Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

What can we do about ecosystem degradation?

Here’s what FAO is doing to help in this United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

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Many ecosystems are degraded. So what concrete actions can we take to tackle the problem? ©Sean Gallagher


Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet - and its people. We hear a lot about ecosystem restoration – but what does that really mean in practice?

Ecosystem restoration encompasses a wide variety of approaches that contribute to conserving healthy ecosystems and repairing damaged ones. This might be through active restoration or by removing causes of degradation to promote natural regeneration. Whatever the approach, restoration requires time, resources, knowledge and good governance if it is to contribute to human well-being, economic development, climate stability and biodiversity conservation. 

Here are three concrete ways FAO is actively working to restore ecosystems:

1)    Reforestation of Afghanistan’s pine nut forests 

Situated in eastern Afghanistan, the Paktia province used to be renowned for its pine nut forests. But over the last 50 years, illegal logging has almost devastated them. Overgrazing, unsustainable collection of fodder and lack of proper afforestation continue to negatively impact Paktia’s forest cover. 

Since 2019, FAO has been working with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock to reverse this worrying situation. With the financial support from Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project has initiated the reforestation of 687.5 hectares of pine nut and walnut forests, establishing 65 walnut and pine nut nurseries in communities across the province. 

The project also established forest management associations, community-based groups that motivate local people to sustainably manage their forests and stop deforestation. The associations have planted a further 107 000 walnut trees, 6 100 pine nut trees and 5 000 almond saplings across the deforested area. These new forests will also offer local communities livelihood opportunities in creating and selling nut-based products.

Left/top: One FAO project is helping plant pine and walnut forests in Afghanistan. ©FAO Right/bottom: With backing from FAO and the Coastal Fisheries Initiatives, communities are on a mission to save natural habitats like mangroves to protect ecosystems a

2)    Restoration of mangroves in Senegal 

In the Saloum Delta in Senegal, rising seas are increasing the salinity in mangrove ecosystems, damaging these precious forests. Mangrove forests provide many important ecosystem services. For local communities, the unique fishing opportunities mangroves offer represent livelihoods and nutrition. For fish, mangroves are habitats to spawn, grow and shelter thanks to cooler waters, higher oxygen content and sprawling roots that act as a sanctuary from larger prey. Located at the intersection of land and sea, mangroves play a key role in coastal erosion control and provide protection from storm surges for coastal communities and habitats. 

FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other international conservation partners have set out to protect and restore these forests and safeguard the livelihoods of fish dependent communities in and around the Siné Saloum Delta. With financial backing from GEF, the programme, called the Coastal Fisheries Initiative (CFI), is restoring degraded mangroves so that they can retain their important role in balancing ecosystems. The Initiative is regenerating land and replanting large areas of mangroves, while also working with communities to rethink how they can utilise and conserve them. In 2020, 175 hectares of mangrove ecosystems were sustainably managed.

In Mongolia, FAO and GEF’s project is helping reverse land and forest degradation in the country’s drylands. ©FAO/Khangaikhuu Purevragchaa

3)    Sustainable management of drylands in Mongolia

Drylands are found on all continents, and include grasslands, savannahs, shrublands and woodlands. In Mongolia, forest degradation and deforestation of its drylands is a pressing issue, driven by forest fires, pests, selective logging, clear felling and grazing. Approximately 90 percent of Mongolia is highly prone to desertification and 57 percent of the country’s grasslands are degraded to some degree. Sustainable land management in the country has been hindered by a lack of capacity planning and monitoring forest resources and limited knowledge on sustainable dryland management solutions.

To tackle the problem, GEF, FAO and partners are implementing the Sustainable Forest Management Impact Program on Drylands Sustainable Landscapes which focuses on actions to avoid, reduce and reverse further degradation, desertification and deforestation of land and ecosystems in Mongolia and 10 other countries.  

The Eastern Mongolian Steppe, covering 27.3 million hectares, is one of the world’s largest remaining grassland ecosystems and hosts critical ecosystems of global environmental importance. In this ecosystem the project will promote environmentally friendly, climate-smart crop and fodder production and work with local herder and forest communities to implement sustainable management and restoration of rangelands and forest patches. It will also support partnerships between herder groups, cooperatives, the government and the private sector to develop value chains and access to markets for sustainably produced agricultural products.

By 2025 the Mongolia project will restore 248 827 hectares of land and bring 5 640 317 hectares of land under improved management practices while enhancing the livelihoods of 25 000 direct beneficiaries. It will also mitigate 10 302 215 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. 

The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and  prevent a mass extinction and enhance sustainable production. FAO is working through projects across the world to reach this goal, boosting not just ecosystems but livelihoods and communities too.

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