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Landscape degradation: a world of landscape restoration opportunities

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This blog is part of a series using data from World Development Indicators to explore progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and their associated targets. The new Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2017, published in April 2017, and the SDG Dashboard provide in-depth analyses of all 17 goals.

As global demand for food rises, the halting of landscape degradation and the restoration of these areas is paramount. Sustainable Development Goal 15 recognizes that efforts to restore degraded areas also benefit livelihoods and biodiversity by reducing erosion, supplying clean water, and providing wildlife habitat and other forest products (targets 15.1 and 15.3). Forests and trees also help mitigate climate change, enhance soil fertility, conserve soil moisture, and boost food production (target 15.3). A restored landscape may accommodate a range of land uses such as agriculture, protected reserves, ecological corridors, regenerated forests, well-managed plantations, agroforestry systems, and riparian plantings to protect waterways.

Landscape degradation directly affects 1.5 billion people, many of which live in extreme poverty.Around half of all land used globally for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation[1].

Worldwide, nearly 25 million square kilometers offer opportunities for restoration, many in tropical and temperate areas. Nearly 18 million square kilometers would ideally combine forests and trees with other land uses through "mosaic restoration," including smallholder agriculture, agroforestry, and community forestry. A further 5 million square kilometers would be suitable for wide-scale restoration of closed forests. Africa provides the largest restoration opportunity, followed by Latin America (figure 15h).


The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100)/TerrAfrica is a country-led effort to accelerate the restoration of 100 million hectares of land across the continent by 2030, in order to enhance food security, increase climate change resilience and mitigation, and combat rural poverty.

In Latin America there is a regional commitment though Initiative 20x20 to forest and landscape restoration in 12 countries.

Providing pathways out of poverty

Some 300 to 350 million people, about half of them indigenous, live within, or close to, dense forests and depend almost entirely on forests for subsistence. And many more in urban areas depend on forest resources for food, energy sources, and construction materials.

Beyond subsistence, forests and landscapes are an important aspect of rural livelihoods. Rural households living near forested areas in Africa and Asia derive over 20 percent of their income from forest sources, and those in Latin America derive over 28 percent from forests (figure 15i). About half the income from forests is noncash and includes food, fodder, energy, medicine, and house-building materials. This noncash contribution, or "hidden harvest," is especially important for people living in extreme poverty.


[1] GLADIS – Global Land Degradation Information System, FAO, 2015


Paola Agostini

Lead Natural Resources Management Specialist, Europe and Central Asia

Edie Purdie

Consultant, Development Data Group (DECDG), World Bank

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