Land Degradation Neutrality – achievable or not?

Faye Hudson
13 June 2019


What is desertification?

Desertification is the degradation of previously fertile land in semi-arid, arid and dry sub-humid areas, also known as dryland ecosystems. These areas cover over one third of the world’s land area and are most often home to some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems. Desertification is not the expansion of existing deserts but the breakdown of extremely susceptible areas of land. It can be caused by several factors, both anthropogenic and climatic in nature, including poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and poor irrigation practices. These factors all undermine the productivity of the land.



A dried-up section of the Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town on 20th January 2018


What is WDCD?


This is the anniversary slogan and logo for the 2019 World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCD). The 2019 WDCD will be hosted in Ankara, Turkey by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and will be held alongside the International Soil Congress of 2019.

On 17th June 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared the day to be the ‘World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought’ in an attempt to raise community awareness of the importance of the issue. Since that day, 197 Parties to the Convention, organisations of the United Nations System, international and non-governmental organisations, and interested stakeholders have participated and contributed to the campaign by offering a series of outreach activities and propaganda materials worldwide.

Why is it an important day to commemorate?

Globally, 169 countries are affected by drought, desertification or land degradation with 2 billion hectares currently degraded. Most of it can be restored back to health. Commemoration of this day is important as it raises public awareness about the efforts to combat desertification and the effects of drought. It is a unique occasion to remind everybody that desertification can be tackled effectively, that solutions are attainable, and that the essentials tools for achievement lie in strengthened community action and involvement.

desertificationinfoOn the occasion of its 25th anniversary, there has been a reflective element to the campaign by looking back and celebrating the 25 years of progress already made by the countries, stakeholders and various organisations involved. In addition to reflecting on past achievements, there is a push for this year’s WDCD to focus on what the next 25 years will look like and how the goals set can be accomplished.

The past 25 years…

The past 25 years have been crucial for advancements in sustainable land management. There have been excellent improvements in the recovery and restoration of degraded landscapes through sustainable land management, including over 5 million hectares of land being restored in the Sahel region of Africa through a practice known as ‘farmer-managed natural regeneration’, which has led to the production of an additional 500,000 tons of grain each year. Other successful projects include the re-introduction of agroforestry (where trees and shrubs are planted around crops to increase biodiversity and reduce soil erosion) in places such as Indonesia, China and Brazil.

The end goal is to protect our land from over-use and drought so it can continue to provide us with:

                     Food                                    Water                                       Energy



But so much more needs to be done, and soon.

With the population expanding exponentially, the pressures on food production are enormous. As more and more areas of land succumb to desertification, a domino effect occurs. There is a growing prevalence of forest fires, heatwaves, mass migrations, flash floods, sea-level rise and food and water insecurities.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) provides support to its member countries, plus technical advice and education. The FAO also have a range of sustainable land management programs and approaches including:

  • Farmer field schools
  • Catchment and farm scale approaches to integrated land and water management
  • Local land-use planning
  • Integrated plant and pest management
  • Sustainable forest management

Example of a farmer field school lesson in progress (2014)

The next 25 years…

What do we envisage in the world in which land degradation neutrality provides a solid basis for poverty reduction, food and water security and climate change mitigation and adaptation?

Two decades ago achieving land degradation neutrality became one of the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 15). It states: “by 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world”. By achieving land degradation neutrality there would be more land available for further sustainable development.


How to get involved…

Sustainable land management is everyone’s business. By collaborating, we can restore the productivity of over 2 billion hectares of degraded land and improve the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion people around the globe.

So, what can YOU do to get involved?

  • Follow, like and share the #2019WDCD posts or tweets from the UN on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to promote awareness
  • Create your own posts and remember to tag @UNCCD and #2019WDCD
  • Spend money on purchasing organic and fairly traded products which support land degradation neutrality
  • Make a personal pledge to protect and conserve the value of the land

Final Word…

desertificationLogo4"Desertification is a continuing, silent disaster, with drastic effects on nature as well as on the women and men who live in it: the destruction of entire ecosystems, acceleration of climate change, and obstacles to development and an increase in poverty in countries where the environment is under threat. The way we consume has a direct impact on the condition of the land, one of the keys to responding to the threat of desertification is in our own hands."

— Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought