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To Restore Africa's Degraded Land, Improve Farmers' Rights to it

Droughts and desertification fueled by deforestation, agricultural expansion and climate change have left African countries from the Sahel to the Congo Basin with sizable economic losses and little chance of food security. Roughly 65 percent of the continent’s land is now degraded, resulting in a 3 percent loss of agricultural GDP annually due to soil degradation and nutrient depletion on farmlands.

Despite these extreme circumstances, Africa also has the largest opportunity for landscape restoration in the world - more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres), an area nearly the size of Australia, according to analysis by the World Resources Institute, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the University of Maryland (UMD). Three countries in particular have already started this process of restoration by empowering those it stands to benefit most: rural farmers.

Extreme deforestation and soil degradation have left less than 3 percent of Ethiopia’s native forests intact, contributing to $1-2 billion in economic losses annually. In the Humbo District, vast forest-clearing occurred in the late 1960s, largely the result of pressures from crop farming and unmanaged fuelwood collection. By the early 2000s, 85 percent of residents in the Humbo District were living in poverty as a result of intensive cultivation, overgrazing and deforestation on their land.

Farming constitutes about 85 percent of total employment in the region, which is why World Vision and the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund worked with farmers in developing a program to restore 2,700 hectares (6,700 acres) of degraded and deforested land. This was achieved through a number of restoration practices, including “community-based natural regeneration,” in which people allow native trees and shrubs to regrow on degraded forest land from live stumps, underground roots and soil seedbanks—pruning mainly to manage densities and meet local needs for firewood. They also carefully manage livestock and close off entire areas to both humans and animals in order to allow native vegetation to regenerate. By supporting natural regrowth, villagers were not only able to restore trees to the landscape, but also produce and sell firewood, berries, fruits and nuts.

UN Development Program

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