Land degradation damaging global agricultural production, warns new UN study

UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja. Photo: UNCCD

9 April 2013 – The international community is losing vast amounts of agricultural production due to the effects of continuing land degradation such as desertification, a new United Nations study has warned, adding that without sustainable land management, development initiatives the world over will be stymied.

Presented at the opening session of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification’s (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference, The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought paints a dire picture of the planet’s current state, noting that up to five per cent of global agricultural gross domestic production (GDP) is being lost due to deteriorating land quality.

“Business as usual is no longer an option,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja told the opening session of the conference, held in Bonn, Germany.

The report – the first economic evaluation of its kind in over twenty years – shows that up to 12 per cent of Africa’s agricultural GDP is being lost due to environmental degradation while the levels in individual countries vary widely, from six per cent in Paraguay to 24 per cent in Guatemala.

According to the UNCCD, the social costs of land degradation are even more staggering with nearly 870 million people suffering from chronic hunger globally. The UN agency reports that in Uzbekistan, food yields have declined by 20 to 30 per cent while in East Africa nearly 3.7 million people still require food assistance following the drought of 2011.

“Desertification, land degradation and drought are key constraints to building social and environmental resilience, achieving global food security and delivering meaningful poverty reduction,” continued Mr. Gnacadja, adding that without action, they will remain an “Achilles’ Heel” to development.

In addition to the ominous statistics, the study, which looks at the costs and benefits of addressing desertification, land degradation and drought, finds that the existing research mostly focuses on the direct economic consequences of these phenomena but overlooks the unintended consequences.

The UNCCD Executive Secretary acknowledged that the study provided an unprecedented window into tackling the global challenge of land degradation but underscored that much yet remained to be achieved.

“The study also points to significant opportunities for action but unless scientific understanding of all land degradation and drought is strengthened, especially in the context of a changing climate, the global community is poorly positioned to deal with the impact of change.”


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Risk-management strategies needed to make societies drought-resilient, UN urges

Related Stories



In-depth Interviews