Soil Restoration and Global Sustainability


Dr. Elizabeth Bach

Executive Director, Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative

Colorado State University


Restoration of ecosystems, and soil in particular, took center stage at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Restoration and stabilization of soil provides numerous benefits to communities and the environment, advancing numerous Sustainable Develop Goals including supporting life on land, climate action, sustainable communities, clean water, and reducing hunger.  Three key reports unveiled at COP22 focus on restoration of soils and ecosystems as a holistic approach to help communities world-wide build sustainable futures.

The Drylands Advantage: Protecting the environment, empowering people is a report from the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) highlighting the importance of arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas in supporting biodiversity and livelihoods and cultural identity of many people.  Soils are central to the ecosystem services drylands provide.  Soil biodiversity is part of the overall diversity drylands provide.  Drylands also house 27% of the worlds soil organic carbon reserves!  Drylands are particularly vulnerable to impacts from human use and climate change.  The increased rate of degradation in arid areas in recent years in negatively impacting people and their economic livelihoods around the world.  The report includes five case studies from China, Jordan, Nicaragua, Senegal, and Swaziland.  In each case study, stabilization and revitalization of soil played a central role in meeting the sustainable development goals for individuals, communities, and ecosystems.  A holistic focus on restoration of environment and communities lead to progress on multiple Sustainable Development Goals.  Download and read the full report (44 pgs) here.

The dryland area north and south of the Sahara Desert is home to approximately 500 million people, and these communities rely on the land for food, water, and livelihoods.  The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative is a project from the African Union focused on reducing soil erosion and improving ecosystem service capacity to support communities.  Building Africa’s Great Green Wall: Restoring degraded drylands for stronger and more resilient communities presents a mapping effort, executed by the FAO and partners, to pinpoint areas with high restoration needs and opportunities.  It is estimated 21% of the 780 million hectares in this area is in need of restoration to prevent further land degradation and build a foundation for a sustainable future.  Soil stabilization is critical to achieving this goal along Africa’s Great Green Wall.  Soil biodiversity is at the heart of stabilizing and restoring soils in these vulnerable areas.  The recommended restoration interventions include promoting natural regeneration and planting of native plant species.  Re-establishment of plants stabilizes soil directly through root growth and rebuilds soil food webs, supporting organisms such as mycorrhizal fungi, earthworms, and termites, which also stabilize soil.  You can download and read the full report (7 pgs) here.


In Latin America and the Caribbean, numerous communities also rely on land for food, water, and economic livelihoods.  There are 300 million hectares of degraded land and 350 million hectares of deforested lands in this region, spurring the World Resources Institute report The Economic Case for Landscape Restoration in Latin America.  This is a first attempt to quantify the potential economic benefits to local populations from restoring approximated 20 million hectares of degraded land across the biomes of Latin America and the Caribbean by the year 2020.  The report estimates an average net gain of $1,140 per restored hectare, or a total of $23 billion over 50 years.   Soil is again central to the benefits included in this estimate.  The estimate includes forest products (wood and non-wood), agricultural products (from adopting conservation farming practices), ecotourism income, and carbon sequestered in vegetation and soil.  Restoration of these ecosystem products and services rely of rebuilding soil biodiversity and re-establishing strong connections between these organisms.  The minutia of these estimates depends on many factors including future refinement of estimates of services provided by these lands, the likelihood these ambitious goals will be met, and the realized values of the products considered.  However, it is clear that restoration of only 6-7% of total degraded land in Latin America and the Caribbean can have major positive impacts on efforts to achieve local, regional, and global sustainability goals, including direct positive economic impacts on local populations.  You can download and read the Executive Summary (6 pg) and full report (68 pg) here: