Operationalizing land degradation neutrality for land restoration activities within the Gilgal Abay watershed, Lake Tana sub-basin, northwestern Ethiopia
Mary Crossland. (6/8/2019). Operationalizing land degradation neutrality for land restoration activities within the Gilgal Abay watershed, Lake Tana sub-basin, northwestern Ethiopia.
Land degradation is a serious and extensive issue, which affects approximately 23% of the Earth’s land area and impacts an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide. Despite global efforts to halt land degradation, the area of land affected continues to increase. The concept of ‘land degradation neutrality’ – where the rate of land degradation does not exceed that of land restoration – presents an alternative, and arguably more realistic goal than preventing land degradation altogether. The steps required to operationalize the concept of land degradation neutrality (LDN) however pose a number of challenges and remain largely unknown. Using a mixed-methods approach that combines participatory mapping, semi-structured interviews, and biophysical field surveys, the present study aimed to explore whether LDN is an operational concept for land restoration activities within the Gilgal Abay watershed of the Lake Tana Basin, northwestern Ethiopia. Its findings illustrate that, although an attractive concept, the practical implementation of LDN will be far from straightforward. Achieving the compound goal of LDN will be challenging given that land restoration and transformation result in the more intensive use of the remaining productive land. Local communities were found to prioritise the most degraded areas for restoration activities. Addressing degradation before land becomes severely degraded however may present a more pragmatic and cost-effective approach to addressing land degradation. Recognition of impending degradation thresholds therefore has the potential to improve current targeting of LDN activities. Although impacts of degradation manifested themselves at larger scales, land degradation was driven by the cumulative effect of individual management decisions at the field level. Gaining the perspectives of local land users on the spatial and temporal dynamics of degradation was found to provide useful insight into local-scale processes that, using other methods, might otherwise have not been captured. Achieving LDN will therefore require a systems perspective that considers the implications of both land restoration and land use change, collaboration among multiple stakeholders at multiple scales, and the development of monitoring indicators that reflect local realities.