Millions at Risk: Food shortages loom as pasture lands deteriorate

UNCCD warns: Overexploitation and climate change have degraded half of natural pasture lands, threatening food supplies and livelihoods.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has issued a dire warning: half of the world’s natural pasture lands have been degraded due to overexploitation and the impacts of climate change. This degradation poses significant threats to global food supplies and the livelihoods of millions.

The UNCCD revealed on Tuesday that one-sixth of the world’s food supplies are at risk because of the deterioration of rangelands. These lands, which include savannas, wetlands, deserts, and grasslands, play a crucial role in the planet’s ecosystem.

Population growth, urbanization, and increasing food demand have led herders to rear more animals than the land can sustain. Additionally, the conversion of natural pastures into intensive cropland has resulted in soil fertility declines and exacerbated drought conditions. This combination of factors has contributed significantly to the degradation of these vital lands.

Barron Joseph Orr, the chief scientist at UNCCD, highlighted the bleak nature of the current situation but also pointed to a potential silver lining. He noted that there is a growing recognition that land restoration is an essential component of combating climate change. Rangelands alone account for a third of the world’s carbon reservoir capacity, making their preservation and restoration crucial.

“Emissions are the big issue for sure, but where do we want to put the carbon – where does it naturally belong? In our soils and in our vegetation, and if you keep undermining that, you undermine your solution,” Orr emphasized. His comments underline the critical need to protect and restore these lands to combat climate change effectively.

Rangelands make up about 54% of the world’s total land area and support approximately two billion farmers, herders, and ranchers. The UNCCD’s latest report, based on surveys from experts in over 40 countries, reveals a much grimmer picture than previously thought. Earlier estimates suggested that 25% of rangelands were degraded, but the new data shows that the actual figure is much higher.

The report identified Central Asia, China, and Mongolia as the regions most severely affected by land degradation. Agricultural industrialization in these areas has displaced traditional herding communities and increased pressure on already strained resources. Other regions, including Africa, the Middle East, and South America, have also experienced widespread degradation.

Orr called for governments to adopt a more holistic approach to land protection, moving beyond isolated restoration projects to comprehensive strategies that consider the interconnected nature of ecosystems. He also highlighted the potential of traditional herding practices to aid in rangeland recovery.

“In general, the way things were done in the past, traditionally, can go a long way towards the solutions that we’re trying to achieve today,” Orr said. “They worked for a long, long time and they can work again, given the right circumstances.”

The UNCCD’s findings underscore the urgent need for global action to address the degradation of natural pasture lands. As the world grapples with the twin challenges of climate change and food security, the protection and restoration of rangelands must become a priority. The degradation of these lands not only threatens food supplies but also undermines efforts to combat climate change, making it a critical issue for policymakers, conservationists, and communities worldwide.