Neil Palmer/IWMI.

Restoring Degraded Landscapes

Millions of men and women depend on agricultural land for their livelihoods. Unfortunately, a great deal of this land has been degraded by overuse, and other land is at risk. Restoring and protecting land requires involving many different stakeholders to co-design solutions that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

By working with governments, investors and farmers, scientists working in the Restoring Degraded Landscapes (RDL) research theme explore how to restore agricultural lands that have been mismanaged or overexploited and protect all agricultural land from degradation.

In addition, RDL aims to enhance ecosystem services and their related benefits, such as increasing food and energy production, maintaining sources of clean water, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and improving livelihoods.

Finally, RDL is looking into options to mitigate climate change by turning soils into a carbon sink through carbon sequestration, which also helps increase the capacity of soils to provide ecosystem services, such as soil fertility and water retention, thereby improving and sustaining crop production in the long-run.


Africa's first water fund: uniting farmers and business

Soil erosion is a reality for almost one million farmers in Kenya’s Lake Tana region; it’s a threat to not only livelihoods but also water and energy supplies. In March 2015 WLE partner, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) helped launch the Tana-Nairobi Water Fund - the first of it's kind on the continent. As part of the fund, downstream users like Coca-Cola, East African Breweries, and utility companies, will pay upstream “guardians” to implement strategic measures to protect the upper watershed.


Restoring soils for climate change mitigation

RDL explores the opportunities to achieve win-win situations with soil organic carbon (SOC): by sequestering greenhouse gas emissions in soil, we can mitigate the negative effects of climate change while increasing the nutrition of the soil to grow more crops. SOC is a crucial link between land restoration, agricultural productivity and climate change adaptation and mitigation. RDL researchers are working with governments and intergovernmental agencies to identify geographic areas with high carbon sequestration potential and introduce good practices to achieve sequestration. 

Daniel Hirmas, a professor at University of Kansas, uses the MLT scanner at night in a soil pit.
Daniel Hirmas, a professor at University of Kansas, uses the MLT scanner at night in a soil pit. 
Daniel Hirmas/University of Kansas.

Shining a light on soils

How can progress towards land restoration be measured effectively? RDL is working on developing and implementing tools and strategies to monitor progress towards land restoration targets and making them available for use by other CGIAR centers and research programs, as well as key government partners working to meet specific land restoration goals. Part of this process will be a systematic, global assessment of land degradation, as well as the impacts of degradation on ecosystem services and human well-being. By understanding soil health, carbon levels, and structure, RDL will be better placed to provide the kind of information needed to demystify the ground beneath our feet.