The Sustainable Development Goals: A Pathway to Recovery
One of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 15 (Life on Land), adopted in September 2015, is “to combat desertification; restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, droughts and floods; and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world by 2030”.
In addition, Mauritius ratified the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on 23 January 1996. This convention legally binds environment and development to sustainable land management. Parties to the Convention work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands; maintain and restore land and soil productivity and mitigate the effects of drought.
Furthermore, the 2018 draft Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting report identified areas of disaster risk such as landslides; coastal erosion/inundation; the encroachment of mountain and river reserves; open pastures and agricultural land conversion; and expanding road networks, as hotspots for land degradation.
In Rodrigues, the reluctance of the younger generation to take up farming has led to the abandonment of agricultural land; thus, exacerbating land degradation. In addition to the loss of terrestrial biodiversity, the economic impact of land degradation can be felt in several sectors beyond agriculture. For example, land degradation increases the occurrence of soil erosion which, in turn, causes an increase in the sedimentation and siltation of beaches and lagoons with a negative impact on the tourist industry.
Finding the right balance
To date, no comprehensive socio-economic study has been carried out to fully quantify the impacts of land degradation loss in Mauritius and Rodrigues. The provisions of the UNCDD offers a pathway to recovery. Land Degradation Neutrality is defined as “the state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems”.
To achieve such a balanced state, a range of sustainable land management technologies and climate-smart agricultural techniques need to be implemented. These can range from simple measures such as replacing rusted fencing and the introduction of cut and carry method to collect fodder for cattle, to more laborious approaches such as re-afforestation of river reserves with endemic species or the continuous removal of invasive alien species.
The newly approved GEF 6 project on Mainstreaming Sustainable Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation will address the gaps in terms of the need for a socio-economic study to fully quantify the impacts of land degradation in Mauritius and Rodrigues. The project will also pilot SLM technologies to improve soil productivity, thus aiding the country in its COVID-19 response to improve food self-sufficiency.