Reversing land degradation neutrality with sustainable land management and sustainable forest management practices
14 December 2022
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have received funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to implement the joint project to create an enabling environment to support the implementation of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) target in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in the next two years.
Speeding up efforts to reverse and prevent land degradation is vital in the next years if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved, including target 15.3 which contains the objective to “combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world” by 2030. Reversing land degradation can boost soil productivity, increase water retention and contribute to sustainable livelihoods and people's resilience.
So, what does Land Degradation Neutrality mean in practical terms? Land Degradation Neutrality or LDN has been defined by the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification as “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems”. LDN is a powerful concept designed to help people understand land degradation and ways of how to respond effectively. Any LDN intervention has the final objective of either avoiding or reducing new degradation via sustainable soil management or sustainable forest management practices and reversing past degradation via restoration and rehabilitation, with neutrality or zero net loss being the desired target state. In farmlands, sustainable land management techniques can entail increased crop rotation, less reliance on agro-chemicals or increased tree cover to protect soils and waterways, improve nutrient cycling and support pollinators. Sustainable forest management practices can involve natural regeneration or enrichment planting as well as the sustainable harvesting of forest products.
Degraded ecosystems in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Climate change-induced land degradation has become extreme in BIH, as manifested through more frequent floods, drought and wildfires in recent decades. Land use in BiH is affected by inadequate and unsound planning practices of resource utilization. During the validation workshop organized by UNEP and FAO earlier this year, main land degradation drivers were identified for BiH, which included abandoned agricultural land, abandoned households, floods, erosion, drought, bare land and unsuccessful afforestation, sizable percentage of mining contamination on 2.3% of the country’s territory, and over-use of pesticides and mineral fertilizers, illegal deforestation. In BiH, 1.2 million people were living on degrading agricultural land in 2010, which constituted an increase of 2% in a decade, bringing the share of rural residents who inhabit degraded agricultural land up to 52% of the total rural population.
In the process of LDN strategizing Federation of BiH set the target to “improve land quality and protection and restore degraded land functions in specific ecosystems or minimize adverse environmental impacts” by 2030. Republika Srpska aims to “increase land productivity on 7% of its territory” by 2030. Under this project, UNEP and FAO will extend technical assistance to support the achievement of these entity-level LDN targets in the country by strengthening institutional, legal, policy frameworks, and monitoring and reporting capacity of relevant stakeholders for LDN implementation.
The most vulnerable regions affected by land degradation have been identified in both entities during the LDN Target setting process in BiH. In the Federation of BiH these are Tuzla canton from the standpoint of land degradation under anthropogenic influence, and Herzegovina-Neretva canton and Canton 10 from the standpoint of natural influences-drought and fires, followed by erosion, as a result of degradation processes. In Republika Srpska these are Lijevče polje and Semberia from standpoint of human impact on agricultural land, then floods, drought and erosion, and Herzegovina from standpoint of wildfires, drought and bare land expansion. Four pilot areas in the most vulnerable regions affected by land degradation have been identified as the project sites, those being located in the South-eastern part of the country and the other in the North-eastern part, namely in Tuzla Canton, Bijeljina Municipality, Neretva Canton and Trebinje Municipality, where the indicator on the number of hectares under best practices, supported with a gender perspective, will be monitored and entered into the interactive Decision Support System, developed by this project.
UNEP-FAO response action
Land-based mitigation options rank among the most cost-effective opportunities to sequester carbon emissions. Economic evaluations of various climate change mitigation alternatives show that capturing carbon through restoring degraded lands (including degraded forest) is a cost-effective option that offers multiple co-benefits. The joint project will focus on institutional strengthening for improved land management and reduction of land degradation through capacity-building of key partner institutions and also demonstrations of sustainable soil management and sustainable forest management best practices in agricultural land, forests and rangelands that provide carbon benefits on 4 pilot areas in both Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska.
Restoration success should not be assessed using only the number of hectares under restoration or trees planted within the framework of this project, but also with improvements in land-based natural capital, restored ecosystem services and socio-economic changes. The learning and knowledge platforms of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration can contribute to fostering national communities of practice and applied research on achieving LDN in the country.
“Healthy landscapes are fundamental to the health of life on earth. From food we produce and eat to clean air we breathe and clean water drink, depend on our land. Unfortunately, land degradation and desertification, are amongst the most pressing problems threatening our well-being. UNEP, working in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), respective entities Ministries of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry, entities ministries of environmental protection will jointly work to address this problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina. UNEP will support this partnership by providing innovative knowledge, global network and expertise for scaling up the activities and providing necessary assistance to successfully attain project objectives”.
Ersin Esen, GEF Task Manager at Europe Office, UNEP
“The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification has estimated that the returns on taking action against land degradation are estimated at USD 6 for every dollar invested in restoring degraded land in Bosnia and Herzegovina. FAO assessments of the costs of action against land degradation through sustainable land management and sustainable forest management practices highlight the strong economic incentive for bold actions against land degradation. Utilizing a strong toolkit of methodological frameworks and environmental data monitoring metrics, our organization is honoured to having been tasked by Bosnia and Herzegovina to support the county and its institutions to execute the Global Environment Facility-funded project to support the achievement of the ambitious LDN targets and restoration commitments by the 2030 horizon”.
Nabil Gangi, FAO Deputy Regional Representative, Head of FAO in Bosnia and Herzegovina