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Opinion - Why land restoration matters in Africa

2022-12-05  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Why land restoration matters in Africa

Uchendu Eugene Chigbu

Never mind those who say that having land does not make people rich. Having land is not about becoming rich. It is about not becoming or staying poor. It is also not about just land in a nowhere. It is about land in Africa. Without having productive land in Africa, poverty can quickly grow around you. With the land to grow food or sustain daily subsistence needs, it is possible to avoid poverty. So, it is not about having land to be rich. It is about having land to sustain your needs and stay out of poverty. Even when one has land available, they can still find it challenging to use it to get out of poverty, unless that land is secure from interferences and productive. More so, it matters whether the owner or user of the land has the required knowledge or skill to care for the land, and turn it into a tool for sustenance. 

Excessive exploitation of land and forests causes harm to our lives. It reduces the quantity and quality of land (including food and energy) resources. It reduces the conditions of the land, soil and water conditions, which are mandatory for sustaining healthy plants and animals. It affects the state of the air and water, timber and food we depend on for our daily lives. Put differently, the conditions of the land we live and depend on affect everybody. That is why we all must be careful about using the land. We have a responsibility to use and manage land in a manner that cares for the land we use. This should be a shared responsibility for all on Earth. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) helps promote land restoration to solve the challenges posed by land degradation. Land restoration involves the practices that avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation.  

Land degradation arises due to human actions that cause land and natural resources to be exploited so that their use, fertility and natural conditions decline.​ According to the UNCCD, land degradation negatively impacts the living conditions of up to 3.2 billion people globally. Most land degradation happens in South and Central America, Africa and Asia. Land restoration is an intervention for land degradation. 

In Africa, efforts are being made to tackle land degradation at local, national and continental levels. For instance, the Great Green Wall Initiative is a land restoration project in which more than 20 countries across Africa support ensuring that trees are planted on desert land to create more forests or vegetation in the Sahara Desert regions of Africa. The Great Green Wall initiative dates back to the 1970s when it was discovered that vast fertile land in the Sahel region (across the southern edge of the Sahara Desert) was severely degraded. It is a Pan-African restoration movement that aims to restore 100 million ha of degraded land in Africa, reduce 250 million tonnes of carbon (a gas that contributes to warming the Earth’s surface), and create 10 million jobs. However, the land degradation situation in Africa is so bad that this sort of project is only one of the many efforts needed to save African land from consistent damage.

Land degradation happens in Africa because it is one of the regions where land tenure (the manner, rules and norms adopted by societies to regulate behaviour on how to use the land) is most insecure globally. Therefore, land tenure security is a precondition for restoration. Land tenure security - the right of individuals and groups of people to protection by their government against unlawful evictions - and land restoration are linked to one another, and actions in one area often affect the other. Land restoration activities would not succeed unless people’s land is secure. This is crucial because land degradation and restoration have a relationship. Secure land tenure is vital to restoration initiatives because it reduces land disputes caused by uncertainty (or lack of clarity) over land ownership and control created. It can lead to the appropriate use of land resources, and motivate restorative investments. When people feel insecure about their land use, they engage in activities that degrade the land. Also, when they feel secure, they tend to go the extra mile to invest in protecting and restoring the land, including its products, all valuable living things on it, and the location of that land (ecosystem). Hence, it is essential to engage in efforts that support land restoration activities. It is possible to do this in various ways at the individual, community and institutional levels. 

Supporting land restoration at the individual level requires personal commitments to using land in ways that keep them from damaging. Engaging in land restoration at the community (or group) level requires collective devotion to the following cultures that encourage improvements in the health of the land we use. This includes soil, water, forest and other land-related resources. When conducting activities on land, we should also consider the consequences of such actions. Enabling land restoration at the institutional level requires putting policy and regulatory measures to improve land degradation. This necessitates creating land management visions with a link to diagnosing tenure concerns and conditions that discourage land degradation. It also includes rules and norms for monitoring land issues to have positive socioeconomic and ecological impacts on people.


*Uchendu Eugene Chigbu is an Associate Professor (Land Administration) in the Department of Land and Property Sciences (DLPS) at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). The views expressed in this article are entirely his, and not that of NUST.

2022-12-05  Staff Reporter

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