Dried, mopane worms are traditionally offered to foreigners visiting Zimbabwe as a welcoming snack. Not really worms at all, they are the caterpillars of the Emperor moth (Gonimbrasia belina), hand-picked from mopane trees in the wild, their names “madora” in Shona and “amacimbi” in Ndebele a testament to their local popularity.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report “Trees, forests and land use in drylands” (the first global assessment) 23 hectares of land per minute are lost to desertification. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification defines desertification as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climate variations and human activities.” Desertification in return reduces the biological and economic productivity of drylands. Drylands are the land areas that receive relatively low overall amounts of precipitation in the form of rainfall or snow, referring to all lands where the climate is classified as dry, dry-sub-humid, semi-arid and arid, exclusive of hyper-arid areas.
Desertification poses direct threat to the livelihoods of an estimated 2 billion people who live in drylands, which covers about 41 percent of the Earth’s land surface. Desertification, land degradation, scarcity of water, draughts, food shortages, hunger and violence disrupts the lives of millions of people, and pushes them into forced migration. Therefore, the need to deepen our knowledge about desertification, the status of drylands globally, and the ways to improve the management and restoration of them cannot be underestimated.
In order to raise awareness about the importance of the world’s dryland forests, and bring attention to the urgent need to improve the management and restoration of drylands, FAO launched a global campaign #2BillionCare.
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
A year-long drought has transformed farmers into full-time charcoal burners in the part of Eastern Kenya I visited last week. Delayed rains have also had an impact on farmers in greener parts of the country where land degradation and over-exploited soils are dragging yields down.
But the story that emerges from this man-altered landscape is not all bleak. A range of actors, energized by the food and climate crisis, are taking measures to restore the balance between productive land use and functioning ecosystems, in ways that enhance the resilience of both.
Kenya's parliament recently requested that farmers put 10% of their farmland under tree cover. Rwanda announced in February a program to reverse the degradation of its soil, water, land and forest resources by 2035. Development partners like the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility have invested millions of dollars in improving the management of ecosystems to protect livelihoods, biodiversity, water access, and other vital services. The World Resources Institute has painstakingly mapped over 450 million hectares of degraded forest landscapes in Africa that could be restored (See map). In fact, the urge to heal the planet's sores has given birth to a booming ecosystem of NGOs, partnerships, social enterprises and research initiatives that build on each others' successes and share a broad vision for positive change.
We know how to triple maize yields using fertilizer trees. We know how to harvest water, slow erosion and store carbon. We even know how to get more milk out of cows by feeding them leaves from trees that stock carbon, provide firewood, fix nitrogen and retain soil moisture – in a changing climate! All the while, those practices help farmers feed their families, attract wildlife, build assets and pay for school fees...
So why is this kind of "infinite win" work not happening on a more meaningful scale? The organizers of a three-day Investment Forum on Mobilizing Private Investment in Trees and Landscape Restoration in Africa this week in Nairobi are hoping to lift the veil on some of the constraints to sustainable tree-based investment and provoke more synergies between public and private interests.