In order to combat the ever-increasing threat of desertification on formerly
fertile lands, the world’s citizens must work to achieve “zero net land
degradation” – restoring as much land as has been disturbed, experts on the
“We admit that it is difficult to achieve zero land
degradation, but fortunately – in quotes – we have a lot of degraded land,” said
Prof. Uriel Safriel of Hebrew University, who is also head of Israel’s UNESCO
Man and Biosphere program and is a focal point for the United Nations Convention
to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Safriel was speaking at a press
conference on Monday evening at the Drylands, Deserts and Desertification Fourth
International Conference, on Implementing Rio+20 for the Drylands and
Desertification, held at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev campus at Sde Boker.
Not only do people need to reduce the rate at which land is being degraded every
year, but they also need to offset the amount that has already been degraded by
restoring now unusable land, according to Safriel.
“The desert is one of
the places least affected by desertification on Earth,” Safriel said. “We have
to look at areas that are not desert and be careful not to make them
As people continue to encroach upon dryland forests, additional
lands that farmers begin to cultivate will fail – as forests are necessary to
support agricultural land, according to Safriel.
One of the major results
of desertification and land degradation in general is hunger and poverty,
explained Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the UNCCD.
degradation is one of the major causes of food insecurity,” Gnacadja
“If we want [small farmers] to do more we need to reach out to them
and help them do more with their degraded lands.”
Land degradation has
been driven by misplaced investments, and world leaders need to find a way to
bridge the gap between activities happening on a grassroots level and where
governments are placing public investments, Gnacadja argued. More attention
specifically needs to go to dry forests, rather than rainforests, as much more
of the Earth’s life is contained in these spaces, which are rapidly degrading
into desert land, he explained.
Some ways to restore the land properly
involve using drip irrigation techniques and fertilizers that increase
efficiency, explained Prof. Rattan Lal, director of the Carbon Management and
Sequestration Center at Ohio State University and adviser to the
“As long as we eat food we cannot discard agriculture,” Lal said.
“Agriculture has to be the number one solution to the problem of mitigating
While land restoration may not always be financially
profitable, Lal argued that “we have go to look beyond the profit issue,” as
land restoration is “a question of survival.”
Meanwhile, it is crucial to
incentivize farmers to use modern technology as agricultural tools, but to
ensure that they are using such tools wisely and without excess, Lal
“We have to go beyond economics,” he said. “It has to be
profitable to planet Earth.”
A goal of the UNCCD is to achieve zero net
land degradation by 2030, and beyond that year, to restore more than is
degraded, Gnacadja explained.
“There is now a kind of understanding that
no one can stand on the ground of being non-affected by land degradation,” he
said, stressing that previously unaffected countries can no longer simply look
on from afar.
“Land degradation has been for too long in the blind spot
of the global plan for sustainability,” said Prof. Alon Tal, co-chairman of the
Green Movement and a professor at BGU’s Blaustein Institutes for Desert
He noted that desertification has for a long time been “the
orphan of global environmental challenges.”
“For too long the world has
seen this as a problem of Africa and Asia and one that doesn’t affect all of
us,” he said.
Looking at the situation with some optimism, however, Tal
stressed that the knowledge for soil conservation and renewable energy
development does, in fact, exist.
“If you go around the planet you can
see that trend does not need to be destiny,” he said.