Action Against Desertification

“Land restoration is a matter of life and death.”

Interview with Simone Borelli, Lead Technical Officer, Action Against Desertification


Addis Abeba - Simone Borelli recently travelled to Raya-Azebo in Ethiopia’s Tigray region to see how land degradation is affecting rural people’s lives and find out what Action Against Desertification’s restoration activities are achieving to improve their environment and livelihoods.

What have you observed in the field?

The land in Raya-Azebo is heavily degraded and the remaining arable land will soon be damaged, as population pressure is increasing. I spoke to an old man, who has a plot for farming and a few animals to support his family. He lamented the fact that what he had seen in his childhood has vanished. The fields used to be green with vegetation, there were plenty of animals and you could hear the twinkling of water pouring from the springs. Now, Raya-Azebo is dry, its land degraded and the harsh weather is making life more and more difficult.

What are the major factors that contribute to land degradation?

With a steady growth in population, the clearing of woodlands for agriculture has been a continuous process. Also, methods of cereal production have been conducive to soil loss, while overgrazing has contributed to degradation too. Cows and small ruminants cross even restricted areas for cultivation in search of pasture. Recurrent droughts related to climate change also leave their mark on the dire environmental situation. 

Why is land restoration so important to the local communities in Raya-Azebo?

The restoration of the land is a matter of life and death for the communities of Raya-Azebo. Nearly all the people are heavily dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. But they see their land being depleted and water becoming scarcer by the day.  Land restoration is therefore crucial. Healthy soils capture and store rainwater, allowing people to grow the food on which they depend.  

What are the consequences of land degradation to the community?

Land degradation is having devastating outcomes. In Ethiopia, it is recognized as a major impediment to economic growth and undermining people’s food security. Land degradation and poverty are strongly linked in rural areas, where livelihoods depend on agriculture. It can push people to abandon their land and migrate in search of a better life.

What is Action Against Desertification doing in Ethiopia?

With FAO’s long and solid expertise in land restoration and plantation in the drylands, Action Against Desertification supports the government of Ethiopia in its effort to reverse the land degradation in the Amhara, Afar and Tigray regions, where we are working on the restoration of 1500 hectares of arid and semi-arid lands, reaching out to over 250 000 people.

The project promotes an integrated restoration of landscapes through watershed based tree planting, soil and water conservation, rehabilitation of degraded woodlands, and planting agroforestry and fodder species on farmlands and homesteads. These activities eventually improve the livelihoods of communities, through the production and sale of non-wood forest products.


Land degradation and desertification greatly impair the livelihoods and food security of farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia’s drylands. It is estimated that Ethiopia loses an estimated 92 000 hectares of forest and woodlands every year and two billion metric tons of fertile soil. Improper land use, poor land management practices, population pressure, overgrazing and deforestation are among the main causes of land degradation in Ethiopia. Moreover, climate change is exacerbating poverty and hunger. In 2016, Ethiopia faced the worst drought in fifty years that affected more than 10 million people.