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Press Release 00/27


Rome, 4 May 2000 - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has urged governments and the international community to fight land degradation, desertification, deforestation and loss of biological diversity as crucial means for reducing hunger and alleviate poverty.

"It is much more expensive to rehabilitate degraded land than to prevent land degradation," FAO said in a statement released on the occasion of the 8th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, currently meeting in New York. The world's soils, one of the most important components for food production, continue to be threatened by land degradation as a result of deforestation, overgrazing, poor management and unsustainable crop and livestock production systems.

"Addressing the threats to the most valuable land and water resources for agriculture, top priority should be placed on sustainable land use, forestry, biodiversity and ecological protection. Attention should focus on critical areas such as mountains, fertile valleys, wetlands, lakes, rivers and coastal areas, facing pressure from cities and tourism. Participatory land use planning and management and tenure systems should provide the necessary tools to prevent the loss of valuable and sometimes unique resources," FAO said.

Over 80 percent of the world's population live in countries where agriculture is the main source of livelihood. Yet, land degradation seriously affects land and water resources in many tropical, subtropical and dryland areas. The pressure on soil resources will increase with a population growth of 3 billion by 2030, FAO said.

Land degradation affects around 70 percent of the world's rangelands, 40 percent of rainfed agricultural lands and 30 percent of irrigated lands. Over one quarter of the world's land area is affected by desertification.

Degradation is a potential threat to half of the world's poor people who live in dryland areas with fragile soils and unreliable rain, especially in Africa. Declining soil fertility has a severe impact globally and, in Africa, average yield losses are estimated at 8 percent, with up to 50 percent productivity losses in certain areas. Traditional systems of land use are either breaking down or are no longer appropriate due to population pressure, and the management and technology needed to replace them is often not being applied.

Land degradation reduces land quality and has a major impact on biodiversity. Many inland water ecosystems and their fishery resources and biodiversity are seriously threatened by urban and industrial growth, deforestation and agro-chemicals. About 25 percent of the world's wetlands have already been lost, due largely to conversion to agriculture or diversion of water for agriculture and aquaculture.

Land degradation also affects water resources: it reduces water availability and quality and can alter the flows of rivers and streams. This may lead to flooding, groundwater depletion, salt-water intrusion into aquifers, water pollution and salinization, FAO warned.

Land degradation is closely linked to poverty in developing countries. Poverty is both a consequence of land degradation and one of the causes. Poor people, with no resources to fall back on, are forced to put immediate needs before the long-term quality of the land.

"Much progress has been made in recent years on promoting improved land management and conservation of natural resources and habitats, including the conservation and enhancement of the genetic resources essential for the world's food production and security," FAO said.

However, more efforts are needed to apply sustainable agriculture as part of a solution to environmental degradation, FAO said. Land-use systems that retain a permanent vegetative cover over the land surface should be introduced. This protects the soil from wind and water erosion, increases soil fertility and improves the organic content. "The immediate priority is to break out of the downward spiral, in which resource-poor farmers are obliged, by shortage of land, to degrade land even further in order to satisfy immediate subsistence needs."

Integrated crop and land management programmes should provide short-term and tangible benefits to farmers, such as increased yields and reduced risks, according to FAO. In many countries, security of tenure should be improved to encourage farmers to practice effective land management, and access to land and resources should be made more equitable to promote sustainable rural livelihoods. Local institutions should be strengthened to enable rural communities to improve their land use and land tenure arrangements through participatory processes.

At the national level, long-term strategies for sustainable land use, a decentralisation in land use planning and management and a broader consultation and public participation in land use decision-making are urgently needed.


For more information please contact the FAO website: or call Erwin Northoff, Media Officer, tel: 0039-06-5705 3105, e-mail:

For video material please contact Enrique Yeves, Video Production Manager, 0039-06-5705 2518, e-mail:

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