Mending degraded lands to promote the world peace and security

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Countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or South Sudan are desperately poor and steeped in conflict and extremist activities. And while they may be much smaller than Mali in size, they are heavily degraded so the cost of restoring land here may be higher.

But it is hard to ignore even small achievements such as those of the Conservation Organization for Afghan Mountains Areas (COAM), which reveal the potential for land restoration to stamp out conflict in areas where extremists are preying on the vulnerability of the poor. It is difficult to ignore that businesses are making profitable land uses and conserving the environment. It is harder still to ignore the lives lost and money spent every year on security threats in areas where poverty and land degradation abound.

The question is no longer whether we can do it. Rather, it is whether there is political will among governments to create an environment that can enable all actors – governmental, private sector and non-governmental – to channel the investments needed to mend degrading land. Job creation is only one of the many potential benefits.

By recovering degrading land, we can reduce the number of people who, day-after-day, sleep hungry. We can increase the land available to produce food and animal feed, and ease the growing pressures to grab land. We can restore watersheds that have been degrading for so long, as they are costing us lives and money due to unprecedented flood or drought disasters. And because carbon is needed for fixing degraded lands, mending the land is a powerful way to capture some of the excess carbon causing global warming.

It is worth recalling that in the mid-1990, China's challenges seemed insurmountable. Nearly 35% of the country was affected by desertification, mostly in little developed areas. About 60% of the population living in these areas was impoverished. But the landscape and fortunes can change for the better, even in the most difficult places like China's Kubuqi Desert. Thanks to over 26-year continuous efforts, more than 100,000 farmers and herdsmen in Kubuqi desert have benefited from the desert oasis course by adopting a balanced development strategy of "ecology, economy and livelihood", and through public-private sector and local community partnership. The local farmers' annual income has increased from less than US$100 to more than US$5,000 in 20 years. All their children in that region are provided with good education through facility development. The local people have built an over6,000km2 desert oasis in Kubuqi, which used to be called a "dead desert" before. Now, they are growing organic fruits and vegetables, high-quality Chinese herbal medicines. Jobs with good income are being offered, and a balanced path of land remediation, ecological industry and urban development is being developed in Kubuqi area. The results echo what the Chinese President Xi Jinping is that "improving ecological environment is developing productive forces; the green lands and clean waters like the gold and silver mountains."

Ethiopia has restored over 1 million hectares and plans to restore more than 15 million hectares in future. In the Sahel region of Africa, communities have restored more than 5 million hectares of land, mostly on their own initiative, with similar outcomes on livelihoods and ecosystems. Mending degrading land is no longer mission impossible. It is the pathway out of poverty for a majority of the rural poor. And it is a major highway to our collective peace and prosperity.

It is no doubt that land degradation presents enormous challenge to the world peace and security. Whereas, there are no lack of successful evidences today that we can face the challenges and improve our environment through collective efforts. We call for effective alliances and strengthened partnership between governments, international organizations, academic institutions, NGOs and CSOs as well as private sector and entrepreneurs, for promoting active actions in global desertification control and poverty reduction, and building eco-civilization. And with our joint effort, we will contribute to the world peace and security and build an environmentally sound and sustainable society.

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