Let’s stop losing ground – (Virgin Unite blog post)

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The original article can be found on the Virgin Unite website here

chunk_of_soil_in_hand_getty_dec2014_crop1500px_0The key to solving four of the most important crises facing us lies beneath our feet, writes Dr Martin Frick, Chair of Initiatives for Land, Lives, Peace.

Taking a stand against poverty, hunger, conflict and climate change? Spare a moment to consider what you are standing on. For the ground beneath our feet is the point at which all four crises intersect, and it holds the key to resolving them.

The land, of course, is what keeps us alive. It feeds us, clothes us, sustains our water systems and defines our cultural identity. We utterly depend on an average six to ten inches of topsoil dusting the land surface of globe; it is all that stands between us and extinction. Yet it has largely been neglected.

Every year more than 30 billion tonnes of it is eroded away worldwide. A quarter of the world’s agricultural land is already seriously degraded, and farmers annually lose additional ground three times the size of Switzerland. The effects on food production and poverty are obvious. Four fifths of the world’s conflicts also occur in the drylands where soil loss is most severe as people compete for ever-diminishing resources. And as trees are cut down and soil is denuded carbon is released to aggravate climate change.

Indeed the climate crisis is mirrored by a land-use one that has received relatively little attention. While we are building up too much carbon in the atmosphere, we are ending up with far too little in our soils.

Happily – as we have been learning through the Initiatives for land, Lives, Peace (ILLP) – the cycle of degradation can, quite easily, be not merely stopped but reversed. Restoring degraded land – with inexpensive techniques, often updated traditional ones – can boost food production and development in most of the poorest places on the planet, sequester enormous amounts of carbon and defuse competition for resources by making available more water and productive soil.

For the past four years we have been holding dialogues on this at the Caux conference centre, perched above Lake Geneva. We have been encouraged, even taken aback, by extraordinary – often virtually unknown – achievements at the grassroots.

Take, for example, the story of the people of Maradi, a desperately eroded part of Niger, presented at last year’s Caux Dialogue on Land and Security. After years of planting trees to stabilise the soil, only to see them die, they discovered that seemingly useless small bushes littering the landscape were in fact clusters of shoots from an “underground forest”, spouting from the buried stumps of long-felled trees. Pruning them down to a single stem – and keeping away the livestock that ate the shoots – allowed them to regenerate into substantial trees in just four years, since their roots still drew water and nutrients from deep below the arid soil.

Crops flourished, and the practice spread as visitors and neighbours copied it. Now some 200 million trees have been regenerated over five million hectares of Maradi and the next-door region of Zinder. Enough extra food is being grown each year to feed 2,500,000 people, incomes have doubled in a million households, conflicts have fallen by 80%, and 30 tonnes of carbon per hectare are being sequestered from the atmosphere.

Then there’s the work of Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, regular participants in the Dialogues, who once led rival sectarian militias in Northern Nigeria. The Pastor had a hand cut off in the resulting battles, while the Imam lost two close relatives. Strong proponents of land restoration, they now work together to broker reconciliation and build the trust between their respective religious communities – both at home and abroad in countries like Kenya and Chad – that is essential if development is to take place.

ILLP is now working on the ground with Excellent Development on both fronts – trust-building and land restoration – in the traditionally conflict-ridden Baringo County of Kenya.

The international community is beginning to grasp the potential of restoring land. Next year is to be the International Year of Soils. The Sustainable Development Goals are likely to include a target for zero net land degradation. And the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has called for 150 million hectares of degraded land to be restored by 2030, providing food for almost 200 million more people, producing $30-$40 billion in extra income for grassroots people, and sequestering two gigatonnes per year of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And, even when this is done, more than six times as much land will still be available for restoration, with all the benefits that brings.

Even the wildest – and often impractical – geoengineering dreams do not bear comparison. As ever the true prizewinner is nature. Photosynthesis – free, open source, and powered by solar energy – is the one established way of extracting hazardous carbon from the atmosphere and turning it into needed carbon in trees, plants, animals and soils.

ILLP is, as yet, a small group of busy people, volunteering their spare time out of conviction about what can (and needs to be done), with few resources. We welcome help and ideas. If you are interested in working with us, in contributing resources, or in attending the Caux Dialogues, please do be in touch with us at land@iofc.org, and visit our website.

Dr Martin Frick is Germany’s representative to the UN and International Organisations in-country, including the secretariats of the UN conventions to fight climate change and desertification in Bonn. As a volunteer, he is chairing Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace, the programme which organises the Caux Dialogue for Land and Security. This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

Read the original article here

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