Global Activities on Land Degradation

Main issues

Land degradation refers to any form of deterioration of the land that affects the integrity of the ecosystem. It encompass both a reduction of its productivity and of its native biological richness and maintenance of resilience.

Land degradation is a major threat to biodiversity, ecosystem stability, and society’s ability to function and its impact extends far beyond local or regional scale.

Because of the interconnectivity between ecosystems, land degradation triggers destructive processes that can have cascading effects across the entire biosphere.  Loss of biomass, through vegetation clearance and soil erosion, produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change.

What we do

In 2003, the GEF was designated as a financial mechanism of the UNCCD, ensuring that GEF projects addressing desertification will be aligned with objectives of the Convention. In this way, the GEF works as a complementary financial mechanism to the Global Mechanism, collectively supporting implementation of the Convention.

Establishment of the land degradation focal area coupled with formal designation as a financial mechanism for the UNCDD offered a major boost to the GEF’s investment in sustainable land management projects.

The GEF as a financial mechanism of the UNCCD directly contributes to implementation of the10-year (2008–18) Strategic Plan and Framework approved by the Conference of Parties during its 8th Session. The Strategic Plan aims “to forge a global partnership to reverse and prevent desertification/land degradation and to mitigate the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.


Scope of the Challenge

Globally, land degradation affects 33 percent of the Earth’s land surface, with consequences hitting more than 2.6 billion people in more than 100 countries. One of the main indicators is extensive soil degradation caused by erosion, salinization, compaction, and nutrient depletion. Soil degradation leads to reduced capacity of the soil to  sustain biomass production and biodiversity and regulate water and nutrient cycling. Land that becomes progressively degraded in this manner cannot sustain agricultural production, and creates socioeconomic problems in agro-ecosystems dominated by poor smallholder farmers and pastoralists. This effect can also be exacerbated by the increased vulnerability of people and agro-ecosystems to climate change and variability.

The GEF mandate to combat land degradation focuses on sustainable land management (SLM) as it relates primarily to desertification and deforestation. In this context, unsustainable agricultural practices, soil erosion, overgrazing, and deforestation are considered the main drivers of land degradation, all contributing to deterioration of ecosystem services. The GEF approaches land degradation in this way in order to address underlying causes while developing sustainable solutions. Desertification and deforestation are both caused, in part, by unsustainable agricultural practices, but their impacts also result in lower agricultural productivity.  Putting into practice SLM principles is one of the few options for land users, especially smallholder farmers and pastoralists, to maintain or increase productivity of agro-ecosystems without destroying land, causing soil erosion or undermining the ecosystem services.

The GEF project areas for financing include three major production practices: sustainable agriculture (crop-livestock systems), sustainable rangeland/pasture management (agro-pastoral systems), and sustainable forest and woodland management.


Sustainable Agriculture – The GEF investment in sustainable agriculture focuses on maintaining or improving the productivity of both rain-fed and irrigated systems. GEF support mainly targets sustainable land management practices such as crop diversification, crop rotation, conservation agriculture, agroforestry, water harvesting, and small-scale irrigation schemes.

Rangeland Management – The GEF supports sustainable management of rangelands through the strengthening of viable traditional systems and other measures that improve soil and water conservation. Interventions include the resolution of wildlife-livestock-crop conflicts, conservation of indigenous genetic resources, and reducing water and wind erosion in rangelands.

Sustainable Forest and Woodland Management – The GEF supports the introduction and strengthening of sustainable forest management schemes, including participatory decision  making, tenure and use rights (especially by indigenous communities), sustainable market chains for forest products, development and implementation of forest management plans, and reforestation.

In addition to targeted interventions within these different systems, the GEF approach also emphasizes natural resource management in the context of wider landscapes.  This allows for investments in effective management of competing land uses, trade-offs in ecosystem services, and opportunities to increase investment in SLM through diverse sources such as payments for ecosystem services (PES), carbon finance, and so forth.