Action Against Desertification

Scaling-up land restoration to support rural communities

New practical manual on large-scale restoration technologies and methodologies for small-scale farming


Under the ever-increasing threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, desertification calls for a response of unprecedented urgency. Land restoration has moved to the top of the international agenda, as demonstrated by the proclamation, in March 2019, of a UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Pledges to global restoration and tree planting targets abound (e.g. Bonn Challenge, AFR100, One Trillion Trees Initiative, etc.). In the margins of UNCCD COP 14, Africa’s Great Green Wall countries and international partners called to restore 100 million hectares of degraded agro-sylvo pastoral lands in the region by 2030.

The question however remains of how we transform all these numbers into action. How do we win the race against time by implementing active restoration on the ground and how it can be upscaled and accelerated globally? In countries of the Sahel and the Great Green Wall, and beyond, while traditional techniques exist that can effectively restore degraded land, they can no longer be the only response to the volume of restoration required globally. Large-scale restoration will require large-scale investments, including in equipment, restoration seeds and capacity development to facilitate and support implementations on a massive scale.

FAO’s Action Against Desertification has recently published a practitioner manual to support the technologies and methodologies of large-scale restoration for small-scale farming in Africa’s Great Green Wall programme. It serves a dual purpose of consolidating the know-how on biophysical operations on-the-ground and its socio-economic benefits to rural communities. 

The manual is built on scientific expertise and plant knowledge applied during over five years of large-scale restoration implementation in 12 countries. It highlights valuable results and lessons learnt through practical successful work on-the-ground with rural communities and restoration experts. Experience has been drawn from the preparation and plantation of over 60 000 hectares of degraded land for restoration by planting 15 million seedlings and direct-sowing over 100 tons of seeds of well-adapted native trees combined with diverse herbaceous fodder species. These interventions have reached more than 700 000 farmers, producers, pastoralists and herders in rural communities.

As described in the document, this innovative restoration model places communities at the heart of restoration and supports them with plant knowledge and enrichment planting of native species useful to communities and the environment. Land is prepared in a way that allows it to capture rainwater and young seedlings to establish. Communities’ mobilisation and commitment is key to the success of such operations, as they contribute with their land and labour in the restoration process. The approach is highly adaptable and provides a cost-efficient blueprint for land restoration, suitable for replication and scaling up.

These large-scale bio-physical operations are intertwined with the social dimension, which involves complex livelihoods and sustainable use and management of plant resources. The manual highlights how households and communities are surveyed regarding their livelihoods, main plant species used, their conservation status and products made out of these plants, as well as land available for restoration in their landscapes. This component is used to monitor and evaluate the socio-economic impacts of large-scale restoration interventions. Such data is key in both the design and the impact assessment of a restoration intervention, particularly in the context of the Great Green Wall programme.

Land restoration and tree planting are increasingly being recognized for their potential to mitigate climate change, improve plant biodiversity and livelihoods of rural communities. Time has now come for bold and catalytic action that responds to the huge challenges we all face today.


The manual is currently available for download on the FAO website in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. It can also be downloaded as an e-book on Apple Books, Amazon and Smashwords. Printed copies can be ordered on the Eurospan bookstore.