Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Over-exploitation has degraded billions of hectares of land

The poor stewardship of the planet’s resources means countries must commit to restoring at least one billion hectares of degraded land in the next decade, says the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The UNEP found that an estimated €40-billion economic loss in Africa was caused by land degradation in 2019; globally the loss to degradation is €400-billion in the same year.

Ecosystem restoration is the process of halting and reversing degradation, resulting in cleaner air and water, extreme weather mitigation, better human health and recovered biodiversity, including improved pollination of plants, said the UNEP. Restoration will have positive outcomes for food security, economic opportunity and health.  

In South Africa more than 0.7-million hectares of land is eroded, 4.61-million hectares of indigenous forests, woodlands, and grasslands are degraded, and 0.19-million hectares are degraded by mine tailings, waste rock dumps and surface-based mining, according to the environment department. 

Further afield on the continent, the World Resources Institute found land degradation to negatively affect 8% of Niger’s GDP; 9% of Burkina Faso’s and up to 30% in some areas in Mali. 

Nearly two thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, hindering sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. Countries suffering the harshest effects of land degradation include Ethiopia, where projects have helped people to benefit from land restoration. 

The Humbo Forestry Project ensured that a dry, barren landscape became richer in biodiversity and offset carbon when trees and other vegetation was planted. 

The project document says that less than 3% of Ethiopia’s indigenous forests remain as a result of over-exploitation. Deforestation in Humbo threatens groundwater reserves, which more than 65 000 people depend on for potable water. 

The project was part of a carbon trading programme where new funding streams such as the clean development mechanism — in which carbon credits for CO2 absorption by the forest are earned — generate an income for residents, such as those living in Humbo. 

The document said the sale of carbon credits will eventually provide an additional income stream to facilitate sustainable local development.

“The Humbo project uses FMNR [Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration], an innovative technique developed by World Vision’s natural resources specialist, Tony Rinaudo. While conventional approaches to reforestation require the costly replanting of trees from nursery stock, over 90% of the Humbo project area is being reforested from the stumps of previously cut down (but still living) trees,” it said. 

The initiative has also resulted in more than 400 000 seedlings produced to continue planting. 

People are using about 1.6 times the amount of services that nature can provide sustainably, according to the UNEP’s recent report, Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem restoration for People, Nature and Climate. This means conservation efforts alone are insufficient to prevent large-scale ecosystem collapse and biodiversity loss. 

“This report presents the case for why we must all throw our weight behind a global restoration effort. Drawing on the latest scientific evidence, it sets out the crucial role played by ecosystems, from forests and farmland to rivers and oceans, and it charts the losses that result from a poor stewardship of the planet,” UNEP executive director Inger Andersen wrote in the report’s foreword.

“Degradation is already affecting the well-being of an estimated 3.2-billion people — that is 40% of the world’s population. Every single year we lose ecosystem services worth more than 10% of our global economic output.” 

He said that huge gains will be made by reversing these trends.

Actions that prevent, halt and reverse degradation are necessary to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperature rise well below 2°C, the UNEP said.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Tunicia Phillips
Tunicia Phillips is an investigative, award-winning journalist who has worked in broadcast for 10 years. Her beats span across crime, court politics, mining energy and social justice. She has recently returned to print at the M&G working under the Amadela Trust to specialise in climate change and environmental reporting.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

R350 relief grant will be paid into bank accounts or...

There are concerns that post office branch closures will make it difficult for beneficiaries to access the grant

South Africa at risk of spillover from international inflation, economists...

Higher international oil prices, for example, could affect local transport costs through second-round effects

More top stories

Companies affected by unrest can apply for support as soon...

Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi urges employers to be honest when applying for help

Mboweni extends R38bn to cope with double calamity of Covid-19...

The finance minister extended the Ters relief and the social distress relief grant, and also ensured businesses hit by looting can access insurance

South Africa appalled that Israel given AU observer status

The international relations department has released a statement condemning the decision

Coal on a drive to delay its demise

The just transition that is currently being executed is a balance between energy security and climate change, according to one analyst
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×