Mending degraded lands to promote the world peace and security

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We all seek peace and prosperity. The technology-dependent Millennial generation is setting a new trend in pursuing these goals. Youth consumption is driving economic growth in many developing countries and a large number of youth and children are becoming millionaires. But a large number of the Millennial is also pursuing peace and prosperity through a war economy, mostly out of desperation, not by design.

A vast majority of the rural youth in developing countries is poor and depends on land resources to create wealth. But as climate change takes a toll on degrading lands that are declining productivity, many young people are finding it more and more difficult to make a decent living. Disillusioned and unemployed, many are making the difficult choice of either fleeing their homes or joining a conflict economy that is offering pay for criminal or other extremist activities.

These challenges may be in distant lands like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria or Yemen. But they still eat into our own pursuit of peace and prosperity. The humanitarian and military interventions taken to contain the insecurity, political instability, forced migration and the like, come at a high price. Yet, China, Ethiopia and Niger are innovating investment approaches on improving land deterioration that these and other poor developing countries with vast degrading lands can use to turn around people's livelihoods and their economies.

Today, more than 1.5 billion people many of them poor, eke out a living from barren soils or desert areas. Poverty in this population group can be eliminated within a relatively short time. By restoring only 600,000 hectares of land in the Loess Plateau, for instance, China lifted 2.5 million poor people out of poverty. Household incomes climbed from an average US$70 to US$200. Grain production increased from 365 kg to 591 kg per person per year, on average. And all in less than two decades – about the same duration as the Millennium Development Goals.

There is a large amount of degrading land around the world. More than 2 billion hectares of land is degraded, and can be restored. About 500 million hectares of crop land is lying waste – abandoned completely. The actual, total project cost of restoring the Loess Plateau was US$491 million; an investment of about US$820 per hectare. At this cost, we can rehabilitate all the abandoned cropland at a cost of US$410 billion.

This is no small investment, and yet not so large in the grand scheme of things as compared to other expenditures. For instance, Brown University's Watson Institute estimates that the United States spent more than US$77.4 billion on the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, between 2003 and 2011.Investing in combating land degradation, the global benefits could be far greater.

The per-hectare cost of restoring degrading land varies across regions and countries. In Mali, for instance, it ranges between US$100 and $200, but is as low as US$25-$60 in some parts of Niger. Thus, rehabilitating all 93 million hectares of the land degraded in Mali is still a hefty bill, at US$9.3 billion. However, an investment of US$2.5 billion dollars could restore about 24 million hectares of land, just about doubling the amount of arable land in Mali, which is estimated at 30 million hectares. This price tag is the minimum cost the international community has paid to keep Mali stable, since January 2013, when foreign forces were deployed into the country. Estimates suggest that at least US$4.1 million is spent on Mali everyday.

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