Economics of Land Degradation Initiative

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The Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative is a global initiative which aims to increase awareness of the economic consequences of land degradation and promote sustainable land management. The ELD Initiative provides a platform for discussion between stakeholders from the policy, science, and private sectors, and is focused on developing globally relevant data and methodology on the economic benefits of land and land based ecosystems for decision makers. The Initiative highlights the benefits derived from adopting sustainable land management practices and seeks to establish a global economic analyses of land management. The ELD Initiative was co-founded by the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Commission (EC) and is hosted by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. The ELD Secretariat is based in Bonn, Germany.


Land degradation and desertification threaten people’s livelihood on a global scale. Every year, 20 million hectares of fertile land become degraded and within the last 40 years, around one third of the total agricultural land on earth has become unproductive through degradation processes.[1] Less developed countries are more vulnerable to desertification and land degradation, as they lack the infrastructure and capital to deal with this threat and implement long-term sustainable land management.[2] Soil on degraded land is less resilient and crops grown on degraded soil produce lower yields. Land degradation also negatively influences global food security: in the next 25 years, global food production might drop by up to 12%. This will lead to an increase in average food prices of up to 30%.[3] Estimates show that the annual costs of land degradation are up to €3.4 trillion.[4] Paired with the growing world population and an increasing demand for alternative land management products such as biofuels land degradation causes poverty, food insecurity, reduced availability of clean water, and increased vulnerability towards climate change and extreme weather conditions.[5]

Land is covered by different ecosystems, which can be valued to include all the services they provide to life on earth: supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural services. These ecosystem services were estimated, in 2011 to have a global worth of USD 125 trillion/yr. This shows a decrease of USD 20.2 trillion/yr since 1997, caused by land use and management changes .[6] Sustainable land management practices are not usually costly to take up, and could deliver up to USD 1.4 trillion, merely in crop production, if adopted .[7]

Achieving a land degradation neutral world by 2030 is now a stated target in the recently ratified United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), where Land Degradation Neutrality is explicitly outlined in the universally applicable target 15.3. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) COP 12 decisions also explicitly recognizes the need for economic assessments of desertification, sustainable land management, and the resilience of rural areas. The ELD Initiative is in very close alignment and support of these targets in all of its efforts.

Formation and partner organisations[edit]

In 2010, a scientific foundation was created to promote the issues of sustainable land management and food security and increase public awareness for the importance of productive soils. In October 2011, a Memorandum of understanding was signed between the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Commission, and the permanent Secretariat to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Additionally, the Korea Forest Service supports the ELD Initiative as a political partner.

The ELD Initiative established a broad scientific network including the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), the Stockholm Environment Institute, UNDP, UNEP, the Australian National University, University of Leeds, University of Wyoming, the University of Bern, IFPRI, Global Mechanism and IUCN. The ELD Initiative further focuses on collaborating with the Private sector as one of the main drivers for land degradation processes[9], to help businesses identify investment opportunities and incentives linked to the preservation and sustainable management of soils.


The partners’ vision of Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative is to transform global understanding of the value of land and create awareness of the economic case for sustainable land management that prevents loss of natural capital, secures livelihoods, preserves ecosystem services, combats climate change, and addresses food, energy, and water security, and to create capacity for the utilisation of economic information for sustainable land management.


Guided by Steering Group members and coordinated by the ELD Secretariat, the ELD Initiative produces reports, case studies, and other outputs. These outputs are compiled by its policy, private sector, and scientific partners. The ELD Secretariat is responsible for the coordination of processes within the Initiative and its communication, and also serves as first contact point for all existing and potential Partners.

Besides the Steering Group members, the ELD network includes senior experts from Crawford School of Public Policy - Australian National University, Stockholm Environment Institute Africa Center, University of Leeds, CGIAR (ICARDA), Korea Forest Service and international organizations such as UNEP, UNDP and IUCN, amongst others.


As of mid-2014, the ELD Initiative has published a “Scientific Interim Report’’ which details the general approach and methods considered by the Initiative and a “Business Brief’’ which outlines a methodology for risk assessment. In 2015, the ELD Initiative published three additional reports; one main report titled ‘The Value of Land, as well as reports tailored for policy-/decision makers and the private sector. The ELD Initiative further offers Capacity building activities for decision-makers. In 2014 for example a first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Economics of Land Degradation was offered in cooperation with UNU-INWEH. A second Massive Open Online Course titled 'Options and Pathways for Action: Stakeholder Engagement' took place on May 5 - June 27, 2015.

In September 2015, ELD produced a comprehensive synthesis or ‘main’ document, The Value of Land. This reference report details the monetary worth of land, the steps and methods that can be used to effectively conduct economic assessments of land values, and actions for the successful management and use thereof. Additionally, it provides global scenarios with information on important ecosystems and the potential future impacts based on the various possible economic conditions governing its management. The significance of stakeholder engagement is outlined with country-level examples. The report was launched at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in Brussels. For video, see here.

An ancillary Report for Policy and Decision Makers was released in parallel in September 2015, consisting of practical guidance and recommendations for policy-making in the use of economic instruments for sustainable management of land in the context of the SDG implementation process.

Services and Products[edit]

The services offered by the ELD Initiative can be categorised into three key themes: stakeholder dialogues, capacity-building as well as technical expertise and development of solutions. Such services and products can be outlined as follows:

  • Total economic valuation methods which aid decision-making in land-use investments and planning.
  • Building capacity amongst African, Asian and Central and Latin American countries to assess their land’s value.
  • Providing practitioners and decision-makers with skills and tools to make an economic case for sustainable land management.
  • Informing private sector of the opportunities available for investment in sustainable land management.
  • Case studies on local regions with all the necessary information on the value of the land, relevant stakeholders, and methods of effectively managing land so as to be used more sustainably.

Going Forward[edit]

After the presentation of the core reports the ELD Initiative in its coming Implementation Phase will be working on three key themes identified as targets are capacity development, awareness raising and communication, and knowledge management. ELD network partners have developed and discussed on strengths, weaknesses, and actions for the ELD going forward in this context.

Following various high-level presentations of the Initiative’s reports in the course of 2015, ELD has received a number of requests from national representatives for support through national studies and awareness raising activities. ELD Initiative will bring to bear the results of its scientific work and implement the ELD methodology in a number of additional national case studies closely linked with dialogues between decision makers and land managers, but also with capacity building activities in cooperation with local partners.

In this next phase, ELD aims to make economics of land degradation an integral part of policy strategies and decision making by increasing the political and public awareness of the costs and benefits of sustainable management of land-based ecosystems and to increase the capacity to utilize economic data and []methodology.


Case Studies[edit]


External links[edit]