Don’t lose the ground under your feet – how to put a price on soil!

What is Land Degradation?

Degradation means the reduction or loss in biological or economic productivity. Land degradation is a serious global concern, especially as fertile soil is practically a non-renewable resource since it takes about 2000 years to generate about 10 centimeters of top soil. Furthermore, cultivated areas worldwide can no longer be expanded except in limited areas. A recent study has found that land degradation has reduced the productivity of the world’s terrestrial surface by about 25% between the periods 1981 – 2003, despite the need for agriculture produce to increase before 2030 to meet the food demand by the growing world population.

What are the Reasons for Land Degradation?

Land degradation is mainly the result of land mismanagement, drought related-famines, and misperceptions of plentiful food production, relatively cheap subsidized food, low land prices, and abundant energy and water resources. It is driven by things like cutting down forests, overgrazing, monoculture, salinization, overuse of fertilizers and chemicals or farming on sloping ground leading to soil erosion.

How does it Affect Us?

The negative consequences of land degradation affect us all, directly or indirectly: food insecurity, reduced availability of clean water, increased vulnerability to climate change, biodiversity loss and much more. It is appraised that 1.5 billion people in all parts of the world are already directly affected through reduced income or food security, particularly the rural poor.

On a global scale, around 10 to 20% of drylands and 24% of the world´s usable lands are degraded. That is twice the size of Russia. The annual economic losses due to deforestation and land degradation are estimated at 1.5-3.4 trillion Euro in 2008, equaling 3.3%-7.5% of the global GDP in 2008.

What can we Do?

The good news is that there are clear economic and environmental actions that can prevent and/or reverse land degradation. Environmental actions could be reforestation, afforestation, and the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.  Economic instruments include payments for ecosystem services, subsidies, taxes, voluntary payments for environmental conservation, and access to micro-finance and credit. Let alone, the adoption of sustainable land management could deliver up to 2.3 billion tonnes of additional crop production per year.

Why do we need to Put a Price on Soil?

Land’s economic value is chronically undervalued and commonly determined by immediate agricultural or forestry market values. In the long-term, however, the costs of taking action to prevent and/or reverse land degradation are usually less than the benefits that can be obtained for investing in and applying sustainable land management practices. But even though the scientific rationale for adopting sustainable land management is now well established, there is a noticeable lack of adoption of such practices.

Facilitating change requires adaptations to legal, social, and policy-focused contexts that favor sustainable land management. In spite of the negative effects of land degradation, decision makers continue to discount the impact. There is therefore need for concise data to provide answers to questions on the social and economic costs of land degradation and the benefits of greater investment in land based productivity.

What is the ELD Initiative?

The ELD Initiative is a platform for stakeholders from the private sector, science and the policy sector that has been founded in December 2010. Current political partners are the BMZ, the European Commission, the UNCCD, and the Korea Forest Service; scientific partners are the International Food Policy Research Institute, the Stockholm Environment Institute, The Global Mechanism, the United Nations University UNU-INWEH, and the Center for Development Research.

The goal of the ELD Initiative is to provide a methodology for total economic valuation that is both locally applicable and globally relevant. This approach will translate economic, social and ecological knowledge into topical information and tools to support improved policy-making and practices in land management suitable for policy makers, scientific communities, local administrators and practitioners and the private sector. Thus, it will enable informed decisions towards strengthening sustainable rural development and ensuring global food security.

The ELD Initiative will incorporate capacity building activities into its projects to ensure that qualified personnel are available and present in affected countries. One step towards his goal is the implementation of the ELD-MOOC.