Integrated Sustainable Land Management, a Valuable Ally to Prevent Human Displacement

Photo: Near Seguin, Haiti 2014 by Rosaly Byrd

By Aikaterini Tsakanika and Rosaly Byrd

For people to stay, we need first to take care of the soil

On June 17th of each year, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) rings the bell for the world to re-appreciate the value of healthy and productive soils, whose maintenance and restoration may not only secure our natural ecosystems, but also reverse the rising tendency of environmentally induced migration. This nexus between displacement and land degradation is the theme of this year’s Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. According to Luca Dall'Oglio, Permanent Observer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to the United Nations in New York, long-term climate change consequences on the livelihoods of local communities (including indigenous peoples, and populations living in coastal regions, low lying islands, and/or areas susceptible to drought) seem to trigger internal displacements:

“ The degradation of land … induces environmental migration…it is often a survival mechanism for those affected…While migration can lead to conflict over scarce resources, such as water, farmland and timber – environmental degradation can lead to scarcity of resources and ignite conflict;… Gradual environmental changes such as drought and desertification appear to be a less obvious push factor for migration than extreme environmental events; however, they displace a larger population in the longer term.[1]

Synergies in the service of soil and the 2030 Agenda

To reverse forced migration, the development of sustainable social and economic activities, such as agriculture, rely largely on healthy soil, whose qualities depend on landscape biodiversity, water availability, geomorphology, and climatic conditions. Unfortunately, land degradation is a subtle phenomenon that evolves over a long period and is often recognized only when corrective and highly costly actions are needed or when the threshold points are overpassed creating irreversible damage to flora and microfauna of the soil.[2]

In recognizing the synergies between land degradation and migration, climate adaptation, social progress and economic growth (among many others), the UNCCD and the Intergovernmental Working Group on Land Degradation Neutrality have welcomed the holistic approach of the 2030 Agenda. They have also contributed to the designing of the Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its targets, championing targets such as Target 15.3 which calls for a land degradation-neutral world by 2030 by restoring soil properties and sustainably managing terrestrial ecosystems to combat further degradation and biodiversity loss.[3] Integrated natural resource management is essential for the combatting land degradation and desertification and thus for the achievement of the SDGs.  

Partnering in sustainable land management to support the most vulnerable

To prevent and mitigate land degradation consequences including forced displacement that derive from the sub-optimal use of land, the alignment of national development priorities with the 2030 Agenda is paramount. The SDGs can prove to be valuable guiding tools for the adoption of integrated land management and the reinforcement of co-operation at all levels of governance. Yet efforts toward sustainable land management need to be complemented by strong involvement of local communities, institutions and businesses respectively. Local, national and international collaboration is also vital to alleviate the increasing pressures and conflicts relating to land use and degradation. In recognition of the importance of these types of collaborations, UNCCD designed the Dryland Champions and Land for Life programmes to raise awareness, share knowledge and promote actors that reinforce land rehabilitation and sustainable land management practices for the benefit of local communities.[4] [5]

A positive indication for these programmes include the growing Dryland Champions’ Brazilian community which has chosen to be “part of the solution” and include 22 institutions honored by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment in 2016 for promoting good land practices that mitigate the effects of drought.[6] In addition, the Land for Life Youth Social Media Activist Challenge this year has seen participation from a number of young activists from all over the globe and Latin America countries -including Mexico, Ecuador and Trinidad. This year’s Land For Life Youth Social Media Activist Challenge: “Are You the ONE?” offered the opportunity for winners to attend the UNCCD International Youth Event in September.[7] [8] The UNCCD secretariat is still inviting more young people and youth organization representatives to participate in this youth challenge and platform: applications are open until June 26th. It is a great chance for the global youth to join forces for a land degradation-neutral world, while also being part of a global agenda in the service of the most vulnerable communities that are often obliged to endure forced displacement. Only by “cultivating” integrated sustainable land management together can we work to ensure that no one is left behind.