Restore Productivity to Degraded Land “Go Zones”

Degraded lands can be cultivated for crops or restored to their natural state.

The Problem: Between 10 and 20% of drylands and 24% of usable land globally are degraded. Land degradation represents an estimated economic loss of $40 billion per year. Additionally, land degradation leads to food insecurity, increased pests, biodiversity loss, reduced availability of clean water and increased vulnerability of affected areas and their populations to climate change and other environmental changes. This disproportionately affects the 1.5 billion rural poor who depend directly upon the land for their livelihoods. The Earth’s capacity to meet the demands of an increasing human population is in doubt due to the severity of land degradation.

The Solution: Some degraded lands have the potential to be used for cultivated crops (e.g., sugar cane, soy, palm oil, pulp and paper). This can help secure access to raw materials while reducing the need to convert more natural ecosystems for agriculture. Degraded lands can also be restored to a natural state – reintroducing and enhancing local ecosystem services and biodiversity. “Go zones” are the portion of degraded lands that are environmentally, legally, and socially suitable for restoration or utilization. “Go zones” have not yet been identified in many countries, and not all degraded lands are suitable for this solution due to land tenure and governance issues.

The Business Case

  • It can bolster operations. Investment in land restoration can help secure access to raw materials and expand production of forest and agriculture commodities.

  • It can be cost effective. Some pilot projects have shown that responsibly using degraded lands can be more cost effective than cultivation of newly deforested land.

  • It reinforces corporate sustainability values. It can help avoid deforestation, scale up low carbon agriculture and contribute to a net-positive forest and carbon footprint. Restoration aligns with aspects of the Consumer Goods Forum’s “zero net deforestation by 2020” target and principles of sustainable commodity roundtables (RPSO, etc.). Productive lands can also be an important potential carbon sink.

  • It can enhance local well-being. Investing in degraded land productivity can help revitalize ecosystem services, which can improve livelihoods, environmental health and overall community well-being. Additionally, businesses will benefit from improved community and governmental relations as well as brand image.


1st Half 2014

  • Clarify the business case for action, in partnership with other organizations working in this field, such as the Economics of Land Degradation, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World Resources Institute.

  • Support the development of the Soil Leadership Academy, a UNCCD-led initiative that aims to fill the gap in capacity building opportunities for policymakers to address land management issues, through distilling and sharing the latest science, knowledge and expertise in soil conservation and sustainable practice.

2nd Half 2014

  • Define key terms and develop a protocol for land restoration.


  • Clarify land tenure: To overcome the main barriers to restoration and responsible utilization of degraded lands, national governments need to develop and implement land use plans, and spatially define natural ecosystems that need to be maintained into the future. They should clarify and secure rights to land and natural resource use, which is essential for reducing environmental degradation, enabling restoration, and minimizing land use conflicts with communities.

  • Research and measurement: A globally agreed land restoration protocol, including clear definitions of what restoring means, would need to be developed in order to structure restoration plans more effectively and track progress.

  • Capacity building: Farmers need to be trained on sustainable land management techniques so as to avoid further land degradation in agriculture. Similarly, policymakers also need to be trained so as to be able to design public policy that incentivizes land restoration and implementation of sustainable land management practices.


  • Number of hectares of land restored per year.

Note: to avoid double-counting, measurement should only take into account the additional restoration efforts and not cumulate the ones that are going through several years.


Land Degradation Land degradation refers to any reduction or loss in the biological or economic productive capacity of the land caused by human activities, exacerbated by natural processes, and often magnified by the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss (UNCCD 2013).