Lands of hope

Nature-based solutions to land degradation

Land degradation touches almost one third of all land on the planet, affecting 1.5 billion people. Nature can be a key ally in combatting this growing global menace, as IUCN's work with communities around the world demonstrates. 

The degradation of drylands, which sustain the livelihoods of 2 billion people and are home to a quarter of all endangered species, is of particular concern as the world marks World Day to Combat Desertification.

The term 'dryland' may evoke an arid wasteland – but this is far from being the case. Drylands include grassland, savannah, woodland and other areas that people cherish. They cover 41% of the earth's land surface and contribute important 'ecosystem services' including food, fuel and clean water; they regulate the climate and mitigate flood and drought risks.

In 2015, 193 countries agreed to halt land degradation within their borders. With IUCN support, 108 countries are now establishing voluntary national targets with the goal of becoming land degradation neutral by 2030.

To help tackle this challenge, IUCN-led projects promote nature-based solutions to land degradation by working with communities around the world.

Ancient solutions 
to a modern problem

© Julien Lavallée

In Jordan, land traditionally used for grazing animals has been deteriorating due to pressures that include unsustainable livestock and crop farming as well as climate change. Yet it appears that these modern pressures can best be countered with ancient, nature-based solutions.

IUCN has supported local communities in reviving a traditional land management practice called Hima, meaning protection in Arabic.

This practice uses local knowledge to restore damaged rangelands by determining when a herd can graze on a particular area and for how long. 

The Hima practice follows the seasons, taking into account the life cycle of grasses to allow them to grow seed and the number of animals an area of grassland can sustain.

"If the land is simply set aside, it does not recover. The Hima system imitates nature, with livestock essentially playing the role of antelopes grazing intensively for short periods of time and transporting fertile seed around the landscape," explains Jonathan Davies, Coordinator of IUCN's Global Drylands Initiative.

The challenge is finding agreement between communities using the land – something that women help achieve.

Breaking out of the vicious circle


Here, nature-based traditional practices are proving to be man's allies in the fight against land degradation. 

Drought alternates with periods of flooding, reducing agricultural output, soil fertility and destroying crops. Deforestation, driven by the need for firewood and agricultural land, is exacerbating the situation. Desertification is costing the country 9% of national agricultural GDP annually.

And, here too, local people have revived an ancient nature-based solution with support from IUCN's EPIC project to help reverse the trend.

Zaï is a traditional crop farming practice that involves planting seeds in pits filled with organic manure. These pits concentrate water and nutrients at the plant's base.

The zaï allow farmers to retain precious moisture around their crops; and by allowing tree seedlings that happen to germinate in the pits to grow, they are also combatting deforestation, thus helping break the vicious cycle of food insecurity.

"With so little rain it was difficult 
 to feed our families. Zaï and other practices help  us live better." 

Pacodé Savadogo 
 Tougou Village, Burkina Faso

 Pacodé Savadogo from Tougou Village © IUCN / Fabiola Monty

"Zaï help us restore our land 
despite rain scarcity, soil degradation & poor soil  quality." 

Sékou Ouedraogo
Ramdolla village, Burkina Faso

 Zaï practice explained by Sékou Ouedraogo (in French) © IUCN / Fabiola Monty

Another nature-based solution that helps manage water sustainably can be found in the Volta river basin in Burkina Faso and Ghana, as well as the Tana river basin in Kenya, as part of the WISE-UP to Climate project. Here IUCN is working with local decision-makers and stakeholders to integrate the role of wetlands, floodplains and other 'natural infrastructure' into managing water resources, thus helping reduce erosion and halt land degradation in the process.

Sustainable pastures

Local researchers during the Integrated Participatory Rural Appraisal © Anelí Gómez

In the Peruvian Andes productive land is also being lost, partly due to inadequate livestock farming and increased droughts.

Faced with the degradation of grasslands, communities in the Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve have adapted their land practices to conserve water sources and manage native grasslands sustainably.

These nature-based solutions supported by IUCN and the Mountain Institute as part of the Mountain EbA project help communities better manage water, grasslands and livestock, allowing pastures to recover.

Around the world, protected areas like the Nor Yauyos-Cochas Reserve help cope with land degradation by maintaining and enhancing ecosystems services. These areas serve as safety nets in times of drought, providing food and water for people and livestock.

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016, a series of events were held focusing on how conserving land can address global environmental and development challenges.

IUCN's Global Drylands Initiative supports the sustainable management of dryland ecosystems and the conservation of dryland biodiversity.