Land degradation: bad for humans, bad for biodiversity

A photo log on land degradation for International Biodiversity Day
May 21, 2013
by Marcia MacNeil

Land degradation—the loss of goods and services derived from our ecosystems, such as soil, vegetation, and other plant and animal life—not only poses a serious threat to long-term food security but puts wildlife diversity in grave danger.

Taking the form of desertification, deforestation, overgrazing, salinization, or soil erosion, land degradation can be caused by biophysical factors, such as the natural topography of an area or its rainfall, wind, and temperature; and unsustainable land management practices, such as deforestation, soil nutrient mining, and cultivation on steep slopes.

IFPRI Senior Researcher Ephraim Nkonya and his colleagues have been working to increase awareness of this problem and to push for comprehensive action to address it for many years. His work includes a 2011 book, where he and his co-authors point out that limited awareness and insufficient institutional support are paralyzing action. They advise policymakers and the international community to:

  • decentralize natural resource management, invest in agricultural research and development, and build local capacity for participatory programs to ensure clear property rights, legal protection, and enforcement of those rights;
  • prioritize investments to scale up applied research, such as rigorous assessments of the economic costs of land degradation, and ensure collaboration across regions and among scientists, socio-economists, and policymakers; and
  • follow models of influential global initiatives in related natural resource management areas, such as the Economics of Ecosystem Biodiversity study and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, involving all stakeholders in the process of global assessment.

IFPRI photographer Milo Mitchell accompanied Nkonya on a visit to regions in Uzbekistan, Niger, and Senegal where land degradation is particularly evident. It is clear from these photos that humans are only one of many species that suffer the effects of this ongoing environmental problem.

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Relevant IFPRI publications