and unsustainable farming practices.
- … a government-backed land-use plan [saw] the upper hills reforested, citrus orchards planted on moderate slopes, and rice paddies in valley bottoms
- … farmers continued to grow cash crops such as peanuts, sesame and vegetables among the restored orchards, and breed Silkie chickens … in orchards and forest plantations. This ensured economic returns in the early stages of the project and helped improve soil fertility. As well as building dams and ponds, government agencies provided loans to households to help them get started
- Within a few years, this … land … was yielding higher incomes. Biodiversity and environmental quality, as well as the microclimate, improved.
- There were huge reforestry rates seen in just one decade
- [Reforestry can help significantly with climate change goals, but, other goals to do with lifting people out of poverty, providing jobs and economic development, providing clean water and sanitation, and more, can be achieved with reforestry and land restoration]
Kubuqi Desert, China
- From 1988, one third of the Kubuqi desert has now been greened
- Plants have been planted to grip the shifting sands there
- Some of the benefits have included returning livestock, secondary industries popping up, and some land has been recycled to be used as a place to set up solar panel farms
- The value the greening of the Kubuqi Desert delivers is estimated at 1.8 billion over 50 years
- It took 25 years to make a profit from the Kubuqi Desert Project
- Failures along the way included the need to pay locals to ensure the survival of trees and vegetation over the long term, and experimenting with different types of trees that wouldn’t require as much water
- Licorice crops were grown first to add integrity to the soil, and after about 4 years, grapes, tomatoes and potatoes could start growing with increased soil integrity
- The Kubuqi model cannot be applied to turn any patch of desert into lush oases; it restores only recently degraded land
Loess Plateau, China
- Was suffering from high erosion rates and desertification due to overuse and overgrazing, and had high poverty rates of the local population there
- Two large scale projects aimed to bring sustainable practices to the area, as well as installing land terraces, adding wheat and corn, adding diverse orchards, preventing overgrazing of livestock like goats, and planting trees
- Fortunately, part of the success of the project came down to the fact that enough deep reservoirs of soil remained, even after centuries of erosion, and could serve as a basis for restoration … seeds still remained in the ground
- Some of the positive benefits/results were that more than 2.5 million people were lifted out of poverty, farmers’ incomes doubled, employment diversified, sedimentation in rivers and waterways decreased, food supplies were secured, and other benefits
- Project costs went into the hundreds of millions (up to $500 million between the World Bank and partners in China), and required multi level co-operation and communication
- Land rights were a challenge for the Loess Plateau – land rights were leased out and extended out to decades to give incentive to locals to take care of the land
- Long term concerns with the restoration might be management of soil sedimentation and low crop diversity
– worldbank.org, rethink.earth, and wikipedia.org
- In Abrha Weatsbha in northern Ethiopia, degraded and deforested lands have been restored from 15 years ago
- Changes include wells that were dry have been recharged, the soil is in better shape, fruit trees grow in the valleys and the hillsides are green again.
- Re greening here only took a few years
- There wasn’t a large cost to do this – it involved local farmers planting trees and growing crops together, saving water, and closing off livestock from degraded land
- (It’s been proven that it’s notoriously unreliable and expensive to just plant trees in dry land areas – you must combine that with crop planting)
- In addition to the changes made above, miles of terraces and low walls, or bunds, were installed to hold back rainwater from slopes
- Other countries planning to do something similar are Uganda (2.5m hectares), Democratic Republic of the Congo (8m hectares), Colombia (1m hectares), Guatemala (1.2m hectares), and Chile (100,000 hectares)
Burkina Faso, Africa
- In Burkina Faso where 2-300,000 hectares of land has been regreened, food production has grown about 80,000 tons a year – enough to feed an extra 500,000 people.
- In Niger, over 200m trees have been planted and 5m hectares of degraded land regreened.
- The result, says a report by the International Food policy research institute, has been extra 500,000 tonnes of food grown in the country with the fastest growing population in the world, as well as an increase in biodiversity and incomes
- The FMNR approach has increased resiliency and decreased Niger’s dependency on external food aid.
- Other benefits include carbon storage, people can use trees for wood, trees can protect soil from sun or let it through in the colder months when the leaves drop off the trees. The trees can also nourish soil better, meaning it holds water better, and it has more nutrients to increase yields
- Gao trees in Niger are an example of a local tree that works really well in this area
- Large change can be seen over 30 years
– eros.usgs.gov, and theguardian.com
Kenya, & Zambia, Africa
- Africa has diverse soils, sometimes with a lack of organic matter, and also nutrient depletion. These soils can be non responsive and difficult to work with and restore
- Sub-Saharan Africa also has many different ecological areas that experience different rates of rainfall and have soils that vary in acidity or salinisation or sodification
- In Kenya, Integrated Soil Fertility Management is being tested which applies different treatments to soils to see which ones respond best
- Zambia … has three agro ecological zones, distinguished by rainfall and growing season. The challenges there are to address low soil fertility, low organic matter content, acidic soils that are highly leached of nutrients, and soil crusting, among other challenges
- In Sub Sahara Africa … one of the biggest points of emphasis and lessons is that organic matter in soil which enhances fertility and soil organisms is key for healthy soils. [To do this] Using cover crops, reducing tillage, and direct application of the fungi that expansively grow mycelia [are suggested practices to implement]
Some Notes On The Future Of Dryland Health
When it comes specifically to dryland health in the future:
- … restoration rates would need to exceed land degradation rates by one third to ensure dryland health into the future.
- Restoration actions could include implementing barriers that reduce soil erosion or changing the timing or type of land use on already damaged areas