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Landscapes restoration, drought prevention and soil health!

Reflections from Delhi to Abidjan, UNCCD COP15

Impact of landslides

Growing up in India, I experienced firsthand water scarcity, heatwaves, and food shortages. I went through my journey of denial and willful blindness, accepting these challenges as part of life to blaming the government for most of these problems. While studying the severe impacts of drought in Bundelkhand, central India, I realised that this drought would never be solved as the issue had become a livelihood for most. Today, most of our resources are spent on drought relief and not restoring landscapes to make us more resilient to drought and the impacts of climate change.

While boarding my plane in Arlanda, I was amazed by the long queues of people who could finally travel after restrictions due to the pandemic. After hours in the queue, people quarrelled to get to their flights. I wondered how we would behave if we had to wait for long hours to get a sip of water or get some firewood to cook our food. This is why we conflict in degraded landscapes when people don't have water and struggle to get a meal for each other and fight with their neighbours so that their animals get to graze or get access to water. It's a fact that 80 per cent of conflict is happening in degraded landscapes. Most of the degradation of these landscapes has occurred due to how we grow our food. We have destroyed 80 per cent of the world's forests, depleted our soil health and destroyed 40 per cent of our land. The problems and the data around the issue are daunting, and I can feel helpless and lost, numbed by the sheer vastness and complexity of the challenge. However, there is hope, and the journey of hope began with Initiatives of Change at Caux.  My engagement with the Caux Dialogue for Land and Security and the United Nations Convention for Combating Desertification started to in 2012. It was during these conferences I met people like  Luc Gnacadja, ex-secretary-general of the United Nations Convention for Combating Desertification, Martin Frick, Director of World Food Programme, and Geoff Lean, the Oldest environmental journalist in the world, Tom Duncan, current CEO of Earthbanc, Jennifer Helgesson Environmental researcher National Institute of Standards, etc and many more.


Meeting these people in the reflective environment of Caux deepened the belief that I could be part of the solution, and my journey led me to do many things, including co-founding Earthbanc together Tom Duncan. We had an excellent opportunity to do an event with the African Development Bank and the UNCCD to showcase the Sustainable Land Bond.

The digital sustainable land bonds allow carbon buyers to purchase at an earlier stage of development. “Finance for land and ecosystem restoration makes up less than 1% of all climate finance due to a lack of universal capital market products for these activities. Part of the reason is that monitoring, reporting and verification of sustainable land management have been labor-intensive, sometimes inaccurate and uses fragmented measurement and accounting methodologies.”

If land restoration and drought prevention is made more profitable with the appropriate structure, mechanism and market signals, everybody will love drought resilience and prevention and not drought creation. The perverse incentives can be reversed to transform human behaviour.

Sitting at the crossroads of a recovery from the pandemic, the Ukraine war and the rising drought in East Africa, investing in landscape restoration is the most significant opportunity of our times.

Now that the purpose of investing in landscape restoration is clear, let's focus on how can we restore degraded landscapes :

My attendance in the COP 14 and COP 15 has given me a few key insights, which are as follows :

  1. South-South Cooperation: The previous COP in India made it clear that developing countries like India, Kenya, Pakistan, and Ivory Coast have a lot more in common. They can relate to each other's challenges and share knowledge as co-production of IP rather than transfer of technology from North to South which can be expensive and, in most cases, might not be relevant. Methods like Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration or Zero budget Natural Farming have been developed in the south and have massive potential to scale.
  2. Unpacking the Land Degradation Neutrality:  One of the most underfunded SDGs is SDG 15, which is focused on restoring life on land. Luc Gnacadja formulated it, and more than 123 countries have adopted it. It's about preventing further degradation of productive landscapes, stopping the degradation of existing, and restoring degraded landscapes. Its standard measure is through land cover, land productivity and soil organic carbon. There is an increasing number of people who are using soil health to measure land productivity and SOC.
  3. Financing landscape restoration: In an era in which most countries struggle with many debts, we need debt freeways to finance landscape restoration. Camilla Nordheim-Larsen, Senior Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Coordinator at the UN Convention, noted that action in the land sector can generate up to $140 trillion a year and create 400 million new jobs. In comparison, failure to act can result in losses of $44 trillion. It seems to us that Debt for Nature swaps or the Sustainable Land Bonds could raise the necessary resources to fund landscape restoration.
  4. Food systems, nutrition and health: Depletion in soil health has also depleted the necessary nutrients in our food systems, and by restringing soil health can not only solve the climate, biodiversity and the unemployment crisis, we can also solve some of the most significant human health challenges. We need to surface the underlying connections to health and well-being, which are critical to mobilising further attention of global policymakers towards this convention.

We all have a responsibility to restore our landscapes and solve the biggest crisis of our times. In summary, I would say that if you are reading this blog, you are already part of the solution, as you have decided to dive deeper into the problems. You can now share this knowledge with others, support organisations like Earthbanc, finance landscape restoration, and support regenerative agriculture by eating right.

Written by: Rishab Khanna