Degraded Lands is a Value-Loaded Term

Degraded lands” is a term that is increasingly used to identify priority areas for restoration or development. Yet degradation is a complex term, laden with value judgments and perspectives. Areas that fall in this category have attracted negative labels such as waster lands, unoccupied lands and so forth and yet in the eyes of resources users what is considered degraded lands could be viewed in the positive as fallow land set aside to recover.


Often the dominant definition of degraded lands is based on the biophysical conditions and overlooks the socio-economic, political and cultural dimensions of this term.

Triggered by a project to identify “lower risk” lands for biofuel production which may be useful to inform policy processes within the EU and others (state where the utility of this exercise), IUCN brought together experts from 6 IUCN Commissions and business to discuss the feasibility of defining degraded lands. Such a request is by no means isolated, as many groups and sectors are increasingly targeting “degraded lands” as priority areas for restoration or development, yet the term remains poorly understood and poorly defined.

The group noted that there may be interest prioritising lands that are “underperforming” in terms of their potential for provisioning ecosystem goods and services instead of defining and actively seeking to identify degraded lands. However a multi-stakeholder and inclusive process would be an essential part to understand trade-offs between different goods and services, users and interests, particularly in many countries where good participatory land use planning is not present. In such cases, any development can be higher risk, regardless of whether the land is degraded or not. A technical report will be circulated for a broader consultation in towards the end of March. Contact, Global Business & Biodiversity Programme or Masego Madzwamuse, Co-chair CEESP Theme on Sustainable Livelihoods.

Work area: 
Social Policy
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