Home Opinion Featured Articles Land Restoration, Desertification and Drought Resilience

Land Restoration, Desertification and Drought Resilience

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Francis Ayisi, Head, Sustainability (ESG), Stanbic Bank Ghana
Francis Ayisi, Head, Sustainability (ESG), Stanbic Bank Ghana

Only when the last tree has died, the last river poisoned and the last fish has been caught, will we realize that we can’t eat money – Chief Seattle

 

Chief Seattle, a Red Indian chief could not have said it better. Profits or economic rent in our world today is causing harm to the environment in many ways. While development is good, governments and businesses have a responsibility to ensure that our actions are sustainable and minimize the harm caused to the environment. If we do not do this, we will have nothing to live off. The theme for this year’s World Environment Day couldn’t have been better as it combines how our actions/activities affect land, can lead to degradation and subsequently desertification with its consequences if allowed to persist. As we already have a large portion of our planet degraded, it is imperative that appropriate actions are taken to protect the lives of affected persons under all drought conditions through drought resilient plans.

 

Climate change and environmental degradation is receiving heightened interest globally due to the frequency of environmental incidents across the world – floods, famine, poverty that leads to overcrowding as people move to areas of adequate food supply and safety, medical illnesses to mention a few. It has therefore become a global imperative to tackle the causes and put in place remedies to reduce the impact of individual, business and nation states action and inactions on the environment. The lives of millions of people around the world are seriously threatened by these problems, which are made worse by climate change and unsustainable land management techniques. To resolve these hurdles, a thorough comprehension of their origins and consequences is necessary, in addition to putting good restoration and resilience plans into practice. This should be a global action and a must for all nation states including Ghana.

 

Land Restoration

Land provides all humans and animals the means to survive including food, water and natural resources. The world’s ecosystem is built around land. According to the UNEP, 2 billion hectares of land is degraded affecting some 3 billion people. The impact of illegal mining for instance is empirical evidence in Ghana of how unsustainable land practices has affected agriculture, water bodies and the livelihoods of score of our citizens. The time to act therefore is now; policy makers and managers of our natural resources need to take bold actions to combat this phenomenon.

 

There are many methods for land restoration, which includes reforestation, soil conservation, sustainable agriculture, and the restoration of natural ecosystems to mention a few. A structured approach to restoring land will reverse land degradation and restore ecosystems to their natural state, make it more productive and resilient to climate change. It is for this reason that the UNEP posits that if no action is taken, vital ecosystems and countless species will be under threat. More severe and prolonged droughts, sandstorms and rising temperatures are inevitable, and so nation states need to find ways to stop dry land from becoming desert, fresh water sources from evaporating and fertile soil from turning to dust.

 

There are many benefits to land restoration which can reverse the interrelated challenges that come with drought and desertification. Apart from the socio-economic benefits, restoring land can sequester carbon, reduce soil erosion, enhance water retention, and support diverse plant and animal species. Socio-economically, healthy and productive land can improve food security, create jobs, and increase the resilience of communities to climate-related shocks. Effective land restoration requires a holistic approach starting from a mindset change and an approach that integrates science and data with local practices. It requires the active participation of individuals, communities, governments, and other stakeholders. Successful restoration projects often incorporate traditional ecological knowledge, which can provide valuable insights into sustainable land management practices.

 

Desertification

The UN defines desertification as the process by which fertile land becomes increasingly arid and unproductive, often due to climatic variations and human activities. If land degradation persists especially in semi-arid and arid parts of the world, it can lead to desertification. Desertification poses a significant threat to global food security, water availability, and biodiversity and could be the cause of conflict as nations pursue land and water. Land degradation and desertification plays a fundamental role in breaking the poverty cycle. However, if it remains unchecked, global temperatures will rise leading to high food prices, lack of portable water, migration putting unsustainable pressure on fertile lands.

 

The causes of desertification are multifaceted and interrelated. Key factors include:

Deforestation: The removal of trees and vegetation cover disrupts the water cycle, reduces soil fertility, and increases erosion, making the land more susceptible to desertification.

Overgrazing: Excessive grazing by livestock strips the land of vegetation cover, leading to soil compaction and erosion.

Unsustainable Agricultural Practices: Practices such as monocropping, improper irrigation, and the excessive use of chemical fertilizers degrade soil quality and deplete water resources.

Climate Change: Altered precipitation patterns and increased temperatures accelerate the natural processes of land degradation, exacerbating desertification.

 

Building Drought Resilience

As previously mentioned, 3 billion hectares of the planet is degraded affecting some 2 billion people. It is important that as we combat and reverse this phenomenon, steps are also taken to ensure that the most affected persons are ready to absorb and recover from drought conditions.

 

Drought resilience refers to the ability of ecosystems and communities to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and recover from drought conditions. Building drought resilience involves implementing strategies that reduce vulnerability to drought and enhance adaptive capacity. These strategies are crucial for mitigating the impacts of drought, which can include reduced water availability, crop failures, and economic losses.

 

Key strategies for enhancing drought resilience include:

Sustainable Water Management: Efficient use of water resources is essential for drought resilience. Techniques such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, and the restoration of natural water systems can significantly improve water availability and reduce the impact of droughts.

Soil Conservation: Practices such as agroforestry, cover cropping, and no-till farming help maintain soil structure, increase organic matter, and enhance water retention. Healthy soils are better able to retain moisture and support plant growth during dry periods.

Diversified Livelihoods: Encouraging diversified income sources, such as agro-tourism, non-timber forest products, and renewable energy, can reduce dependency on vulnerable agricultural practices and increase community resilience to drought.

Early Warning Systems: Developing and implementing early warning systems for droughts can help communities prepare and respond more effectively. These systems can provide timely information on weather conditions, water availability, and potential drought impacts.

 

Addressing land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience requires concerted efforts at both global and local levels. International initiatives such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) play a crucial role in coordinating global actions and fostering collaboration among countries. The UNCCD’s Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) framework encourages countries to adopt sustainable land management practices and restore degraded lands to achieve a balance between land degradation and restoration.

 

Local initiatives are equally important. Community-based approaches that involve local knowledge and practices can be highly effective in restoring degraded lands and building resilience. For instance, the Great Green Wall project in Africa aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land across the Sahel region, creating jobs, enhancing food security, and combating the effects of climate change. This ambitious initiative demonstrates the potential of large-scale restoration efforts to bring about significant environmental and socio-economic benefits.

 

Land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience are critical components of sustainable development. By restoring degraded lands, we can improve ecosystem services, enhance biodiversity, and support livelihoods. Combating desertification requires addressing the root causes and promoting sustainable land management practices. Building drought resilience involves implementing strategies that enhance the adaptive capacity of communities and ecosystems. As the global community continues to face environmental challenges, it is imperative to prioritize land restoration, combat desertification, and strengthen drought resilience. Through coordinated efforts and innovative solutions, we can create a more sustainable and resilient future for all. Addressing these issues not only benefits the environment but also ensures a more secure and prosperous world for current and future generations.

-Francis Ayisi, Head, Sustainability (ESG), Stanbic Bank Ghana

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