With this in mind, some countries have taken on the challenge of, and been successful to varying degrees at restoring land with large scale land restoration projects.
In this guide, we outline a few examples of countries that have undertaken land restoration and re-greening of land affected by degradation such as soil erosion and desertification.
We also outline what some key takeaways might be.
Summary – Land Restoration & Re-Greening Projects Worldwide
But, addressing land degradation can include large scale projects across large areas of continents, countries and regions
Examples of land restoration projects listed below include places like China and Africa
It’s important to note that each region has different causes of land degradation, along with different local climates, conditions, pre existing soil profiles and makeup, farming practices, local knowledge – factors that make addressing land and soil degradation in each area unique
Each region therefore requires a different specific approach. One approach for one land restoration project won’t necessarily work for another, but some general principles might be able to be applied to different projects.
Rather than trying to introduce something new to a region, trying to do what the region or area does well already or has done well in the past based on local conditions and knowledge might be the best approach
Having said that, new sustainable practices might be tested in addition to what has shown to already work
Land restoration at scale usually involves large amounts of financial investment from the government and private partners. Although, some regreening can be lower cost
Changes can be seen as immediately as a few years in some instances, but over the course of several decades (10 to 30 years), large changes can be seen
Benefits can be very wide ranging, including but not limited to provision of jobs, diversifying jobs, increasing incomes and lifting people out of poverty, securing food production for a certain % of the population, improving soil quality and health (especially with the planting of trees), improving water quality, soil carbon storage, decreasing the risk of landslides and floods, improving biodiversity, a return of wildlife, and more. Benefits can depend on the geographic area, the local economy, and other factors
There can also be drawbacks and challenges, such as farmers losing existing land, and also losing income in the short term if the government has to take over land rights and land operations.
Some land is permanently converted/retired from cropland to forestland, and farmers lose their land permanently
Land restoration and re-greening is usually not a silver bullet type solution (even if it provides some benefits)
Some of the success can depend on factors like the existing soil profile or local conditions, and long term success is still a question in some areas with concerns such as continued incentive for farmers and citizens to keep land in a healthy state, and issues like a lack of crop diversity in some places leading to the same issues developed countries eventually face such as having to add agricultural chemicals to promote growth and yields.
There also has to be careful thought put into some methods for land restoration. Using one example to illustrate this – simply planting trees in some areas might lead to failure without planting crops as well.
Dry land may have it’s own unique challenges when it come to regreening and restoration.
Specifically in relation to dry land – restoration rates would need to exceed land degradation rates by one third to ensure dry land health into the future (forbes.com)
The more lessons, information and data from land restoration projects worldwide that can be shared, the more effective future land restoration projects might become
Examples of large scale land restoration projects worldwide include but aren’t limited to:
Qianyanzhou Region in Jiangxi Province, Southern China
Our paraphrased notes from unenvironment.org:
– A few decades back (going back to the 1980’s), the main causes of soil erosion were deforestation and unsustainable farming practices
– The government was responsible for implementing restoration measures
– Reforestation, citrus orchard planting, and rice paddy planting was implemented
– Farmers grew cash crops amongst the orchards, and bred chickens in the orchards and forest plantations
– These factors led to early economic returns, and helped improve soil fertility
– Additionally, dams and ponds were built by the government, and loans were given to households
– A few years after, land was yielding higher incomes
– As far as environmental effects, biodiversity, environmental quality, and the microclimate all improved. Reforestry rates also increased significantly over the course of a decade
– Reforestry in particular can contribute to several environmental, economic and social goals such as helping with carbon storage, contributing economically, helping with water quality, and more
Kubuqi Desert, China
Our paraphrased notes from time.com:
– From 1988, one third of the Kubuqi desert has now been greened
– Shifting sands were an issue, but plants were planted to grip into the sand. Specifically, licorice crops were grown first to add integrity to the soil, and after a number of years, grapes, tomatoes and potatoes could start growing with increased soil integrity
– Benefits have included returning livestock, secondary industries developing, and solar panel farms have been set up on some land
– Over a 50 year period, the economic return (in terms of dollar value), has been almost 2 billion dollars. However, to make a profit on this project, it took 25 years
– Two failures across the lifespan of the project have been paying locals to maintain trees and vegetation, and experimenting with trees that weren’t suitable for the area
– The Kubuqi model will only work for restoring recently degraded land
Loess Plateau, China
Our paraphrased notes from worldbank.org, rethink.earth, and wikipedia.org:
– High erosion rates and desertification due to overuse and overgrazing were the main land degradation problems
– Economically, there were high poverty rates of the local population
– Two large scale projects were operated
– The main proposed solutions were to implement sustainable practices, install land terraces, planting wheat and corn, planting diverse orchards, planting trees, and preventing overgrazing of livestock like goats
– A large part of the success of the project was due to the deep reservoirs of soil that remained, and seeds that still remained in the ground. Without these things, restoration may not have been possible, or may have had limits.
– Results of the project were lifting 2.5 million people + out of poverty, farmers’ incomes doubled, employment diversified, sedimentation in rivers and waterways decreased, food supplies were secured, and other benefits
– Project costs went into the hundreds of millions (up to $500 million between the World Bank and partners in China), and required multi level co-operation and communication
– Land rights were a challenge – land rights were leased out and extended out to decades to give incentive to locals to take care of the land
– Long term concerns with the restoration might be management of soil sedimentation and low crop diversity
Ethiopia, Africa (Abrha Weatsbha, Northern Ethiopia)
Our paraphrased notes from theguardian.com:
– Degraded and deforested lands were the main land degradation issues
– This land has been restored since 15 years ago, but re greening only took a few years
– Actions that were taken were local farmers planting trees and growing crops together (it’s been proven that it’s notoriously unreliable and expensive to just plant trees in dry land areas – you must combine that with crop planting), saving water, and closing off livestock from degraded land. Miles of terraces and low walls, or bunds, were also installed to hold back rainwater from slopes
– Changes observed were the recharging of dried out wells, better soil, growth of fruit trees, and green hillsides
– Costs for the project were not large
– Uganda (2.5m hectares), Democratic Republic of the Congo (8m hectares), Colombia (1m hectares), Guatemala (1.2m hectares), and Chile (100,000 hectares), might all plan on doing something similar
Burkina Faso, Africa
– 2-300,000 hectares of land were regreened
– One of the impacts of that has been food production has grown about 80,000 tons a year – enough to feed an extra 500,000 people.
Our paraphrased notes from eros.usgs.gov, and theguardian.com:
– 5m hectares of degraded land was regreened, with large change seen over 30 years in this area
– Actions taken were over 200m trees being planted
– Results were an extra 500,000 tonnes of food grown in the country, as well as an increase in biodiversity and incomes
– Niger has also increased it’s resiliency, and decreased it’s dependency on external food aid
– Other benefits include carbon storage, using trees for wood, and trees protecting soil from sun in the summer (whilst letting sun through in colder months when leaves drop). The trees can also nourish soil better, meaning it holds water better, and it has more nutrients to increase yields
– Gao trees in Niger are an example of a local tree that works really well in this area
Kenya, & Zambia, Africa
Our paraphrased notes from rethink.earth:
– One of the challenges was that Africa has diverse soils, sometimes with a lack of organic matter, and also nutrient depletion. These soils can be non responsive and difficult to work with and restore
– Another key challenges was that Sub-Saharan Africa also has many different ecological areas that experience different rates of rainfall and have soils that vary in acidity or salinisation or sodification
– In Sub Sahara Africa … one of the biggest points of emphasis and lessons is that organic matter in soil which enhances fertility and soil organisms is key for healthy soils. Solutions that have been suggested are using cover crops, reducing tillage, and direct application of the fungi that expansively grow mycelia
– Another challenge is that Zambia … has three agro ecological zones, distinguished by rainfall and growing season. The challenges there are to address low soil fertility, low organic matter content, acidic soils that are highly leached of nutrients, and soil crusting, among other challenges
– In Kenya, Integrated Soil Fertility Management is being tested which applies different treatments to soils to see which ones respond best
Dryland Health Might Have It’s Own Restoration Challenges
Dryland might have it’s own challenges in restoration compared to other types of land.
… restoration rates would need to exceed land degradation rates by one third to ensure dryland health into the future.
Restoration actions could include implementing barriers that reduce soil erosion or changing the timing or type of land use on already damaged areas