Between 20% and 40% of the earth’s total land area has been subject to desertification in some form, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Dessertification (UNCCD). This spans across various sorts of land, including croplands, grasslands, forests, drylands and wetlands. However, a group of young agripreneurs in Malawi are doing their bit by participating in land restoration activities.
The burden of desertification falls largely on smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples, and rural communities. Within that, it also disproportionately impacts women and youths, who are considered “at risk” groups.
Small-scale farmer Sinoya Kenayala, who is based in Malawi, has been impacted by desertification. He uses his 1.2 hectare farm in the Kalonga suburbs to provide for his family, including four children. The threat of land degradation, however, hangs over his head and threatens his ability to provide adequate sustenance and a means of income to ensure he and his family’s needs are met.
In 2020, Sinoya established his farming business with assistance from the forestry department. He was chosen to be one of the business owners who would receive training from the Malawi Green Corps in 2021.
Tackling land degradation
Through the Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services network (BES-Net) project, which forms part of the UNCCD, young agripreneurs in Malawi have been allowed to engage in land restoration activities across three districts. These include the Lilongwe, Salima and Dedza districts.
BES-Net is supported through the German government and SwedBio, a development programme, that works to advance sustainable and equitable governance of biodiversity knowledge and policy. This programme brings together policy-makers and various scientific practitioners to make use of their knowledge and implement ways in which to reduce land degradation.
Sinoya typically made around US$3 per month selling tree seedlings like acacia, mahogany, mkukhu, and albizia versicolor, among others. He is now generating roughly $490 after branching out to sell to schools, non-governmental organisations, and government officials.
“This work has given me new skills on how to better manage and care for tree seedlings. I have learnt how to establish nurseries more effectively and how to keep my business running,” Sinoya said.
Creating sustainable livelihoods
In order to train more than 2 000 young people in land restoration with an emphasis on sustainable livelihoods, the ministry of forestry and natural resources’ flagship programme, the Malawi Green Corps, is receiving seed funding from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Land degradation in Malawi is a result of ongoing population growth, unsustainable farming practices, and increasing deforestation that is made worse by climate shocks. The capital, Lilongwe, is now prone to extended dry periods. Young people are being forced from rural to towns in search of employment as a result of decreased agricultural yields and land productivity caused by less rainfall.
Its effects on the economy, society, and environment are extensive. The anticipated annual cost is close to 7% of the nation’s GDP, or roughly US$320 million. The Covid-19 pandemic has had more severe economic repercussions on vulnerable farmers whose only source of reliable income is rain-fed crops. In Sinoya’s situation, the rising cost of food and other necessities of life, along with a dearth of economic options, proved to be quite expensive.
Working towards goals
Building better after Covid-19 may require restoring degraded land. Focusing on land restoration and sustainable land management techniques, enhancing the health of the soil and crops, and linking natural areas can all result in green jobs, sustainable livelihoods, food security, and a decreased chance of pandemics in the future.
“Recognising this urgent need, and in line with the Sustainable Development Goal target 15.3, the government of Malawi has committed to achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030, rehabilitating one million hectares of degraded land for crop production and restoring 820 000 hectares of native forest,” the UNCCD said via a statement.