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Daily News Analysis

Land degradation

3rd July, 2024 Geography

Land degradation

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  • UNESCO warns 90% of Earth’s land could be degraded by 2050.

Current Status of land degradation:

  • According to the World Atlas of Desertification, 75% of soils are already degraded, directly affecting 3.2 billion people globally.
  • If current practices continue unchecked, the degradation rate could increase to affect 90% of soils by 2050, exacerbating socio-economic and environmental challenges.

Impacts of land degradation

Loss of Agricultural Productivity:

  • Land degradation reduces soil fertility, water retention capacity, and overall productivity, leading to lower crop yields and food insecurity. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that soil degradation reduces global crop yields by about 33%, contributing to food shortages and poverty.
  • Example: In Sub-Saharan Africa, soil degradation due to erosion and nutrient depletion has significantly reduced maize yields, threatening food security for millions.

Erosion and Soil Loss:

  • Degraded lands are prone to erosion, resulting in the loss of topsoil, nutrients, and organic matter essential for plant growth. Globally, soil erosion affects over 1.2 billion hectares of land, with annual economic losses estimated at $8 billion due to reduced agricultural productivity and increased sedimentation in water bodies. The Loess Plateau in China for instance has experienced severe soil erosion due to deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices, leading to reduced land productivity and sedimentation in rivers.

Biodiversity Decline:

  • Land degradation destroys habitats and reduces biodiversity, threatening plant and animal species that depend on healthy ecosystems for survival. Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest not only contributes to soil erosion but also leads to habitat fragmentation, endangering thousands of species unique to the region.

Climate Change Amplification:

  • Degraded lands contribute to climate change through increased greenhouse gas emissions, reduced carbon sequestration, and altered water cycles. Land degradation accounts for up to 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from deforestation, soil erosion, and degradation of wetlands and peatlands. Conversion of peatlands for agriculture in Southeast Asia releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.

Socio-economic Consequences:

  • The World Bank estimates that land degradation costs the global economy about $40 billion annually in lost ecosystem services and agricultural productivity, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations.

Strategies for preventing land degradation:

  • Promotion of Sustainable Land Management Practices:
    • Implementing sustainable agricultural practices such as agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and integrated soil fertility management to improve soil health and productivity. Conservation tillage techniques in the United States have reduced soil erosion rates by up to 90%, preserving soil structure and fertility.
  • Afforestation and Reforestation:
    • Planting trees and restoring degraded forests to prevent soil erosion, enhance biodiversity, and sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The Great Green Wall initiative in Africa aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 through afforestation and sustainable land management.
  • Erosion Control and Soil Conservation:
    • Implementing erosion control measures such as terracing, contour farming, and vegetative barriers to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation. For instance, The Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project in China successfully reduced soil erosion by implementing terracing and reforestation, improving agricultural productivity and water quality.
  • Integrated Water Resource Management:
    • Adopting integrated approaches to water management, including rainwater harvesting, watershed management, and efficient irrigation techniques to sustainably use water resources and prevent soil degradation. The Water for Life Decade initiative in Kazakhstan improved water management practices in agriculture, reducing soil salinization and desertification in arid regions.
  • Policy Support and Governance:
    • Strengthening policy frameworks, land tenure systems, and governance structures to promote sustainable land use practices and enforce regulations against land degradation. Example: The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) integrates environmental objectives with agricultural subsidies to incentivize sustainable farming practices and protect soil health.

Global initiatives by UNESCO on land degradation:

International Conference and Goals:

The UNESCO International Conference on Soils held in Agadir, Morocco, convened experts and representatives from 30 countries.

Its primary goals included developing an action plan for improved soil protection, filling knowledge gaps, and enhancing community engagement through education and training.

World Soil Health Index:

UNESCO plans to establish a 'world soil health index' in collaboration with international partners.

This index aims to standardize measures for assessing soil quality across different regions, identifying trends in degradation or improvement, and evaluating the effectiveness of soil management practices.

Pilot Programmes and Initiatives:

UNESCO will initiate a pilot programme for long-term soil and landscape management in ten natural sites under its Biosphere Reserves Programme.

These initiatives will focus on developing and implementing best practices for soil conservation and sustainable land management globally.

Training and Education:

UNESCO commits to providing training to member states, indigenous communities, and conservation organizations on soil protection tools and techniques.

An educational component will be integrated to raise awareness among youth about the importance of soil health and sustainable land management practices.


  • There is a need for commitment to addressing global soil degradation through scientific research, international cooperation, and capacity building.The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 aims to combat desertification, restore degraded land, and halt biodiversity loss by 2030. Various international agreements and initiatives, such as the Bonn Challenge and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), aim to address land degradation at a global scale.




Q)  Which of the following are reports released by UNESCO?

  1. Global Education Monitoring Report
  2. World Heritage Sites Report
  3. Global Gender Gap Report
  4. State of the World's Indigenous Peoples Report
  5. Atlas of Desertification


  1. Only 1 and 2
  2. Only 2, 4, and 5
  3. Only 1, 2, and 4
  4. Only 1, 2, 4, and 5

Answer: D. 1, 2, 4, and 5.


Global Education Monitoring Report

  • This is correct. UNESCO publishes the Global Education Monitoring Report annually to monitor progress towards education targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

World Heritage Sites Report

  • This is correct. UNESCO publishes reports related to World Heritage Sites, which include updates on conservation efforts and the list of new inscriptions.

Global Gender Gap Report

  • This is incorrect. The Global Gender Gap Report is published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), not UNESCO.

State of the World's Indigenous Peoples Report

  • This is correct. UNESCO publishes reports on the state of indigenous peoples worldwide, highlighting issues related to their rights, cultures, and challenges they face.

Atlas of Desertification

 This is correct. UNESCO publishes the Atlas of Desertification, which provides information and maps related to desertification and land degradation worldwide.