Author: Dr. Lili Ilieva, Associate Consultant Practical Action
Land degradation affects people and ecosystems throughout the planet and is both affected by climate change and contributes to it. It is defined as a negative trend in land condition, caused by direct or indirect human-induced processes including anthropogenic climate change, expressed as long-term reduction or loss of at least one of the following: biological productivity, ecological integrity, or value to humans. Land use changes and unsustainable land management are direct human causes of land degradation, and agriculture is one of the dominant sectors driving degradation. Land degradation affects humans in multiple ways, interacting with social, political, cultural and economic aspects, including markets, technology, inequality and demographic change. According to the IPBES assessment report on Land Degradation and Restoration*, land degradation negatively impacts 3.2 billion people, and represents an economic loss in the order of 10% of annual global gross product (IPBES, 2018). Land degradation impacts extend beyond the land surface itself, affecting marine and freshwater systems, as well as people and ecosystems far away from the local sites of degradation.
The new IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, looks at the links between climate change and desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. It provides scientific evidence that climate change exacerbates the rate and magnitude of several ongoing land degradation processes and introduces new degradation patterns (IPCC, 2019). In particular, the combination of land degradation and climate change, has profound implications for natural resource-based livelihoods. People in degraded areas who directly depend on natural resources for subsistence, food security and income, including women and youth with limited adaptation options, are especially vulnerable to land degradation and climate change.
Timely action to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation can increase food and water security, can contribute substantially to the adaptation and mitigation of climate change and could contribute to the avoidance of conflict and migration. This is especially important considering the projected 4 billion people that will be living in drylands in 2050 (IPBES, 2018). Concrete actions on the ground to address land degradation are primarily focused on soil and water conservation. In the context of adaptation to climate change, EbA approach is considered particularly relevant for addressing land degradation (IPCC, 2019).
Along with agronomic and soil management measures as part of EbA strategies, agroforestry is a particularly important measure for sustainable land management in the context of climate change because of the large potential to sequester carbon in plants and soil and enhance resilience of agricultural systems (Zomer et al. 2016). Agroforestry is defined as a collective name for land-use systems in which woody perennials (trees, shrubs, etc.) are grown in association with herbaceous plants (crops, pastures) and/or livestock in a spatial arrangement, a rotation, or both, and in which there are both ecological and economic interactions between the tree and non-tree components of the system (Young, 1995). For example, the use of agroforestry for perennial crops such as coffee and cocoa are increasingly promoted as offering a route to sustainable farming with important climate change adaptation and mitigation co-benefits (Kroeger et al. 2017). Despite the many proven benefits, adoption of agroforestry has been slow because of the perception of risks; and the time lag between adoption and realisation of benefits are often important (Jerneck and Olsson, 2014). Evidence from the Peruvian Amazon shows that agroforestry systems for coffee production resulted in short-term benefits (within 3 years) such as increase in yield and quality of the coffee (Ilieva, L. & Henderson, C. 2017).
The EbA approach promotes land restoration measures in the context of climate change, such as agroforestry systems. More evidence of their short-and long-term cost-effectiveness is needed to increase the up-take of such measures and upscale them to address land degradation.
*Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): https://www.ipbes.net
IPBES (2018): The IPBES assessment report on land degradation and restoration. Montanarella, L., Scholes, R., and Brainich, A. (eds.). Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Bonn, Germany
IPCC, 2019. Special report on Climate Change and Land.
Jerneck and Olsson, 2014: Food first! Theorising assets and actors in agroforestry: risk evaders, opportunity seekers and ‘the food imperative’ in sub-Saharan Africa. Int. J. Agric. Sustain., 12.
Kroeger, A., S. Koenig, A. Thomson, C. Streck, P.-H. Weiner, and H. Bakhtary, 2017: Forest- and Climate-Smart Cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, Aligning Stakeholders to Support Smallholders in Deforestation-Free Cocoa. World Bank, Washington, DC, https://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/abs/10.1596/29014.
Ilieva, L. & Henderson, C. 2017. Coffee Agroforestry: Transforming a vital agricultural sector for a conservation and development ‘win-win’ in Peru. Practical Action, UK.
Young, A., 1995: Agroforestry for soil conservation. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands, 194 pp. https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/19986773686
Zomer, R. J., H. Neufeldt, J. Xu, A. Ahrends, D. Bossio, A. Trabucco, M. van Noordwijk, and M. Wang, 2016: Global Tree Cover and Biomass Carbon on Agricultural Land: The contribution of agroforestry to global and national carbon budgets. Sci. Rep., 6.