UNited4Land: Six soil stewards share their approaches for multi-stakeholder action

CA4SH: Coalition of Action 4 Soil Health
Jun 18, 2024
CA4SH: Coalition of Action 4 Soil Health
Jun 18, 2024

Drought and desertification are immense threats to our food systems, livelihoods, and the balance of the Global ecosystem.


About 1 in 8 people globally are affected by drought, and the rural poor of the Global South are most vulnerable to the risks of desertification and drought. These are the people on the frontlines of climate change, experiencing extreme weather events and bracing for the social and economic challenges that follow disaster.


The Coalition of Action 4 Soil Health is rooted in the UN Convention to Combat Desertification because of the need for increased global soil health as a major tool to halt desertification, combat drought, and restore land.


Since the 2024 theme for Desertification and Drought Day (held annually on 17 June), is United for Land: Our Legacy. Our Future, we asked members of CA4SH to share the relevance of soil health and fighting drought in the context of their organizations, and the role that multi stakeholder partnerships play in achieving their goals. We received responses from youth organizations, scientists, farmer organizations, multistakeholder organizations and advocates for indigenous knowledge systems.


Here’s what they said:

1. Green Youth Force

What is your main approach to curbing desertification, combating drought, and restoring land?

At Green Youth Force, our main approach to curbing desertification and drought is based on the restoration of natural ecosystems and the implementation of sustainable agricultural practices. We focus on:

  • Promoting agroforestry to increase vegetative cover and soil organic matter
  • Adopting no-till farming and cover cropping to improve soil health
  • Restoring degraded lands through assisted natural regeneration
  • Empowering local communities in decision-making and implementation
  • Advocating for policies that incentivize sustainable land use


Why is soil health important for halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land in the context of your organization?

For Green Youth Force, soil health is crucial in the fight against desertification and drought. A rich and fertile soil is indeed the foundation of healthy and resilient ecosystems, better able to withstand extreme climatic conditions. By improving soil structure, organic matter content, and biodiversity, we can increase their water and nutrient retention capacity, which promotes the growth of abundant vegetation. This holistic approach to land restoration is at the heart of our strategy to address the challenges posed by desertification and drought.


How do you leverage partnerships with other sectors to achieve this?

At Green Youth Force, we know that the fight against desertification and drought requires the mobilization of all stakeholders involved. That’s why we establish close partnerships with government organizations, private companies, research institutions, and local communities. These collaborations allow us to pool our expertise, resources, and networks to deploy innovative and large-scale solutions. For example, we work with agricultural companies to test new soil management practices, and with local authorities to involve citizens in our ecosystem restoration programs.


What is your organization’s main approach to halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land?

 We use a community-based land management approach by involving the local communities, especially smallholder farmers, in land management decisions and training like water retention measures on their farmland (e.g., drip irrigation, contour ditches). We also promote individual and institutional agroforestry by supporting individual farmers and farmers’ cooperatives with fruit trees to stabilize the soil, increase underground water levels, prevent soil erosion, and improve soil fertility. These sustainable land practices ensure that conservation efforts align with local needs, knowledge, and collective actions.


Why is soil health important for halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land in the context of your organization?

Healthy soil has a porous structure and high organic matter content which increases water retention. This provides a buffer against periods of low rainfall and maintains soil moisture. Healthy soil preserves soil structure and fertility, aiding in land restoration efforts, and supporting robust microbial communities that break down organic matter and recycle nutrients, contributing to overall ecosystem resilience and stability. This makes it easier for landscapes to recover from disturbances like drought and desertification, thereby enhancing soil fertility and facilitating vegetation recovery in degraded areas. It also acts as a carbon sink which helps to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


How do you leverage partnerships with other sectors to do this?

 We partner with local farmer cooperatives to promote sustainable farming practices that enhance soil health through training programs on regenerative agriculture and incentivizing practices like cover crops and reduced tillage. We also collaborate with academic institutions like the University of Buffalo to advance knowledge on soil science and sustainable land management practices. We work closely with government agencies like local governments and the Ministry of Refugees (OPM-DOR) to promote subsidies or incentives for sustainable land management practices, implement regulations, and integrate soil health considerations into broader environmental policies. We also Partner with environmental NGOs that focus on sustainable development and joint initiatives that include community-based soil conservation projects, educational campaigns on soil health, and advocacy for land stewardship practices. Lastly, we collaborate with international organizations such as CA4SH, and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to access global expertise, funding opportunities, and technical support for large-scale soil restoration and conservation projects.

3. World Business Council for Sustainable Development

What is your organization’s main approach to halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land?
As a membership organization, we work with our members – leading businesses – across land-based sectors on material issues related to land use. We address issues such as water, soil health and restoration through pre-competitive collaboration; developing guidance, best practices and advocacy that enable businesses to establish meaningful targets and take action. Examples of this collaboration include: Co-optimizing solutions in water and agricultureSoil investment and OP2B’s Framework for restoration.


Why is soil health important for halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land in the context of your organization?

For the food system, healthy soils are essential to ensure that we can provide food and nutrition security for a growing population and do so within planetary boundaries. From agricultural input companies to retailers, businesses understand the value of healthy soils and the need to collaborate across the value chain on issues related to identifying common metrics to measure soil health, incentivizing farmers to continue being stewards of soil health and creating investment opportunities for improving soil health.


How do you leverage partnerships with other sectors to do this?

We bring our work and members to multi-stakeholder forums, to ensure we engage and align with governments, researchers, NGOs, farmer groups and other key stakeholders. Our active engagement in CA4SH is a good example of how we do this. Our participation in the CoPs of the three Rio conventions (CBD, UNFCCC, UNCCD) is another example of how we bring a business voice in a multi-stakeholder setting to demonstrate what collaborative leadership looks like.

4. Aaranyak

What is your organization’s main approach to halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land?

Aaranyak conceptualized and developed the Natural Resource Management program in 2017 with a broader perspective of natural resource management, watershed improvement, soil improvement, biodiversity conservation, habitat conservation, strengthening the livelihoods of communities, and overall human wellbeing. The program has initiated activities for Ecological Restoration in the Kohora River Basin (KRB) and Diring River Basin (DRB) in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Landscape (KKL) and the fringe village of the Raimona National Park. The Ecological Restoration includes active restoration of degraded land as well as Agroforestry in the multi-use land. Apart from Ecological Restoration, Natural Farming of Vegetables, and field cropping like pulses, and oilseeds have been promoted in villages of KRB and DRB in KKL and in the fringe villages of Bhuyanpara Range of Manas National Park. Local and Indigenous communities are our partners in the ecorestoration activities which supplement their livelihoods as well as inculcate nature-positive behavior to sustain coexistence.


Why is soil health important for halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land in the context of your organization?

Soil health is crucial for halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land. We emphasize soil health due to its foundational role in maintaining ecological balance and ensuring sustainable land use. Strengthening soil biomass,  soil moisture, soil organisms, and soil carbon, are the priorities. Some of our project areas face significant risks of soil degradation due to several factors, including the spread of monocultures, as well as the practice of shifting cultivation. Each of these agricultural practices, while economically important, contributes to soil degradation in distinct ways. Monoculture plantations involve growing a single crop species over a large area, leading to several ecological and soil-related issues namely soil erosion, nutrient depletion, soil compaction, and biodiversity loss. Better soil moisture and texture also help in water retention which will help in water percolation and leaching in the ground water table. Addressing soil degradation in our project area is critical for maintaining the long-term health and productivity of the land. By implementing sustainable practices and restoring ecological balance, we aim to create a resilient and sustainable environment for future generations.


How do you leverage partnerships with other sectors to do this?

It is crucial to engage a diverse range of stakeholders to combat desertification and land restoration. Each stakeholder can bring unique perspectives, resources, and capabilities enabling comprehensive solutions. Partnering with local communities to utilize the loads of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in practice, and foster ownership and ensure the sustainability of land restoration efforts for halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land is one of the crucial efforts. The community institutions can enable knowledge sharing, capacity building, and the co-creation of solutions in the local context. Partnering with policymakers at all possible levels can help to create an environment for sustainable land management which will also enhance the collaborative advocacy efforts. Also, collaboration between the scientific community and different research institutions can work as a scientific approach to build a strong foundation regarding halting desertification and land restoration. Partnerships with academic institutions are also important as young minds need to be nurtured. Besides, government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Forest and Environment, and the Department of Soil Conservation play a significant role in our collaborative efforts. Effective collaboration among the mentioned stakeholders can foster resilience and sustainable land restoration efforts as we move forward. By leveraging the collective strengths of different stakeholders, we can scale to develop innovative solutions, mobilize resources, and achieve the targeted impact.

5. BAIF Development Research Foundation

What is your main approach to halting desertification, combating drought and restoring land?

BAIF Development Research Foundation aims at Sustainable Natural Resource Management through suitable community-led region-specific approaches to minimize land degradation and to secure rural livelihoods, resilience, and an enriched environment. India with its spatiotemporal variation in rainfall (100 to 11000 mm) faces challenges of droughts in various parts of the country. To combat drought, a watershed approach is found suitable in drought-prone areas. This approach includes treatment of micro-watersheds for land restoration, participatory resource mapping, geo-hydrological investigations, soil mapping, vulnerability assessment, and application of remote sensing and GIS for the conservation of soil, water, and vegetation along with area-based and family-focused interventions. The implementation process involves local institutions for systematic implementation of the programme and is integrated with tree-based farming (wadi) and silvopasture development with a view to transform wastelands and other lands vulnerable to degradation. Thus, land degradation neutrality is achieved by implementing runoff control measures and targeting recharged zones of watersheds to ensure drinking water security and to improve water availability for agriculture. Capacity building of communities on water budgeting, use of water-efficient technologies and renewable energy, and managing the demand side of water in agriculture is emphasised upon to reduce emissions and water footprint in drought-prone regions.  BAIF’s land restoration programmes in 12 states of India have reversed the land degradation process on 461,245 ha, benefiting 507,300 vulnerable families. 


Why is soil health important for halting desertification, combating drought, and restoring land in the context of your organisation?

Soil is vital to human life as it impacts major ecosystem services such as food, water quality, groundwater, stream flows, and soil erosion. BAIF believes that soil, especially Soil Organic Carbon (SOC), is an important soil health indicator to improve landscape productivity and a valuable contributor to food production, climate change adaptation and mitigation. Excessive soil erosion leads to desertification in India while the use of chemical fertilisers, burning of crop residues and improper plant protection practices result in soil degradation and loss of productivity. BAIF’s ‘Pro-soil’ approach aims at the promotion of soil sample test-based nutrient management with integration of organic farming. BAIF is promoting the production of biochar from crop residues and the use of biochar in soil, use of composting, and is adopting practices such as crop rotation and other organic methods to sustain the soil fertility. BAIF has implemented the Pro-soil project on 10,000 ha and integrated best practices in various projects to improve soil health. Under Pro-Soil initiatives, BAIF has undertaken soil testing and distribution of soil health cards among farmers in various land-based programmes followed by technical guidance by Agricultural experts on soil test-based nutrient management to ensure the balanced use of fertilizers based on the needs of the crops. To prevent the top fertile layer of soil from being washed away with rain water, the soil on hill slopes was protected by adopting water-centric livelihoods for land degradation neutrality and soil carbon enrichment. Practices such as agro-horti-forestry (locally known as “wadi”) have good potential not only to convert wastelands into productive lands but also to improve soil health with higher potential to sequester carbon and thereby halt desertification.


How do you leverage partnerships with other sectors to do this?

BAIF has entered into global partnerships with climate-sensitive organisations such as 4 per 1000, INRAE, France, and Global Evergreening Alliance for research and knowledge exchange. GIZ and KFW have also provided support for the implementation of projects to halt desertification and to combat drought. BAIF has also partnered with Indian Organisations such as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and various agricultural universities for research and to undertake sustainable livelihood in vulnerable areas of degraded landscapes. BAIF has always expressed its willingness to leverage partnerships with national and international organisations based on areas of mutual interest and in line with livestock development, land restoration and plantation-based initiative for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

6. Land and Health Association

What is your main approach to halting desertification, combatting drought, and restoring land?

From a technical standpoint, this issue is directly included in the indicators defined by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to express land degradation.


The convention considers three indicators, specifically:

  • Land productivity, which is the ability of the ecosystem or land to generate biomass
  • Soil organic carbon, expressed indirectly by the amount of biomass under the soil or mixed with the soil,
  • Land cover, to indirectly express how the land is protected by vegetation cover. The soil should therefore not be subject to the direct impact of climatic weathering (rain, sunlight, etc.) or should be able to allow water infiltration and combat soil erosion.

To technically address the approach to ending desertification, combating drought, and restoring land, it is simply necessary to ensure that the land is rich in organic carbon (for example, through the burial of organic matter or agricultural residues), is protected at all times (using cover crops such as mucuna and avoiding tillage), and is highly fertile (capable of providing plants with all essential nutrients for their development, such as potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, which are among the most important minerals for plants). These combined practices can put an end to desertification, combat drought, and restore land. Of course, the implementation of these practices is not easy, and this is where the holistic approach to the issue must be considered. The entire solution should take place within the landscape context. This involves different landscape actors, various forms of land use, and a technical approach requiring science, financing, and adequate policies.


Why is soil health important for halting desertification, combatting drought, and restoring land in the context of your organisation?

Soil degradation due to poor management, overexploitation, and misuse of natural resources leads to desertification when it occurs in arid or semi-arid regions. Evidently, degraded soil is more susceptible to drought and requires restoration to recover its health. Land degradation poses a threat to biodiversity loss, food and energy security, the sustainable development of the socio-economic system, and human habitats. To address these social challenges, it is necessary to take care of our soil resources by promoting and maintaining soil health. The simplest way to achieve this sustainability is to care for our soil resources by fostering and maintaining their health. The fundamental concepts of “soil health” date back over 100 years and have evolved since then. Doran et al. in 1996 defined soil health as “the capacity of soil to function as a vital system, within land-use boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and promote plant and animal health.”


The basic idea behind the concept of soil health is that soil is a living ecosystem and that soil health is essential for obtaining high-quality ecosystem services, promoting microbial diversity, supporting high agricultural yields, and promoting human health. The concept of soil health required a revision of agricultural practices in such a way that the soil could be used without impairing its ability to provide known ecosystem services. In response to this issue, sustainable land management (SLM) was introduced in the early 1990s in response to land degradation. SLM encompasses soil, water, and vegetation conservation measures and is based on key principles of improving productivity and protecting natural resources while being economically viable and socially acceptable. When implemented, sustainable land management effectively combats desertification and drought.


How do you leverage partnerships with other sectors to do this?

This issue highlights the necessity of implementing a holistic approach to address the problem, as I previously stated. A landscape approach is required to solve the problem of desertification and drought and to restore the land. It necessitates designing a solution with stakeholders, even if the technical basis is known. Indeed, to scale up technical approaches, financing, governance, and clear policies that involve other actors are needed. This is why all organizations tackling this issue must also work on these levers by raising awareness among other actors about the problem, investing in the formulation and implementation of non-detrimental policies for the land, and attracting funding.

Coalition of Action 4 Soil Health



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