Private sector investment crucial to combat desertification: UNCCD
Alok Gupta

In the battle against reversing land degradation, investment from the private sector could help prevent disruption in global food supply and future pandemics, said a senior UN official.  

"We have not been able to convince the private sector, which is basically the main source for land degradation, to invest in land restoration," Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) told CGTN.

"We have to move from public funds to private investment to reduce land degradation," he said. The private sector would be getting stimulus packages worth billions of dollars for re-starting the economy that came to a standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"If the stimulus package announced to re-build the economy leads to more land degradation, then we would see another pandemic soon," Thiaw warned. Companies have an opportunity to use a part of the stimulus money for investing in land restoration projects, which promises lucrative profits.  

According to the estimates by leading environmental economists, on average, one U.S. dollar investment into the restoration of degraded land returns five U.S. dollars. But despite such impressive returns, the private sector has mostly stayed back from investing heavily in the land restoration initiatives.

The issue of land ownership has become one of the prominent "bottlenecks" deterring companies from investing in projects like conserving wetlands. While communities fear land grab from big corporate houses, companies, on the other hand, seek a long-term land contract to ensure profitable investment.

"Communities and the private sector should establish relations to find something in it. Companies have started to investment, but it's not enough," said Thiaw. "The strong partnership between both parties can generate income from the sustainable use of land, which in turn would also repair the environment and create green jobs."   

Need to 'reverse land degradation curve'

More than 75 percent of the Earth's land substantially degraded globally, affecting nearly 3.2 billion people. Climate change and unsustainable land use have led to a massive increase in desertification – a process of land degradation in dry regions, affecting soil fertility.

Concerned over the rapid pace of land degradation, the United Nations declared 2010-2020 as Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification. The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought in 2020 held under the theme of Food, Feed, and Fiber on June 17 marks the end of the desertification decade.

"The decade has been quite successful in explaining the international community about the issue of land degradation, but we still have land degradation going on, and we have not reversed the curve," he said. "We cannot say job well done, yet."  

In order to achieve the target, the UN has set a goal for achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. 

According to recent estimates, land degradation far exceeds that of land conservation, leading to a severe imbalance.

"More than 80 countries have pledged to restore more than 400 million hectares. But on average we see more land being degraded than land being restored. We haven't found the balance yet," Thiaw added.

Land degradation area varies every year because of wildfires, droughts and other adverse weather events triggered by climate change. Policies related to the use of land for growing animal feed, expansion of agricultural land and deforestation also significantly contributes to land degradation.