Why better soil could mean peace and prosperity for African farmers

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by Meera Shah

Food assistance needs in 2017 are unprecedented, say FEWS-Net, an early warning system pioneered by the US government.

Famine threatens South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. Ethiopia is also included within the top 5 areas of highest concern. An estimated 42 million people are currently food insecure in the Sahel – a situation that is expected to further deteriorate to 53 million during the lean season from June to August.

In Somalia and Ethiopia, hunger is largely the outcome of failed rains and a crippling drought linked to climate change. Elsewhere, hunger and famine have been caused by conflict. In South Sudan, farmers have been displaced by conflict, abandoning their land to escape the violence. In Northern Nigeria, Boko Haram’s presence has displaced large numbers of people, disrupting livelihoods and markets. Protracted conflicts in Somalia have eliminated the infrastructure required to take produce to markets. Conflict also disrupts trade and humanitarian access. Blockades of ports and airports in Yemen has directly impacted the amount of humanitarian aid available to people.

In some cases, such as in South Sudan, conflict and drought combined to create the perfect storm.

It is no secret that conflicts are complex and building peace requires addressing their root causes. A less explored root cause is one that links food insecurity, livelihoods and migration: land degradation.

The knock-on effects of land degradation

Land degradation is at the nexus of the world’s food, poverty, migration, water, climate, and security crisis and lies at the root of many conflicts. As droughts become more frequent and more intense, the resilience of farmers and pastoralists has been eroded. Droughts are particularly damaging to soil health, especially in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. Every year, 12 million hectares of topsoil – equivalent to the size of Switzerland, is being either blown or washed away.

This is not good news for climate change, since warming soils release more carbon. The world’s soils have lost between 50-70% of their original carbon stock, releasing 98 billion tonnes of carbon in 2008 alone, compounding the effects of climate change. Droughts also increase salinity and destroy the capacity for soils to hold nutrients required for healthy yields.

When soil becomes less fertile, yields fall and farmers seek alternative livelihoods, either in more fertile regions or urban areas. 60 million people are expected to migrate out of Sub-Saharan Africa towards northern Africa and Europe within the next 20 years.

While most migration tends to be temporary and peaceful, recent examples show that added pressure on resources can lead to conflict. Some scientists argue that the Syrian war was aggravated by a long and intense drought (combined with poor land management policies), which displaced Syrian farmers from the rural areas into the cities. Similar connections are being made between climate change, drought, land degradation, migration and conflicts in several other regions including Darfur in Sudan and the Lake Chad Basin region.

Land restoration projects can help but they require public investment

Soil restoration offers opportunities for ecosystem restoration, improved environmental governance, climate resilience, enhanced food and water security, and economic growth through employment. But as delegates at the fifth annual Caux Dialogue on Land and Security established, implementing and scaling up land restoration work requires difficult conversations about investment, land governance and policy.

The technical aspects of land restoration, while highly context-specific, are relatively simple. But, investments are dependent on land tenure and access, long-term commitment from smallholder farmers, community engagement and political will. Weak land tenure rights mean farmers are unable to access finance and insurance to invest in inputs and improve soil health. Establishing land security for long-term restoration programmes was a repeated call from farmers, youth representatives and investors. In cases where farmers are displaced by conflict it is imperative that tenure systems cope with their return, and include strong dispute resolution processes.

Scaling up small and successful interventions is key. But there is a gap in funding available for land restoration projects, despite the creation of the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund by UNCCD. Public finance can plug some of this, by rewarding small-scale farmers for investing in soil health, offering financial safety nets as they transition into sustainable land management programmes, or by subsidising input costs.

Ecosystems take a long-time to repair and rejuvenate, but investors prefer short and predictable return timeframes. Public funds can attract more private investment by guaranteeing a timely return to investors. Public finance could also be used to overcome prohibitive transaction and administrative costs which make it financially unviable for investors to invest in small-scale projects.

Restoring the world’s degraded lands to improve food and human security will require comprehensive policies involving representatives from climate, agriculture, water, land and finance sectors and therefore the dialogue must continue.

This blog was written for the Malabo Montpellier Panel, available here.

How to slow migration and save the climate

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By Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 2007-2013

Halting land degradation and restoring soil is a vital part of preserving the Earth’s global commons – the world simply cannot afford to continue to lose 24 billion tons of precious fertile topsoil a year – but it’s also an urgent matter of security.

More than three quarters of the world’s conflicts already take place in its drylands, and about half of all those in fragile regions and economies stem from battles for resources resulting from environmental degradation. The war in Syria followed six consecutive years of drought, and the extremism and violence of groups like Boko Haram are rooted in the loss of productive land. And the crisis is getting worse: since 1970 the area affected by drought worldwide has doubled.

Migration is often driven by lack of hope of a reasonable future at home. Restoring land can restore hope.

Over the last two years, fewer than 2 million migrants seeking to get into Europe have changed the politics of the continent. But by 2030, as the climate changes and more land is lost, 60-130 million people are expected to want to migrate there.

Migration is often driven by lack of hope of a reasonable future at home. Restoring land can restore hope. It increases food production and incomes, reduces conflicts because there are more resources to go round, and combats climate change by sequestering carbon. It is central to implementing the universally agreed sustainable development goals and to enabling countries to fulfil their pledges under the Paris climate agreement.

It is becoming increasingly clear that transformational change is necessary. For example, a high level roundtable of representatives of both the executive and legislative arms of government, business, finance, thinktanks, NGOs and the media from both north and south, which I chaired at the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security earlier this month, called on leaders and stakeholders at all levels to “address the urgent need for systems change rather than incremental improvement”.

It also agreed that “this transformation should target reshaping the context of investment in agriculture, not least in providing incentives for farmers to remove carbon from the atmosphere by restoring and afforesting land”.

Most of the world’s knowledge on how to manage land is stored in local communities. This is also where conflicts – such as the constant ones between settled farmers and nomadic pastoralists – tend to be triggered, and can be prevented or resolved. It is here too that partnerships for change can most easily be forged.

Much can be done with simple well-known, labour intensive techniques. Pruning offshoots from the still-living roots of trees felled long ago to a single stem, and keeping away goats that would otherwise eat it, for example, has regenerated forests in Niger and Ethiopia. Such farmer-managed natural regeneration has resulted in spectacular increases in harvests and incomes, the capturing of vast amounts of carbon, and the reduction or ending of conflicts, while building communities’ resilience to drought.

There are enormous investment opportunities in restoring land

By the same token, the roundtable – held under the aegis of the secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – had little time for the top-down capacity building, so beloved by many international organisations which often involves officials far from the grassroots.

Instead it called for greater emphasis on “strengthening the capacity of those working on the ground and those directly affected by land degradation”. Bridges also need to be built between local people and policymakers. Women are critical agents of change, and make up the majority of farmers in many developing countries. They need to see an end to the gender inequalities that hinder their engagement. Young people can also be crucial changemakers and they particularly need the jobs that land restoration can provide.

Communities and governments alike will become more resilient to drought if they are better prepared for it. Early warning systems are essential, as is better assessment of vulnerabilities to drought, and of its impacts.

There are enormous investment opportunities in restoring land, but governments, businesses and financial institutions are failing to realise them. Incentives provided for activities that, often unwittingly, destroy land are at least an order of magnitude greater than those given for preserving, let alone restoring it. Public finance is needed to encourage entrepreneurship and the development of new technologies, but more especially to reward the services small farmers who nourish their soils make to the global commons through conserving biodiversity, combating climate change, enhancing food security and water supplies, and increasing security.

There also, of course, needs to be more private investment. Introducing special restoration bonds – modelled on the very successful green bonds, issued to provide a return to investors while furthering environmental sustainability and creating jobs and other social benefits – could play an important part. So could public-private partnerships, but these must involve local people, and local as well as central government. Above all, investors will need to be ready to receive returns not in the short, but in the medium to long-term.

The truth is that restoring the world’s over 2bn hectares of degraded land – starting with achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030, the landmark tipping point set in the SDGs for moving humanity into the restoration age – is an immense opportunity. Communicating that, as well as the challenges it presents, is a precondition of success. We owe it to present and future generations to undertake it speedily, and at scale.

This article was first published on 31 July 2017 by  The Global Environment Facility, a sponsor of Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network. Read it here.

Dialog über Land und Sicherheit in Caux: Wer Lösungen will, der findet sie auch

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Vom 11. bis 15. Juli fand im Schweizer Caux der diesjährige Dialog über Land und Sicherheit statt. Auch die Earthbeat Foundation war vor Ort. Dabei konnte sich unsere Mitarbeiterin davon überzeugen, dass es für jedes Problem immer auch eine Lösung gibt.

Während man in Deutschland noch darüber diskutiert, warum der Hamburger G20-Gipfel von Gewaltexzessen überschattet war, konnte sich Earthbeat-Mitarbeiterin Julia Gajewski beim Dialog über Land und Sicherheit im Rahmen desNachhaltigkeitsforums in Caux davon überzeugen: Lösungsorientiertes Engagement kommt ohne Gewalt aus. Zum sechsten Mal trafen offizielle Vertreter von Regierungen, Institutionen, Unternehmen, Medien und NGOs zusammen, um sich auszutauschen und Projekte vorzustellen. Auch Earthbeat-Gründerin Guya Merklewar vor einigen Jahren bereits zu Gast. Auch in diesem Jahr war die Veranstaltung geprägt von einer offenen und konstruktiven Atmosphäre, in der wieder einmal deutlich wurde: Es ist noch lange nicht zu spät ist, um sich mit den drängenden Problemen unserer Zeit auseinanderzusetzen!

Dialog über Land und Sicherheit: Strategien gegen die Endzeitstimmung

Caux ist ein kleines Schweizer Örtchen direkt an der Grenze zu Frankreich. Montreux liegt nur einen Steinwurf entfernt und wer den Weg ins hoch gelegene Dorf hinter sich gebracht hat, wird mit einem malerischen Ausblick über den Genfer See belohnt. Flutwellen, Dürreperioden, Klimaflucht: All diese Horrorszenarien scheinen weit weg. Dabei ist Caux gerade bei Nachhaltigkeitsexperten ein fester Begriff. Seit 2012 trifft man sich hier, um Lösungen für die drängenden Probleme unserer Zeit zu diskutieren. Hier geht es nicht um Schönmalerei, sondern darum, funktionierende Einzelprojekte aus der ganzen Welt zu einem Mosaik zusammenzusetzen und Inspiration und Sichtbarkeit zu erzeugen.

„Mir ist einmal mehr klar geworden, dass der große Pessimismus unserer Zeit auch daher kommt, dass die Menschen sich mit bereits existierenden Lösungen nicht auseinandersetzen. Die Schwarzmalerei ist in den meisten Fällen schlichtweg Ausdruck von Unwissen“, berichtet in Julia von ihren Eindrücken aus Caux. Es sei eine bereichernde Erfahrung gewesen, sich mit so vielen engagierten und hochkompetenten Menschen auszutauschen und sich inspirieren zu lassen. „Niemandem hier geht es um Wettbewerb. Wir alle kämpfen für das gleiche Ziel, jeder auf seine Art und Weise. Und wir lernen voneinander. Das ist für meine Arbeit sehr wichtig“, erklärt Julia. 

Unter den 140 Konferenzteilnehmer auf dem Dialog über Land und Sicherheit befanden sich Nachhhaltigkeitsexperten wie Severine von Tscharner Fleming, die sich mit ihrem Projekt ‚The Green Horns‘ für eine zukunftsorientierte Form der Landwirtschaft einsetzt. Oder Agroforestry Experte Patrick Worms, der sich mit der Rolle von Wäldern für die Agrarkultur auseinandersetzt. Auch der amerikanische Ökologe und Dokumentarfilmemacher John D. Liu war in Caux. In seinen Filmen widmet dieser sich bewusst den in den Leitmedien so unterrepräsentierten ‚guten Nachrichten.‘ So porträtiert sein 2009 erschienener Film Hope in a Changing Climate ein Projekt in China. In imposanten Bildern zeigt Liu, wie ein Gebiet so groß wie die Niederlande zu neuem Leben erweckt wird. Möglich wird dies durch moderne Techniken, die dem abgestorbenen Boden neue Nährstoffe liefern und fruchtbar werden lassen.

Wald für die Earthbeat-Bienen

Gerade dieses Thema ist bei unserer Mitarbeiterin auf besonders offene Ohren gestoßen. Klar ist: Wo nichts wächst, gibt es keine Perspektiven. Degradiertes Land ist das Schlagwort der Stunde. Durch den Abbau von Ressourcen, durch Monokulturen oder durch zu intensiv betriebene Landwirtschaft stirbt die Erde ab. Dabei konnte Julia sich darüber informieren, dass dagegen nicht nur ein Kraut, sondern ganze Wälder wachsen können. „Die Art und Weise, wie wir der Erde Ressourcen entziehen, führt dazu, dass ganze Landstriche unbewohnbar werden. Dann denkt man: So, das war‘s. Da lässt sich nichts machen. Aber dem ist nicht so. Es gibt wirkungsvolle Verfahren, die aus totgesagter Erde blühende Landschaften wachsen lassen.“ 

Das ist natürlich auch im Zusammenhang mit Minenfeldern eine gute Nachricht. Denn nicht nur bedarf eine industriell geförderte Feinunze Gold (ca. 31gr) gut 2700 Liter Wasser und den Energiebedarf einer vierköpfigen Familie für zehn Tage. Auch hinterlassen Chemikalien wie Quecksilber und Zyanid immense Schäden für Umwelt und Landwirtschaft. „Als ich mehr darüber erfahren habe, wie Landstriche wiederbelebt werden können, musste ich sofort an unser Heartbeat Honey Projekt in Uganda denken. Die Menschen vor Ort zu Imkern auszubilden, hilft dabei, sie unabhängig von der Arbeit in den Goldminen zu machen. Doch die Bienen brauchen Lebensraum. Wälder und Blütenpflanzen wieder anzupflanzen, die vorher für Minenflächen gerodet wurden, ist keine Utopie, sondern tatsächlich machbar. Auf diese Weise könnte den Minenarbeitern und ganzen Regionen eine neue Perspektive geboten werden“ , resümiert Julia. Das nachhaltige Wiederaufforstung sogar wirtschaftlich sinnvoll ist, käme langsam aber sicher auch bei Investoren an.

Umweltschutz bedeutet Sicherheit

Der Dialog über Land und Sicherheit findet seit 2012 im Rahmen des Caux Forums statt. Dort setzt  man sich seit mehr als 70 Jahren den akuten Problemen unserer Welt auseinander. Der thematische Fokus baut eine wichtige Brücke zwischen Umweltschutz und Sicherheitspolitik. Ein kollabiertes Ökosystem erzeugt Massenflucht und somit auch politische Konflikte. Immer mehr Menschen fliehen vor den Folgen des Klimawandels – auch nach Europa. In Caux diskutiert man Lösungen für strukturelle Probleme in den betroffenen Gebieten, um dem immer mehr eskalierenden Kampf um Ressourcen präventiv entgegenzuwirken. Vertreter aus Politik, Wirtschaft und Wissenschaft arbeiten zusammen, um die Problemkomplexe in ihrer Vielschichtigkeit zu betrachten und einzelne Lösungsansätze zu kombinieren.

Dieser Artikel wurde erstmals am 25. Juli 2017 von Earthbeat Foundation veröffentlicht. Lese es hier.

Caux Dialogue Highlights Links between Land Restoration and Peace

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by Delia Paul, Thematic Expert for Poverty Reduction, Rights and Governance (Malaysia/Australia)


The Caux Dialogue on Land and Security (CDLS), a partnership initiative, has called for scaling up land restoration efforts around the world to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030. In their seven-point communiqué, CDLS participants emphasized land restoration as central to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate. SDG target 15.3 calls for striving to achieve a land degradation-neutral world by 2030.

CDLS took place from 11-15 July 2017 in Caux, Switzerland. The dialogue is an annual event jointly convened by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Secretariat, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Caux-Initiatives of Change Foundation (IofC), and the Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace (ILLP), a programme of Initiatives of Change International. The 2017 dialogue was the fifth such event.

Pradeep Monga, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, stressed that land restoration and peace go hand in hand.

In the opening address, Pradeep Monga, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, noted the links between land, conflict, drought and migration. He announced the forthcoming launch of a fund for financing the land degradation neutrality (LDN) target in the SDGs (target 15.3), which will provide US$300-500 million to enable countries to scale up their projects toward meeting this LDN target. He stressed that land restoration and peace go hand in hand, and will require building partnerships at the global, regional and national levels, with CDLS serving as “a good step forward” in this direction.

Luc Gnacadja, Chair of the Strategic Council of the Sahara and Sahel Observatory and former Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, called for climate finance, which amounted to US$331 billion in 2014 and US$391 billion in 2015, to be spent at the local level in countries where land degradation is occurring. He emphasized that investment must be ‘climate-compatible’, and that developing countries do not need charity, but rather, resources for infrastructure.

Other speakers included: Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, Zimbabwe Minister for Environment; Yousif el Tayeb, Executive Director of the Darfur Development and Reconstruction Agency; Julia Marton-Lefevre, former Executive Director, IUCN; Sofia Faruqi, World Resources Institute; Patrick Worms, World Agroforestry Centre; and many leaders of land restoration initiatives around the world.

In the working sessions, participants discussed planning and financing large-scale land restoration, and considered various business models. They discussed ways to promote a “culture of peace” around shared ecological resources. Some of the initiatives discussed were: making open-source software available for small-scale farmers to undertake digital monitoring of environmental indicators on their own farms; using drones to plant trees; instituting 20-year planning cycles for investment in large-scale landscape restoration; and reintroducing yeheban indigenous drought-resistant shrub, to northern Somalia.

The seven-point CDLS communiqué issued at the close of the meeting called on leaders and stakeholders at all levels to: undertake systems change in agriculture, including incentives for farmers to remove carbon from the atmosphere through land restoration; work with local communities and at the landscape level where conflicts can be prevented or resolved; strengthen the capacity of those working on ground-level initiatives; promote women’s engagement and create land-based jobs for youth; increase resilience to drought by strengthening early warning systems, enhancing vulnerability assessments, and putting in place appropriate policies, investment and risk mitigation; promote public financing to scale up land restoration efforts and reward small farmers for their global social and ecological services; and use climate finance and “restoration bonds” in the financing mix.

The communiqué acknowledged the legacy of unjust land and wealth distribution from colonial times, which laid the foundation for present-day land degradation and conflict.

CDLS 2017 brought together senior representatives of governments, parliaments, international organizations, financiers, business leaders, NGOs and media from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Approximately 150 people took part in the event, which comprised: daily plenary sessions; workshop discussion streams on restoration, business, and peace and governance; and small dialogue groups that promoted joint reflection on the content of each day.

A parallel ‘Invest in Peace’ conference took place at Caux from 13-15 July. It brought approximately 30 investors together with scientists and peace building organizations, supported by IofC Sweden and the Swedish Sustainable Economy Foundation.

CDLS is hosted annually at the Caux Palace Conference Centre. The Caux-IofC Foundation is the Swiss body of the Initiatives of Change (IofC). [IofC Caux Web Page on CDLS] [CDLS communiqué] [ILLP Web Page on CDLS] [CDLS Programme] [Invest in Peace Web Page] [Caux Conferences Website] [UNCCD Website]

This article was first published by IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub. Read it here.

Can we mediate a peace process with(out) land?

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by Dr. Antje Herrberg

Last year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Initiatives for Change retreat on Land, Lives and Peace in Caux, Switzerland. A seemingly unlikely choice for me, but since I was involved in the Aceh peace process, the nexus between land and conflict was something of interest to me. Side by side with botanists, scientists and UN bureaucrats in the grand halls of Caux Peace Palace, I gave my perspective on the role of international peace mediation and the linkages with land degradation. My key point was this: mediation is about making the “pie” (the contentious issue) bigger, and land restoration – enhancing the usability of degraded land – is pretty much the same practice. Bringing degradation issues into peace negotiation would therefore be good news, increasing the potential for peacemaking.

It was a very informative week, meeting people from all over the world who work on all sorts of issues relating to land and peace. Back home at mediatEUr, my interest in the topic grew, encouraged by our members. Finally, together with my colleagues from ICRAF (Patrick Worms), Land Lives and Peace (Dr. Allan Channer) and Olivia Lazard, an environmental peacebuilding consultant, we recently offered a joint perspective on land and peace to a rather diverse group of people from the fields of development, mediation, peacebuilding, human rights and diplomacy. Brendan McAllister, our member facilitator who also works at the United Nations Mediation Support Unit, navigated us through the diversity of that group. And while the broad base of those who work on this topic may seem like a blessing, such a multi-dimensional nature is also one of the reasons why we have not yet fully bridged the gap between the root causes of conflict and the actual peace negotiations themselves.

In order to determine what to say, I reviewed our statistics and drew on the wisdom of three sources:

  1. Arthur Blundell’s and Emily Hartwell’s piece called “Missing the Peace for the Trees,” in Foreign Policy
  2. A report by Forest Trends by Arthur Blundell and Emily Harwell
  3. The UN Peacemaker website for peace Agreements and statistics
  4. Our own collection of peace agreements, which we study once in a while.


Surprisingly, there seemed to be very little other scientific/empirical evidence available concerning the relationship between peacemaking and land degradation. There is an overall acceptance, though, that land issues and conflict have a distinct connection.

Do we now need a Security Council Resolution for the planet, stating that all peace negotiations need to take into account the issue of nature, the environment and its protection, so as to preserve the land for present and future generations?

On reflection, the facts, statistics, and peace agreements all pointed to four key facts that need to be communicated if we are to “get the picture” when it comes to understand land restoration and peacemaking.


Fact 1: Land issues are marginal to peace negotiations.

15% of all post-WWII Peace Agreements mentioned land and resources, and of these, the issues are mostly mentioned in terms of joint or shared management. That’s the same amount as those which address women and children. It is shocking that those who bear most of the brunt of conflict – women, children and nature/land – have scarcely received a mention. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, but their exclusion is unjustifiable.

Fact 2: The degree of failure of peace agreements

It is by now a well-established fact that most peace agreements fail within the first five years of their implementation (in fact there is an estimation of 50-70%).

Fact 3: Natural resources in peace agreements are unstable

Agreements that feature clauses on natural resources are twice more likely to fail than other agreements. This is an interesting figure, and begs the question as to why. Is it because the agreement on natural resources is a result of inefficient negotiation, or is it because the root causes have not truly been addressed? Indeed, the cause may be neither of the two; let’s give these deals the benefit of the doubt, for now.

What is truly remarkable though, is that according to these statistics, 86.5 % of peace agreements that feature natural resources or land sharing fail, which means 13 out of 15 agreements.

Fact 4: Natural Resources are a driving source of conflict

What makes this all quite disconcerting is that, according to the figures of UNEP, 40% of all conflicts are indeed driven by natural resource issues.

These simple hard facts give sufficient leverage to the argument that the peace making and land degradation nexus needs to be worked out.

Serious empirical research on this topic remains to be done, as we are seeking to set up a pilot project on this issue. However, from my experience so far, there seem to be five principal causes creating friction between land degradation/restoration and sustainable peace settlements.

  1. The first one is that, even after years of capacity-building, many negotiators and peace makers still negotiate compromise. That is, when we talk about sharing, we divide things rather than finding solutions where everyone could augment their share if truly committed. In the field of land restoration that is what is needed. Most often, the sharing involves natural resources that generate income. Governments and stakeholders have a very short-term vision about this, viewing their resources as a fast-track to wealth and power, rather than a long-term vision that considers nature as a stakeholder and key to sustainable peace and development. Thus it seems ‘natural’ that natural resource conflicts are likely to relapse into conflict.
  2. From this we could also derive that the method in which we practice negotiation –making the pie bigger – is suboptimal. No surprise to anyone. Parties, mediators and negotiators still are stuck in the field of distributive bargaining. Communities and their wellbeing are of little importance, even if conflict is often driven by groups of communities (ethnic, territorial) and the competition for resources that exists among them.
  3. The third point is that the issue of land restoration and degradation is a complex subject. I have spent a year talking to my colleagues and have come to consider it as a specialist subject area, without doubt. Whilst the UN has recognised this special status, we have done little to make it accessible in the way that gender, transitional justice or security issues have been “opened up”. Why? Maybe because we do not understand that nature is, in fact, a hard security issue.
  4. The fourth related cause is lack of engagement with land restoration issues due to the time it takes for scientific evidence to emerge. Land restoration takes years, even decades. Although of academic interest, studies which demonstrate the long-term benefits of land restoration efforts simply cannot be produced quickly enough to have an impact around the negotiating table.
  5. Last but not least, we should not forget one of the main reasons why the issue of land restoration remains unsolved: many natural resources are tied up with vested private-sector interests who have inherently short-term visions. When a resource can be vital for filling coffers and serving political interests, the public interest becomes secondary. This is no different from the Western world, and it is only a raising of public consciousness about this issue that will transform this way of thinking and acting when it comes to natural issues. The Earth’s resources are not unlimited free goods, and they certainly do not belong to politicians. Having said that, politicians do play a vital role in managing these resources for everyone’s benefit.


So what do we do about all this?

To close this stream of thought, there are a several things that came into my mind about what could be done to instigate change and bring nature to the negotiating table.

I’m reminded of the discussions and work that we did about the role of women in peace negotiations, remaining largely underrepresented in peace talks despite constituting half of our world’s population and a very important piece of its social fabric. On this matter, the United Nations formulated a Security Council Resolution (SCR1325) around which a lot of energy, resources and institutions were formed, leading to promising changes and an awareness of the work that still remains to be done. Do we now need a Security Council Resolution for the planet, stating that all peace negotiations need to take into account the issue of nature, the environment and its protection, so as to preserve the land for present and future generations? It might be an initiative worth reflecting upon and a campaign worth investing in.

In parallel, we should build capacity. In order to work on land degradation and restoration as a tool for peace, we obviously need to understand it much better. This includes making key audiences aware of the issues, through workshop seminars and trainings. It also means developing the necessary expertise among those who can bridge the nexus between land issues and peace processes. It demands extra effort in linking the usual silos of science, development, agroforestry practice, security, peacemaking and peace building.

Finally, it is also clear that we, as in the entire international community, need to create a system of accountability for the state and private-sector use of nature for people and societies. The Paris Agreement on Climate change has a big overarching aim here. Let us, as peacebuilders, make it a concrete aim that peace negotiations not only seek to satisfy the needs of all parties, but to do so sustainably – in every sense of the word. I think that’s something that we all want.

We are also looking forward to investing our energies in deepening this important area of work.

Thanks to Miguel Varela and Martin Leng for editorial support.


This article was first published by MediatEUR. Read it here.

About Dr Antje Herrberg

Antje Herrberg is co-founder and CEO of mediatEUr, and an Adjunct Professor for International Peace Mediation at the College of Europe. She is a well-known peace entrepreneur, faciliator, mediator, process designer and yogini with 20 years of global experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Between March 2013 and March 2014, Antje was Senior Mediation Expert for Process Design on the UN Stand-By Team of Mediation Experts, where she supported peace efforts in the Maldives, Mauritania, Malawi, Moldova, Turkey, and Ukraine and the UN Headquarters. With a keen interest in EU affairs, she has been one of the intellectual advocates and practical supporters to build up EU mediation support capacity as it stands today. In this vein she also led a multi-year process that led to the eventual set up of the European Institute of Peace.

Besides building the network of mediatEUr, Antje is also a member of the UN Roster of Mediators, and was UN Mediation Advisor for the Maldives in 2010. She is an experienced trainer and coach, including to senior-level EU diplomats.

She has been recruited to provide advice on conflict transformation and capacity building in mediation by many clients, from the non-governmental and governmental sector, in Europe and beyond. She advises and coaches high level negotiators and processes, as much as she works with grassroots mediators. Over the years she specialised in dealing with non-recognised entitites, mediation during electoral violence, and how to build overal mediation capacity.

She is a highly experineced trainer and coach, including to senior-level EU diplomats, negotiation parties and civil society. Besides building the growing network and partnerships of mediatEUr,  Antje is also a member of the UN Roster of Mediators.

Prior to mediatEur, Antje was the Director for Mediation and Dialogue of the Crisis Management Initiative from 2004 to 2012. She worked as the Chief Facilitation Advisor to the Aceh follow-up peace process for Martti Ahtisaari, having worked on the negotiations since the start up of the process that led to the signing of the peace agreement. At CMI, she also worked on the creation of the Black Sea Peacebuilding Network on conflict resolution and coordinated the influential Mediation Cluster of the Initiative for Peacebuilding, also acting as Project Director for capacity building of the African Union on mediation. From 2000-2004, Antje was the Regional Director for Europe at the EastWest Institute, where she worked on, amongst other things, trilateral cooperation between the Russia, the U.S. and the EU, and cross-border cooperation in the Balkans and North-West Russia. Before that she was an activist, academic and advisor working for governmental and nongovernmental organisation in the transition processes of the former Soviet Union.

As a mediator, Antje received her credentials from the Centrale für Mediation (Cologne); and holds an MA in Mediation from the European University Viadrina (2008), having attended a wider number of professional mediation trainings worldwide. On the postgraduate level, she holds an M.Econ.Sci in European Economic and Public Affairs from University College Dublin; and a Doctorate in International Relations from Aalborg University (PhD) in International Relations and Intercultural Communications.

Land Restoration: Unlocking a Large Key in the Fight Against Climate Change and Human Security

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A big part of the solution – and the problem presently — is literally under our feet. There are many reasons to secure our land resources and the land itself.

Land security is an issue of human security. Today, 33% of land is moderately to highly degraded due to the erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils. About 1/6th of the world’s population depend on degrading land. Indeed, though most people are much less aware of it than of other critical crises (e.g. the climate crisis), we do have a soil crisis.

Each year, an area thrice the size of Switzerland is lost for agriculture, exacerbating existing situations in climate change, water management, availability of food, and ultimately human security.

As Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) noted in her foreword to our book, Land Restoration:Reclaiming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future, “Land and soil is the second-largest carbon sink, after the oceans. Getting carbon back in the soil could buy the 30 years that we may need to move to a low-carbon economy. It could also get vulnerable populations, who are already experiencing climate change impacts and resource scarcity, time to adapt.”

The relationship between land restoration, climate change abatement, and human security is beginning to be recognized in the mainstream. When I first became a steering committee member for Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace (ILLP) about five years ago, the discussion of the central need for land restoration as a vital way to fight against climate change was largely contained within niche parts of the research community, a hand-full of on-the-ground practitioners and local changemakers, as well as the UNCCD, led by Luc Gnacadja (Executive Director at that time).

The theme for this year’s Caux Dialogue on Land and Security is the “Business of Land Restoration and Trust.” The case for tackling land degradation and conflict is clear. Land degradation costs businesses around $40 billion a year, and is a real risk to the future of the food, fiber, forestry, and bioenergy industries. When these industries are threatened and harvest yields on agricultural lands are reduced through land degradation, people are forced to move to find work and food sources. When there is weak governance and socio-economic inequalities already present, conflict often naturally ensues (e.g., due to land rights).

There are several relatively low-cost means of restoring land, but they take time and trust. One example, is Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). FMNR is a system of tree and shrub regrowth and management. This regrowth can be integrated into crops and grazing pastures and has been shown to double crop yields. FMNR also helps restore soil structure and fertility, inhibit erosion, and rehabilitate the water table, among other positives.

Much of my research today is centered on accounting for co-benefits in resilience planning and associated investments. In the ten plus years I have worked in the space of environmental and developmental economics, it has become clear – for better or worse – that the business case tends to be what decides whether an environmental improvement will be adopted. Highlighting the fact that minimal investments aimed directly at land restoration almost always have indirect co-benefits such as increased livelihood stability and reduced regional conflict. Not to mention that I recently learned that the world’s soils contain almost one-third of living organisms (per the European Union’s Joint Research Center). Considering that we only have identified about 1 % of these organisms, it’s worth keeping the soil around and learning more.

I wager that in land restoration and management overall, technical questions are not the greatest obstacles, though the science is complex and, of course, continues to unfold. The real challenge continues to be getting communities to work together and to share and support effective goals around land issues. Starting with users of the land and go up– addressing stakeholders at multiple levels—is crucial. We need to strive to overcome silo thinking, whether by experts, policy makers, or practitioners, in order to continue to restore degraded lands effectively.

At a time when the USA is considering reducing key national climate measures (such as the Clean Air Act) and is threatening to exit the Paris Agreement on the International Stage, I am heartened thinking about the many local, regional, and international efforts I see related to land restoration. It is possible: investment (economic, social, and emotional) in landscapes, improved land governance, and trust building are coming together over and over to help restore land and with it, create a cleaner and more peaceful world.

Happy Earth Day! Please remember that there is no Planet B.

Jennifer F. Helgeson, PhD


About the editor:

Dr. Jennifer F. Helgeson is an environmental economist leading work on the economics of community resilience planning. Views shared in this post are her own and do not reflect the opinion of the organization by which she is employed. In the past, Jennifer was a researcher at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Norway and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, France. Following the completion of her B.A. Degree in Economics at Brandeis University, Dr. Helgeson had a Fulbright grant to research environmental economic issues in Norway. She earned her M.Sc. Degree in Environmental Change and Management with a focus on Environmental Economics at the University of Oxford, UK. Dr. Helgeson holds a PhD in Environmental & Developmental Economics at the London School of Economics (LSE) under a Grantham Institute for Climate Change Research scholarship and was also supported by NSF funding.

Jennifer is primarily interested in economic analyses that consider behavioral aspects and approaches to dealing with environmental issues. She has authored a number of academic articles and chapters. She co-edited the Elsevier published book “Land Restoration: Reclaiming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future.”

This blog first appeared on ELSEVIER SciTech Connect.

CDLS 2017 Home

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Caux, Switzerland

11th July – 15th July 2017

The Business of Land Restoration and Trust 

Initiatives for Land, Lives, and Peace (ILLP) is delighted to invite you to the upcoming Caux Dialogue on Land and Security  2017 (CDLS 2017) due to take place between 11-15 July at Caux, Switzerland. CDLS 2017 will focus on tackling land degradation and conflict, and advance the global discourse on best practice for implementing successful initiatives and investments.

*Claim your Early Bird Offer here*

Land use forms the point of convergence for such priority items on the global agenda as water and food security, extreme poverty, climate change (both mitigation and adaptation), conflict and mass migration.

On average, six to ten inches of topsoil is all that separates stability and conflict, while every year an area three times the size of Switzerland is lost to agriculture.

The central importance of land is most obvious in the world’s drylands, which used to feed about 40% of global population. As land is lost and population grows, conflict increases with more and more people competing for what remains. Eighty per cent of the world’s conflicts now take place in its drylands, and countries under particular pressure risk becoming failing states.

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Consequently land restoration and sustainable land management play a central role in food security, water security, economic growth through employment, and carbon sequestration. As such, land restoration can play a central role in strengthening climate resilience in fragile states.

Global economic losses arising from land degradation are estimated at $40 billion annually. Degradation releases soil carbon worsening global climate change, reduces yields, creates food insecurity, erodes livelihoods and drives migration. Where combined with weak governance structures, loss of the commons and other socio-economic inequalities, conflict often ensues.

Land restoration and trust building initiatives minimise operational, social and environmental risks as well as offer opportunities to develop new, value-added products, and build new markets.  At the same time, soil carbon sequestration reduces climate change impacts and improves agricultural yields. Yet these projects fail to attract sufficient global investments, despite the abundance of private capital in financial markets.

Hosted in partnership with UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Initiatives of Change International, CDLS 2017 will convene experts, policymakers, practitioners, activists and the private sector to exchange experience and knowledge on three key aspects:

  • Investment: reconciling the needs and opportunities for private sector investment in land restoration and trust-building.
  • Governance: exploring the role of trust-building in land governance, land security and legal frameworks and vice versa.
  • Restoration: identifying best practice in land-peace partnerships, and exploring potential models for scaling-up.

Explore how innovative investment, business practise and governance can bring a durable peace and sustainable land management.


In its second year, the Emerging Leaders Program will once again draw outstanding young and ambitious individuals from across the globe, with existing projects that address land degradation and conflict.

Meet pioneers and entrepreneurs in the exceptional setting of a turn-of-the-century Swiss palace hotel.

Join us in shaping the future!