Sustainable Food and Agriculture

Curbing the impact of desertification, land degradation and drought in 14 countries

03 July 2020

Desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) reduce productivity and food security, disrupt vital ecosystem functions, negatively affect biodiversity and water resources, and increase carbon emissions and vulnerability to climate change. More than half of agricultural land worldwide is affected by land degradation every year, and an estimated USD 1 trillion in soil services is lost from unstainable land management practices.

Despite the seriousness of the threat, policy-makers and land users have limited access to resources, tools and information about effective sustainable land management (SLM) approaches. Furthermore, there are challenges arising from lack of coordination between SLM platforms and databases, knowledge gaps in the area of SLM costs and benefits, and limited capacities and awareness among policy-makers about the importance of adopting SLM approaches.

The Decision support for sustainable land management (DS-SLM) project sought to address these issues. DS-SLM was implemented in 14 countries: Argentina, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Lesotho, Morocco, Nigeria, Panama, Philippines, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. 

FAO in action

Under the DS-SLM project, FAO worked with partners from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Centre for Development and Environment / World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT), ministries and local stakeholders, implementing a wide range of initiatives.

Enhancing soil health to protect livelihoods

Soil provides nutrient cycling for plant and animal life, hosts a quarter of the planet’s biological diversity, and acts as a basis for feed, fuel, fibre and a variety of ecosystem services. All countries involved in the project implemented SLM technologies and approaches in pilot plots and documented their progress and results.

Project partners in Colombia, for example, quantified the benefits of SLM in degraded livestock land. Their milk production increased from 15 to 45 litres, and lower investment in agricultural inputs of fertilizers and labour led to a six percent increase in fodder production. Furthermore, soil health enhancement led to a 23 percent decrease in degraded land across the project’s pilot plots.

Leveraging technology to foster resilience and knowledge-sharing

Under the project, FAO collaborated with WOCAT to deliver an open-access online DLDD and SLM decision support platform and database, linking technical and scientific information networks, country partners and regional partners and programmes. Countries involved in the project tested and documented over 100 SLM technologies and approaches and made them freely accessible online.

The database currently includes over 2 000 SLM practices shared by 132 countries worldwide, and it is an invaluable tool for evidence-based decision making. FAO also developed the online Sustainable land management and land restoration e-learning course to assist policy-makers, practitioners and land users in the selection, planning, implementation and monitoring of SLM interventions.

Promote partnerships to accelerate progress

The project fostered cross-sectoral partnerships across countries and built cooperation experiences through training opportunities, capacity building and knowledge sharing.

Partners from the Philippines, for example, leveraged expertise from Thailand in the effective use of vetiver grass in combatting soil erosion. Establishing multi-stakeholder, cross-sectoral partnerships is an effective way of building capacity, pooling resources, expanding expertise, broadening the scope and effectiveness of projects, and fostering an enabling environment. All projects aimed at delivering sustainable progress should facilitate the establishment of partnerships from the institutional and national level to those amongst local communities.

Key results

By 2019, the 14 countries involved in the project benefitted from enhanced knowledge and understanding of SLM and its concrete advantages to stakeholders and the environment. Results include:

  • Increased production while maintaining ecosystem health;
  • SLM practices mainstreamed in countries’ policies and action plans;
  • SLM implemented in selected pilot landscapes and sites;
  • Enhanced collaboration and partnerships between countries;
  • Adoption or development of new approaches and technologies; and
  • Creation of methodological guidelines, tools and toolkits relevant to any country seeking to combat desertification, land degradation, drought.

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