United Nations and Colorado State University Pair up to Develop Land Degradation Strategy

A Colorado State University and United Nations led science group is convening in Washington, D.C. to better understand the affects of land degradation, an issue that impacts 30 million Americans.

Scientists and experts from more than 20 U.S. universities and specialized United Nations bodies will meet on Feb. 26 at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington, D.C. to discuss how U.S. scientific experts can support and provide scientific input in the worldwide struggle against land degradation.

"The United States is a severely affected country but it also has top scientists and world-class universities that have studied the problem since the time of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. We need the lessons learnt by the American scientists and we need to share that knowledge immediately," said Luc Gnacadja, the top UN official representing the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). "The American scientific community can play a critical role in establishing a strong framework for global indicators of land degradation and help build the bridge to scientists working on climate change issues."

The UNCCD and Colorado State University are leading an initiative to promote better communication and knowledge transfer between the scientific community and those who live in areas where degradation such as soil erosion, salinization and overgrazing occurs.

"The meeting provides the scientific community with an opportunity to influence how science should contribute to the international deliberations on land degradation and desertification in the coming years," said Michael Manfredo, head of CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. "It will also foster a more comprehensive involvement of the U.S. scientific community that includes prominent universities in the United States with expertise in the environmental, social and economic causes of land degradation and desertification."

In the United States alone, more than 20 percent of the land surface is in varying degrees of degradation, which makes the country the fourth most severely affected by land degradation worldwide. According to the FAO’s Global Land Degradation Assessment only Russia, African states south of the equator and Canada are ahead of the United States in terms of degraded lands. It affects about 30 million Americans – 10 percent of the population – which is equal to the population of the states of New York and Ohio combined.

Desertification and dustbowl-type soil erosion has historically been a problem and remains a concern across a large portion of the western United States. Recent droughts have increased U.S. vulnerability as desert areas have increased by about 2 percent. Some 20 million ha, or 50 million acres, of arable land are lost every year to desertification and land degradation. Globally an estimated 1 billion people are affected, particularly in Brazil, West Africa and India.

Land degradation costs $40 billion annually on the global scale, not including the hidden costs such as the need for increased fertilization, the loss of biodiversity, poor health and malnutrition.