UN: 2 July 2008 – Land degradation is on the rise in many parts of the world, with direct consequences for an estimated 1.5 billion people – or a quarter of the world’s population – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, calling for renewed attention to tackle the issue. According to a study involving data taken over a 20-year period, the phenomenon is increasing in severity and extent, with more than 20 per cent of all cultivated areas, 30 per cent of forests and 10 per cent of grasslands undergoing degradation.
Some 1.5 billion people around the world depend directly on land that is being degraded.
“The study shows that land degradation remains a priority issue requiring renewed attention by individuals, communities and governments,” according to a news release issued by the Rome-based FAO.
Consequences of land degradation include reduced productivity, migration, and food insecurity, damage to basic resources and ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity.
“Land degradation also has important implications for climate change mitigation and adaptation, as the loss of biomass and soil organic matter releases carbon into the atmosphere and affects the quality of soil and its ability to hold water and nutrients,” notes Parviz Koohafkan, Director of FAO’s Land and Water Division. The data indicate that despite the commitment of countries that have signed onto the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, land degradation is worsening rather than improving, and is being driven mainly by poor land management. It also shows that land degradation has affected new areas since 1991. Meanwhile, some historically degraded areas were so severely affected that they are now stable having been abandoned or managed at low levels of productivity.
At the same time, there are some cases in the study that show that land is being used in a sustainable manner or shows improved quality and productivity. Among them are swaths of improvement in rain-fed cropland and pastures in the prairies and plains of North America and western India, as well as some significant land reclamation projects, including in northern China.
The data used is part of a study released by FAO, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Soil Information (ISRIC) on global land degradation entitled Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands.
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