Envisioning a National System of Land Restoration (Part 1)

It is obvious that different socio-economic and institutional factors impact land restoration in a country. These may include laws and their enforcement, economic incentives of people which in turn are determined by national and international markets and government policies; actions of organisations that are involved in restoration, etc.

Part 1 1024x668

With contributions from Muralee Thummarukudy, David Wupper, Agustin Fallas Santana, Nicole Harari, Markus Giger, Ingrid Teich, Shaon Bandopadhyay (Santhakumar and Apoorva take the responsibility for mistakes/​inadequacies, if any, in the completed article)

Abstract

Different socio-economic factors and policies/​institutions together may impact the effectiveness of efforts towards land restoration in different contexts/​countries. The contribution of any one factor, say private property rights, may be different in different contexts depending on the presence (or absence) of other enabling factors. Even when laws which aim at land restoration are made, their impact may depend on their actual enforcement, which in turn, may depend on governance and pressure from citizens. The latter and the willingness of governments to invest in land restoration may be connected to human development and related factors. Hence, there is a need to view socio-economic and institutional enablers of land restoration in a systems’ or wholistic perspective (in addition to rigorous studies on the potential impact of each factor). This paper attempts to outline such a systems approach. In order to do so, it draws on the national innovation system’ that is used to understand the differences in the degree of innovation in different countries. Such a system of innovation consists of the elements and relationships which interact in the production, diffusion, and use of new, and economically useful, knowledge … and are either located within or rooted inside the borders of a nation-state (Lundvall, 19921). Following this approach, this essay looks at the parts and relationships which interact in the efforts towards restoring land individually and in an aggregate manner.

Introduction

Nearly one-fourth of the earth’s land surface is subjected to one or the other kind of land degradation.2 It is estimated that land degradation leads to a loss of USD 2 trillion per year for countries. It also reduces the value of land and forests. About 2 billion hectares of forest land offers very little economic value currently due to degradation.3 Land degradation leads to the loss of biodiversity and contributes to global warming. These losses are known to policymakers and hence, there is a global acceptance of the need to arrest the ongoing degradation of land. There are a number of global initiatives to restore land.4 According to the Global Land Outlook Report of UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) land restoration is the process of avoiding, reducing, and reversing land degradation to recover the biodiversity and ecosystem services that sustain all life on Earth’.5 There are also actions by communities, governments, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to restore land cover. However, there is a need to accelerate these actions. The objective of the G 20 Global Land Initiative is to prevent, halt and reverse land degradation and reduce degraded land by 50 percent by 2040.

It is obvious that different socio-economic and institutional factors impact land restoration in a country. These may include laws and their enforcement, economic incentives of people which in turn are determined by national and international markets and government policies; actions of organisations that are involved in restoration, etc. Whether effective restoration in a context takes place or not depends on the aggregate impact of all these factors. Even if one enabling factor is absent in a context, there may be a push towards restoration if other factors exist. There could be instances where a key enabler may be missing, and that may be impactful even if other factors are present. Hence, there is a need to understand the aggregate impact of all these factors.6 All these factors function as a system and different factors serve as its multiple nodes. This article brings together different factors that enable (impact) land restoration together in the form of a national system. It is used to identify the nature of enabling (and disabling) factors in specific countries/​regions like Brazil, India, China, North America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The usefulness along with the policy implications of such a systems approach is also discussed towards the end of this article.

Need for a systems approach

Let us consider any one factor that enables restoration. For example, several studies have highlighted the importance of property rights or land tenure. The argument is that people may restore land if they have property rights.7 The logic is clear. When people have ownership, they can be sure of recovering longer-term gains from investments in restoration. Though this analysis, by looking at the land ownership per se (or within a partial equilibrium framework) is useful, this does not tell us whether there would be restoration efforts by people in a context. Even when people have private property rights, they may be using the land in a degrading manner if they do not have (other) incentives for conservation.8 For example, their need to grow short-term crops because they cannot afford to buy these from the market may lead to intensive agriculture, which in turn, may lead to land degradation.9

Similarly, though rules and regulations which compel private firms and households to restore land are important, their actual impact may depend on the enforcement of these rules which in turn may be connected to the nature of governance in a context.10 We may consider the availability of finance (from altruists, impact investors or those who seek regular returns) as a factor that may enable restoration. However, this finance may flow into those countries where domestic factors are a lot more conducive to restoration. Hence, the availability of finance globally may not enable land restoration in certain countries.

A partial equilibrium analysis of seeing the impact of a particular factor (like land ownership) rigorously is useful. However, this understanding is to be complemented by a general equilibrium analysis’ that sees the interconnection between different factors. A systems approach (which is explained in the following section) may be useful in this regard. However, such a systems approach is complementary to the identification of individual effects. Systematic analysis of the probable impact of each factor, and the broad and overall analysis of the interconnection between different factors may give useful insights for policymaking.

Lessons from the National System of Innovation

Innovation is a domain in which multiple factors and actions of multiple stakeholders play an important role, and where a systems view/​approach is widely used. A number of scholars have used a National Systems’ approach to explain the differences between countries in terms of innovation.11 Such a system consists of the elements and relationships which interact in the production, diffusion, and use of new, and economically useful, knowledge … and are either located within or rooted inside the borders of a nation-state (Lundvall, 199212).

One rationale for using a systems approach in understanding innovation is the interlinked role of several institutions of different kinds in the production and diffusion of knowledge. The determinants of successful innovation at the level of firms, and of nations as a whole, depend on the effectiveness of these institutions.13 There are notable differences in the relative roles of different institutions in different countries, and these may determine the differences in terms of the success of innovation between them.

Outlining a national system of land restoration

The land in a country can be broadly divided into four categories (Figure 1). This categorisation is based on who owns and controls the land. It is based on a presumption that the restoration of land depends on the incentives (and disincentives) of people/​firms which own/​control land.

Though there are common factors which may determine the degradation or restoration of all these different categories of land, each type may have specific issues, and these are discussed in the following subsections.

Figure 1. Categorisation of land

1. Private Land (land owned and used by individuals and/​or households)

The restoration of privately-owned lands depends on the incentives of individuals and households. However, these incentives are shaped by different factors. These include laws governing the use of land, market incentives for land restoration, dependency on land, the impact of state policies, interventions by NGOs etc. These are discussed briefly in the following subsections.

  • Laws/​regulations that demand the restoration of private lands

There may be countries where the government may impose certain restoration or forest-protection practices on private lands. For example, Brazil has such a provision. Its Forest Law requires that rural landowners designate and maintain a percentage of their property under forest cover. This varies from 20 to 80 percent depending on the type of vegetation and the property’s geographical location in the country. It also requires all landowners to restore deforested areas on their properties.14 The United States uses conservation easements which may limit the use of private land to enable conservation.15 The landowners who get into such agreements get tax credits. Canada provides incentives for taking conservation measures on private lands.16 Hence, there can be regulations or direct incentives mandating/​encouraging the restoration or protection of forests in private lands in different countries.17

  • Market incentives for enabling restoration

There are incentives for restoration which are shaped by markets. The increase in the cost of labour (including that which is needed for supervising farm operations) may encourage farmers to reduce the intensive cultivation of lands owned by them. This hike in wages could be due to the increase in the demand for labour in local or national markets. Migration opportunities could be one such reason.18 There can also be an increase in the price of farm products whose cultivation supports the restoration of the land. Products from trees and plants (as in the case of agro-forestry) may fetch a higher revenue for farmers in certain cases and this may encourage them to move towards land restoration.19 In certain parts of the world, land which is not productive for agriculture may have opportunities for the development of wildlife tourism and other such activities, which may also enable restoration. Private companies which see restoration as a business can strengthen these incentives for restoration. There can also be for-profit or not-for-profit intermediaries which can facilitate the transfer of carbon finance to private landholders, which too can facilitate restoration.

However, we need to mention two limitations in this regard. Such market incentives may not be adequate in the case of all kinds of land or land use. Moreover, such an enabling role of private companies may work well only if the incentives of producers (due to state policies and markets, in general) are also aimed at dissuading cultivation practices that result in land degradation.

  • The indirect impact of state policies

Policies that are not aimed at restoration may have an indirect positive or negative impact on the incentives for restoration in private lands. It is noted that the provision of subsidies for certain kinds of agriculture or inputs may facilitate intensive cultivation with negative impacts on restoration.20 There is scope for redesigning subsidies to create incentives for restoration.21 Similarly, state policies can minimise such distress’ actions of people. For example, the absence of food security may encourage people to cultivate food crops even in those lands which are not appropriate for this purpose, and this may lead to degradation. This can be avoided if governments can ensure food security through market interventions or the provisions of subsidised food grains. Moreover, governments have an important role in providing education and enabling people to move out of agriculture which can also have a positive impact on land restoration.<a href=”” data-hasqtip=“21” oldtitle=” Non-intensive cultivation or fallowing of land by those who take up non-agricultural jobs (mostly in urban areas) can be a reason for an increase in the area of forests. This has happened in Europe. For example, the European environmental agency notes: Forest area in Europe has increased since 1990 by 17 million hectares (ha) of which more than half are planted forests. This has been the result of (e.g. planting and seedling of trees on land that was not previously forested) and through natural expansion of forests such as on abandoned land.22 We do not presume that the abandonment of land has no negative impacts on its restoration; policy interventions may be needed to mitigate these negative impacts.23

  • Interventions by non-governmental organisations

Different kinds of altruistic or not-for-profit, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) encourage and enable the restoration of private lands. The discussions in the previous paragraphs may help us to identify those factors which may determine the success of these NGOs. In contexts where markets and state support provide incentives to move towards land use which facilitates restoration, the interventions of these NGOs could be an additional enabler. These organisations can solve the information problems by creating an awareness of the need to restore land and the options which are available for such a restoration without affecting the expected private gains and providing support for enabling such a transition. However, in those cases where private landholders do not have the incentive to adopt restoration-oriented land use (due to inadequate market signals and/​or state policies), the task on the part of these NGOs may be difficult. In such cases, it is not surprising if people continue with practices which lead to land degradation in spite of persistent efforts by NGOs.

Figure 2. Factors that enable restoration of Private Land

Community Land

This category includes land that is used by people but is not privately owned. There could be informal or traditional rights which determine access to such land. For most purposes, these may have the features of common property resources (CPR). Though these were part of the CPR, there need not necessarily face what is referred to as the tragedy of commons’.24 This could be due to informal norms enforced through communities.25 However, the folk theorem26 demonstrates two conditions for the sustenance of such a collective action (to avoid the tragedy of commons): the infinitely repeated interactions and the sufficiently low discount rates.

  • Poverty may lead to higher discount rates27 and the breakdown of collective action that is needed to use community lands sustainably

Poverty and vulnerability (and the absence of governmental actions to mitigate these) can enhance the discount rate to people.28 This would mean that people would be focusing on immediate gains by neglecting the longer-term ones. This can have a negative impact on collective action within even those communities which are closely-knit and depend on natural resources. This can be one reason for the degradation of community lands in less developed areas, like sub-Saharan Africa.29 This again shows the importance of poverty eradication, food security or even access to healthcare and other such basic needs to minimise these land-degrading practices and to ensure restoration. This problem need not be due to any intrinsic problem of community lands, and we have seen in the previous section that there can be degradation even in privately owned lands if people do not have the incentives to practice agriculture (or land use) that ensures long-term sustainable management of land and its restoration.

  • Shorter-period interactions among people may reduce the incentives for collective action

The second insight from the folk theorem is the importance of infinite (longer-term) interactions in sustaining collective action to protect the CPR including community lands. However, socio-economic changes of different kinds may work against these infinitely long interactions. Sections of people may move out (migrate) and there can be periodical immigration. People may start depending on wider labour, commodity and input markets which may reduce the need for interactions (or interdependence) within communities and the use of land or cultivation may become less important as the source of income. All these may reduce the incentives for people to participate in, and abide by, norms enforced through informal collective action. It can also lead to the degeneration of community institutions which have enabled the sustainable management of land in the past. This factor (along with poverty and vulnerability) may lead to the breakdown of collective action, and the degradation of community lands (including pasture lands) in different parts of the world30 When collective action breaks down and that leads to the degradation of land, the government can promote alternative management mechanisms. These may include a variety of forms, like privatisation, enforcement of a quota, co-management or even state control. However, the effectiveness of these possible interventions may depend on the capability and responsiveness of the state, an issue that we take up in a later section.

  • Role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in community lands

These organisations can play an important role in enabling collective action when sections of people have lost their interest/​incentives to be active participants in such an action. Such an enabling role on the part of NGOs may include (a) awareness creation; (b) strengthening the bargaining power of those who depend on the resource; © supporting the enforcement of community norms; (b) enhancing the stake in the community resource; and so on. However, NGOs may face challenges in enabling collective action where socio-economic change has significantly reduced the dependence on community lands among a sizeable section of users. There can be ethnic and other divides among people which may be leading to the breakdown of collective action. The NGOs have the potential but may face challenges in these contexts too. The incentives which are connected to the community lands are summarised in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Incentives connected to Community Land

Notes:

1. LUNDVALL, B‑Å. (ed.) (1992). National Innovation Systems: Towards a Theory of Innovation and Interactive Learning, Pinter, London

2. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2022. The Global Land Outlook, second edition. UNCCD, Bonn

3. Ding, H., et al (2017) Roots of Prosperity: The Economics and Finance of Restoring Land, World Resources Institute, Washington DC

4. Ding, H., et al (2017) Roots of Prosperity: The Economics and Finance of Restoring Land, World Resources Institute, Washington DC

5. https://​www​.unc​cd​.int/​s​i​t​e​s​/​d​e​f​a​u​l​t​/​f​i​l​e​s​/2022 – 04/UNCCD_GLO2_low-res_2.pdf

6. The need to understand the impact of these multiple factors is noted in the literature. For example, see Thompson, B. S. Land Use Policy 78, 503 – 514 (2018). The importance of these aggregate factors is noted in other studies too such as Wuepper, D., Borrelli, P., & Finger, R. (2020). Countries and the global rate of soil erosion. Nature Sustainability, 3(1), 51 – 55; Wuepper, D., Le Clech, S., Zilberman, D., Mueller, N., & Finger, R. (2020). Countries influence the trade-off between crop yields and nitrogen pollution. Nature Food, 1(11), 713 – 719; Wuepper, D., Tang, F. H., & Finger, R. (2023). National leverage points to reduce global pesticide pollution. Global Environmental Change, 78102631

7. Eisinger, Alexandra (2022): Restoration, Land Tenure, Conflict, and Opportunities in Peacebuilding: 15 best practices for restoration. Middlebury. Report. https://​doi​.org/​10​.​7926​/​66030219

8. For example, no increase in investments after improved tenure security was found by Huntington, H., & Shenoy, A. (2021). Does insecure land tenure deter investment? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Development Economics, 150102632

9. The connection between land degradation and intensive cultivation of crops is noted in the literature. For example, P. Smith, J.I. House, M. Bustamante, J. Sobocká, R. Harper, G. Pan, P.C. West, J.M. Clark, T. Adhya, C. Rumpel, K. Paustian, P. Kuikman, M.F. Cotrufo, J.A. Elliott, R. McDowell, R.I. Griffiths, S. Asakawa, A. Bondeau, A.K. Jain, J. Meersmans, T.A.M. PughGlobal change pressures on soils from land use and management. Glob. Chang. Biol., 22 (2015), pp. 1008 – 1028

10. Sellare, J., Börner, J., Brugger, F., Garrett, R., Günther, I., Meemken, E. M., … & Wuepper, D. (2022). Six research priorities to support corporate due-diligence policies. Nature, 606(7916), 861 – 863

11. A recap of this literature can be seen at https://​www​.oecd​.org/​s​c​i​e​n​c​e​/​i​n​n​o​/​2101733.pdf

12. LUNDVALL, B‑Å. (ed.) (1992). National Innovation Systems: Towards a Theory of Innovation and Interactive Learning, Pinter, London

13. OECD (1997) National Systems of innovation, Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

14. http://​cli​matepol​i​cyini​tia​tive​.org/​w​p​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​p​l​o​a​d​s​/​2017​/​10​/​F​O​R​E​S​T​2.pdf

15. https://​nation​al​cen​ter​.org/​n​c​p​p​r​/​2008​/​05​/​01​/​c​o​n​s​e​r​v​a​t​i​o​n​-​e​a​s​e​m​e​n​t​s​-​t​h​e​-​g​o​o​d​-​t​h​e​-​b​a​d​-​a​n​d​-​t​h​e​-​u​g​l​y​-​b​y​-​d​a​n​a​-​j​o​e​l​-​g​a​t​tuso/

16. https://​www​.cbd​.int/​f​i​n​a​n​c​i​a​l​/​f​i​s​c​a​l​e​n​v​i​r​o​n​/​c​a​n​a​d​a​-​f​i​s​c​a​l​m​e​a​s​u​r​e​s.pdf

17. Ding, H., et al (2017) Roots of Prosperity: The Economics and Finance of Restoring Land, World Resources Institute, Washington DC

18. Such a connection is observed in Nepal. See Nepal, A, K., Nepal, M., and Bluffstone, R. (2022) Labour Outmigration, Farmland Fallowing, Livelihood Diversification and Technology Adoption in Nepal. https://​onlineli​brary​.wiley​.com/​d​o​i​/​f​u​l​l​/​10​.​1111​/​i​l​r​.​12375

19. This seemed to have happened in the Kerala state of India. See, Sunil Mani, S.M. Mohanakumar, V. Santhakumar and T. Abhilash (2020) Conservation of Agrobiodiversity: Assessing the Policies and Institutions in Kerala in Mani, S. (ed.) Kerala and the World Economy, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum

20. McFarland, W., S. Whitley, and G. Kissinger. 2015. Subsidies to Key Commodities Driving Forest Loss: Implications for Private Climate Finance.” Working Paper. London: Overseas Development Institute

21. Ding et al () Repurposing Agricultural Subsidies to Restore Degraded Farmland and Grow Rural Prosperity, World Resources Institute

22. Non-intensive cultivation or fallowing of land by those who take up non-agricultural jobs (mostly in urban areas) can be a reason for an increase in the area of forests. This has happened in Europe. For example, the European environmental agency notes: Forest area in Europe has increased since 1990 by 17 million hectares (ha) of which more than half are planted forests. This has been the result of afforestation (e.g. planting and seedling of trees on land that was not previously forested) and through natural expansion of forests such as on abandoned land. https://www.eea.europa.eu/soer/2015/europe/forests#:~:text=Key%20trends,such%20as%20on%20abandoned%20land

23. https://​www​.ope​nac​cess​gov​ern​ment​.org/​l​a​n​d​-​r​e​s​t​o​r​a​t​i​o​n​-​r​e​c​u​l​t​i​v​a​t​e​d​-​a​b​a​n​d​o​n​e​d​-​f​a​r​m​s​-​l​a​n​d​-​c​r​o​p​l​a​n​d​-​m​i​t​i​g​a​t​e​-​c​a​r​b​o​n​-​c​l​i​m​a​t​e​-​c​h​a​n​g​e​/​136479/

24. Hardin, G. (1968) The Tragedy of the Commons, Science, New Series, Vol. 162, No. 3859 (Dec. 13, 1968), pp. 1243 – 1248

25. That is key insight of studies by the Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom and her associates.

26. Maskin, E. (1986) The Folk Theorem in Repeated Games with Discounting or with Incomplete Information, Econometrica, Vol. 54, No. 3., pp. 533 – 554

27. We do not discount the counter-evidence. There are cases where poverty may lead to a lower discount rate. Refer Liu et al., 2020; Mao et al., 2021; Sarwosri & Musshoff, 2020, Alemayehu et al., 2019; Kramer & Kunst, 2020; Fischer & Wollni, 2018

28. There are several studies which indicate that poor people are inpatient and may use a higher discount rate. For example, see Tanaka, T., Camerer, C. F., & Nguyen, Q. (2016). Risk and Time Preferences: Linking Experimental and Household Survey Data from Vietnam. In S. Ikeda, H. K. Kato, F. Ohtake, & Y. Tsutsui (Eds.), Behavioral Economics of Preferences, Choices, and Happiness (pp. 3 – 25). Berlin: Springer; Haushofer, J., & Fehr, E. (2014). On the Psychology of Poverty. Science, 344, 862 – 867.http://​dx​.doi​.org/​10​.​1126​/​s​c​i​e​n​c​e​.​1232491; Hausman, Jerry A., Individual Discount Rates and the Purchase and Utilization of Energy-Using Durables,” The Bell Journal of Economics, 1979, 10 (1), 33 – 54. There are others which have not seen such a connection. However, there is a theoretical possibility of such a connection.

29. For an understanding of the extent of community lands in Africa, see Alden Wily, L. 2017. Customary Tenure: Remaking Property for the 21st Century. In M. Graziadei & L. Smith (eds), Comparative Property Law: Global Perspectives, Edgar Elgar, UK. pp. 458 – 478: at: http://​www​.eel​gar​.com/​s​h​o​p​/​e​e​p​/​p​r​e​v​i​e​w​/​b​o​o​k​/​i​s​b​n​/​9781785369162/

30. For a description of the situation in a case in Central Asia, see https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/07/01/kyrgyzstan-pasture-access-disputes//

Authors

V Santhakumar is Professor, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru

Apoorva Bose is an International Human Rights lawyer who works as the India Programme Coordinator, Global Initiative G20 at UNCCD. Her areas of expertise range from environmental and humanitarian law to development communications and programme coordination.

Featured photo by Deepak Kumar on Unsplash