By Jennifer Helgeson, Ilan Chabay and Martin Frick

After Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, the excitement of that accomplishment yielded to the sobering experience of having conquered a place for humanity that was unfit for any form of life. The prevalent theory of the origin of the Moon says that a large meteorite hit the Earth billions of years ago and a part of the planet was shot into space but was caught by the Earth’s gravitational pull.

Thus, the Moon and the Earth are made of the same material. Yet, while the Moon is a place on which people can only survive using most sophisticated life-support systems, our home planet is the most hospitable place in the known universe.

If we look at the giant life-support system that this planet provides us, we must acknowledge the central role played by soils. From the dawn of civilization, people have been aware of the central importance of soils to maintaining life. Many myths about the origin of humans revolve around earth and soil. In fact, the word Adam itself means “the one who is made out of clay.” Many religions and traditions around the world feature similar myths and stories.

Strangely, as humans shape this planet on an unprecedented (indeed geological) scale, as is reflected in the growing recognition of the Anthropocene as a new geological age, land is strangely underrepresented in international discussions focused around the topical issues of climate, energy, water, and food. Yet, land is the nexus at which all these issues converge.

Most of our food is produced on land; functional soils and related ecosystems are key to the availability and management of drinking water; even energy from organic matter is being produced by agriculture at an increasing rate. But land is being appropriated for many uses other than food production. The pressure on arable land by rapid-growing urbanization is tremendous. Already more than half of the world’s population resides in cities, and this share is likely to increase to a staggering two-thirds.

Even more serious than land loss due to urbanization are the large areas of land in rural areas that have become severely degraded, with consequent loss of productivity and diminished ecosystem services.

Today, 33 percent of land is moderately to highly degraded due to the erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils. Worldwide some 1500 million people 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 on a planetary scale: Every single 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.

We believe that land and its ecosystem services is an issue of central importance for human well-being and development and thus must be broadly discussed. The core question is: How can an adequate area of land with sufficient quality of soil become and remain available to humanity worldwide, now and in the future?

Expanding agricultural land by deforestation is not a viable option, as forests are vital for carbon sequestration and water management. They represent, in fact, a precondition for agriculture. Preventing land degradation and desertification and reclaiming degraded land for agriculture and ecosystem services are much more feasible and sustaining approaches.

The good news, and a relatively little known fact, is that land degradation can be reversed, with sometimes spectacular results, at relatively low cost. Against conventional wisdom, land can be restored without artificial irrigation. What it takes is often simple, manual labor and, before that, addressing often complex and interdependent societal conditions.

This book intends to showcase examples of successful land restoration and experiences gained from the respective processes. Different methodologies exist, which proved to work in different settings. This book is not intended to advocate any specific technology or technique, but rather to make the case for the necessity and the feasibility of land restoration through different pathways. What holds true for different methodologies is also, and particularly, true for variations in social and political conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all method because the local societal and bio-geo-physical conditions are very different, as the examples in this book illustrate. However, it is safe to say that every successful land restoration project is, in the best sense of the word, “grounded” in the respective local context.

To reflect the complexity and interdependence of issues around land, this book tries to provide different perspectives on land. Our authors are political decision makers, scientists, practitioners, and consultants. Their stories often also double as accounts of personal journeys.

As the book gives voice to multiple disciplines, we hope that it adds to the interdisciplinary dialogue that is needed for successful land restoration projects. Different perspectives are based on different cultural, personal, and economic backgrounds and on individual values. This is reflected by the style, tone, and attitude of the chapters, which have been edited for clarity and accuracy while also intentionally and gratefully leaving the authors’ voices to come through as much as possible.

Land management and, in particular, land restoration, needs to be approached in a holistic manner. Generally, technical questions are not the greatest obstacles, though the science is complex and, of course, continues to unfold. The real challenge is to get communities to work together and to shape an effective framework for action. Significant action can happen only if various stakeholders define and support the same goal. Building a community around land issues—from the bottom up, addressing stakeholders at multiple levels—is crucial. Silo thinking, whether by experts, policy makers, or practitioners, needs to be overcome.

A recurrent theme is competing problem-solving mechanisms from the realms between traditional and modern lawmaking. Land tenure is an excellent example for the need to balance modern tenure systems with traditional systems, particularly to protect the poorest among us.

It is also important to highlight the interdependence between global governance issues and localized decisions. In the same way that legal frameworks need to support local action, grass-roots action can provide inspiration for global decision- making.

The current international efforts to curb CO2 emissions to keep climate change to a manageable level provide an excellent example. The carbon sequestration potential of land restoration is still undervalued in these negotiations. At the same time, land restoration can dramatically improve local conditions and contribute to the management global commons—climate and water management. As land restoration can address climate change and rural poverty simultaneously, it has serious potential to create support for the climate negotiations by a broad alliance of poorer countries.

In addition to the climate negotiations, security considerations should be a prime reason for international diplomacy to look closer at the issue of land. Pressure on land is often mirrored by security situations since land is directly relevant to water and energy supplies, producing food, and provision of income.

With growing urbanization, the pressure on land will increase. Only about 3% of the global surface is arable land. Land will not only be lost due to urbanization. Agricultural planning needs to take the “real footprint” of cities into account—i.e., how much land is needed for production of water, food, and energy, as well as for the disposal of waste from urban areas. Just as the footprint of cities is much larger than just the built structure, the real footprint of an entire country is often larger than the country itself. In this vein, seemingly distant problems are directly affecting industrialized countries and highly developed countries. In a globalized and interdependent world, the effects of land degradation might also materialize in other countries. A spike in bread prices in 2011 was one of the triggers for the Arab Spring rebellions. Global draughts and fires in Russia had a direct impact on the Arab peninsula, the biggest grain importer in the world.

Security experts agree that land can affect security in both, the traditional “hard” security sense (i.e., military) and in the definition of “human security” (i.e., well-being). Two-thirds of the world’s active conflicts today are in the drylands. The global struggle for arable land is likely to become a further source of conflict. To mitigate the risk of future conflicts, we need to improve the quality of existing arable land, or land that has become unfit for agriculture.

This book builds on a series of on-going conferences held in Caux, Switzerland, since 2011. The so-called Mountain House in Caux, a beautiful turn-of-the-century former palace hotel uniquely situated 1000 m above Montreux and overlooking Lake Geneva, has a remarkable historic tradition. Since 1946, it has been a place for behind-the-scenes talks to promote peace and reconciliation. Famously, it helped bring the Germans and French together right after World War II to start the difficult, but highly successful, path to reconciliation with Germany after the bitter experiences of war and Nazi terror. Ever since, Caux has served as a place where former enemies would meet and forgiveness paves the way for future cooperation.

Initiated by Mohammed Sahnoun, former Algerian ambassador and United Nations (UN) diplomat, the Caux Forum on Human Security focused in annual conferences over 5 years, from 2008–2012 on the deeper causes of conflict. Environmental pressure was one of five focus areas. In 2008, Luc Gnacadja, then executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), was invited to speak about land and security in this context. His presentation was both alarming and inspiring at the same time. It led to the founding of the “Initiative for Land, Lives, Peace,” which organized two subsequent conference days on the topic of land and security in 2011 and 2012. The broad resonance of interests in those days encouraged the conference’s organization team to start a new conference entitled “The Caux Dialogue on Land and Security,” which has been held every summer since 2013.

The Caux Dialogue is unique in having a wide range of stakeholders participating in the discussions—from the “hard” security communities to grass-roots activists, from UN organizations to academics. If this book stimulates your interest in the issue, please do find out more at

We hope that you will enjoy using this book and that it will enrich your understanding of how multidisciplinary (and even transdisciplinary) the issue of land restoration is. The foreword by Monique Barbut, executive secretary of the UNCCD, provides the context for this text and sets the scene for the importance of land restoration globally. Section 1 of this book sets the social context for land restoration. Section 2 reviews the concepts and methodologies for restoration and maintenance for land restoration efforts. The complex relationship between land restoration and water and energy is noted throughout section 3. Section 4 delves into the relationship between economics, policy, and governance for land restoration by drawing on theory and related case study examples. The significance of community as a backbone for land restoration is discussion in section 5. Section 6 offers a review of the relationship between gender and land restoration. The connection between communities, land restoration, and providing resilience more generally is discussed in section 7. Section 8 of the book rounds out the discussion through a series of case studies from various areas of the world that have implemented a variety of approaches. Suggestions for ways to use this book in your own research and work are provided in section 9. Finally, the conclusions and a look forward by Luc Gnacadja are provided as a means of reflecting upon the text.

It has been our pleasure to bring all these contributors together to create such a volume. We sincerely hope that it will serve to further connect and inspire those dealing with land restoration in any and all capacities.