A Restoration Steward’s View from UNCCD COP15

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15 June 2022
Adrian Leitoro

The UNCCD COP15 experience started with an early morning 5 AM flight of about seven hours from Kenya to Côte d’Ivoire to attend the world’s biggest dryland conference, which was worth it in the end given the knowledge, experiences and networking gained at the event.

On 12 and 13 May, I was involved in panel discussions with a wide range of experienced experts from WWF, CIFOR-ICRAF, FAO, IP4000, WPCMD and the CA4SH coalition to engage around the importance of soils. These panel discussions were a huge learning experience on the role of healthy soils in ensuring food security, meeting land degradation targets and achieving biodiversity conservation.

Progress has been made so far, but there was a call for soils to be included in global policy mechanisms and to find ways to incentivize farmers, pastoralists and youth to scale up healthy soil practices, as well as the role of the private sector in improving soil health. The experience I gained from speaking at this session left me with a different perspective on soils and their importance.

Soil Day was captured perfectly by this tweet from ICRAF:

‘Healthy #soil is the best ‘ground–up’ approach to building resilient landscapes’ 

To learn more about the importance of healthy soils, read this article by my mentor, Leigh Winoiweicki, a Soil Systems Scientist at ICRAF.

Some other interesting articles on soil health from Leigh include this Landscape News Q&A at UNCCD COP15, and a co-authored article with Martina Fleckenstein, Global Policy Lead, Food, WWF, titled ‘Healthy Soil for a Healthy Planet: Building Resilient Food Systems from the Ground Up.

Presenting my work at the Rio Pavilion on Science Day at UNCCD COP 15: watch the full presentation

On 14 May, Science Day at COP15, I had  the opportunity to join the next generation of restoration practitioners in the science-policy interface, where I gave a presentation on the skills, and knowledge needed for land restoration;  bringing a practitioner’s perspective by highlighting our work on documenting Indigenous knowledge and its huge role in successful land restoration. It was very inspiring to see youth taking up spaces in science, policy and practice! 
Be sure to read this summary of the Global Land Outlook by my mentor Ermias Betemariam, a Land Health Scientist  at ICRAF.

Networking and making new friends at the conference

COP15 provided a great opportunity to network with more experienced practitioners and peers working in a wide range of fields. My interactions with different people from international NGOs such as WWF and ICRAF among others brought new perspectives to my work.
I enjoyed meeting and spending time with Sunday Geofrey, the GLFx Yaounde Chapter Coordinator from Cameroon, Ben Rachad Sanoussi, a GLF Social Media Ambassador from Benin, and Christian Tchègoun Todota, a YIL Communications and Outreach project team member also from Benin, among other youth practitioners. The team from GLF was very supportive and I was happy to meet some members, including Gabrielle, Emmi, Judith, Edli and Anna. 

To conclude, UNCCD COP15 issued 38 resolutions on issues including on land tenure, migration, and gender, emphasizing the importance of land in addressing multiple crises. Countries pledged to improve drought resilience by detecting dryland expansion, revising national policies, and implementing early warning systems. Leaders agreed to prioritize and guarantee women’s engagement in land management for sustainable land restoration.

Other key outcomes from the conference included the Abidjan Call issued by the heads of state and government to promote long-term environmental sustainability, the Abidjan Declaration on achieving gender equality for successful land restoration, and the COP15 “Land, Life, and Legacy” Declaration, which responded to the findings of the UNCCD’s flagship Global Land Outlook 2 report.

Some other key messages at COP15 include the following:

  • Healthy and productive land resources – soil, water and biodiversity – are the foundation of societies and economies. Communities, businesses, investors, entrepreneurs, and especially young people must all be included and mobilized in restoring our land.
  • Addressing soil health must be a priority. We need to recognise the role healthy soils play in securing livelihoods  and raise awareness about soil health at both local and global levels.
  • Land tenure security for communities and young people, as well as co-management options, needs to be at the center of implementing land degradation neutrality targets. 
  • There is a  need to explore innovative ways to combat droughts and mobilize drought finance, especially because of their increasing frequency and duration, as highlighted in the Drought in Numbers report.
  • We need to create employment opportunities in restoration for young people. Let us enlist, compensate, and engage youth and communities so that they have a stake in land restoration.

Adrian Leitoro

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Supporting partners

Under the banner of Generation Restoration, the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) launched the Restoration Stewards program in 2020 to support and highlight the work of six young restoration practitioners and their teams, dubbed ‘Restoration Stewards’. The year-long program provides funding, mentorship, and training to deepen the impact of these projects.
In 2021, the Restoration Stewards and their teams will be supported to further develop their project and will become ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards will share their journey in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges. Locally, they will spark a restoration movement, creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for more sustainable landscapes.