The state of the earth’s biodiversity – the world’s variety of living organisms – is in crisis. About one third of the world’s land has been severely degraded from its natural state. Some of the worst forms of degradation include deforestation, soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, declining water quality and pollution.
This has a huge negative impact on poor rural people whose livelihoods depend heavily on natural resources, like pastoralist communities and smallholder farmers. Land degradation is also devastating for land animals – in about 40 years vertebrate species populations have dropped by more than half.
This crisis has attracted international attention, and efforts to restore degraded lands are underway. For instance, the Bonn Challenge commits countries to the ambitious task of restoring 350 million hectares of degraded lands by 2030. African nations committed to 100 million hectares. This entails the enormous task of planting trees and ground cover and restoring soil fertility – all actions which also help increase the soil’s ability to absorb water and reduce erosion.
But with such large areas in need of restoration, and the persistent problem of limited resources, how and where should efforts be deployed?
In our recent publication we show how the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework could solve this problem by systematically measuring and tracking indicators of land health. It includes very precise maps, which show how degraded land is, and how well it can recover. This helps to prioritise land restoration over huge areas. It’s already being applied to restore degraded lands in many parts of the world including East Africa, the Sahel, the Peruvian Amazon and India.
Our study focused on the drylands of Kenya, where the framework is being used. Read more