Modern Agriculture Degraded 40% of Land Globally
A report published on Wednesday by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) found that humans have altered 70% of land on Earth, primarily through agriculture. Researchers say that close to 40% of the land has been degraded, putting the planet on a "crisis footing,” affecting around 3.2 billion people worldwide. At the current pace, humans risk degrading another chunk of land the size of South America by 2050, causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 17% and speeding up global warming.
TRT World Now: UN report: 40% of all land on Earth damaged by human activities, April 28, 2022.
UNCCD: Global Land Outlook 2 high-level virtual launch, April 27, 2022.
Why This Matters
Scientists estimate that around half of the global economic output relies on natural resources found on the Earth, and without viable land, societies and economies will collapse. If governments don’t prioritize landscape restoration, the world’s food supply could be left extremely vulnerable.
"Our health, our economy, our well-being depends on land,” stated Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD. "Humanity has already altered 70 percent of the land. This is a major, major figure.”
With drought and extreme heat at all-time highs, farms are failing, crops are dying, and people are starting to feel the effects of food shortages. Anything from war to climate change disasters could destroy the precarious food systems in place and leave entire countries in dire situations. A transition away from modern farming practices and immediate investments in sustainable food systems may prevent the oncoming food crisis and restore much of the world’s degraded land.
CNBC: Will The US Face A Food Shortage?, April 20, 2022.
DW: "War in Ukraine means hunger in Africa" | The conflict's impact on global food security, March 19, 2022.
National Geographic: Global Water Wars (Full Episode) | Parched, July 29, 2021.
Investing in Sustainable Agriculture
In the UNCCD report, scientists estimate that five billion hectares of land could be restored by 2050 if sustainable systems were implemented. They estimate an annual cost of $300 billion. However, that figure is much lower than the subsidies provided to mega-farms in places like the US.
Researchers agree that "significant restoration” could be made by avoiding heavy tillage, integrating trees with crops and livestock, and rehabilitating grasslands and forests. They also highlight how individual consumers could help spark change by removing resource-intensive livestock from their diets, such as beef, which produces 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the report, transforming the food system could make "a significant contribution to the success of the global land, biodiversity, and climate agendas” while encouraging productivity and carbon storage in regenerative landscapes worldwide.
Tom's Outdoors: Changing Paradigms | Regenerative Agriculture: a Solution to our Global Crisis? | Full Documentary, May 10, 2021.
Cornell University: Climate change reduced farming productivity by 21% since 1961, April 1, 2021.
Sentient Media: Food System Emissions - How Can We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?, June 18, 2021.