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New Article: Prioritizing land for investments based on short- and long-term land potential and degradation risk: A strategic approach


  • Return on investments in land restoration can be increased with an understanding of land potential.
  • High returns on land degradation avoidance are likely on high value land with low resilience.
  • Analysis requires an understanding of degradation resistance, resilience.
  • It also requires understanding likely changes in land values driving future land use.
  • Ignoring these factors may result in negative returns or even increased degradation.

The response hierarchy of “Avoid > reduce > reverse” is increasingly acknowledged as the best strategy for prioritizing actions designed to address land degradation at hectare to national scales. This hierarchy is based on the assumption that the economic return on investment (ROI) will usually be higher for actions that help avoid degradation than for those required to restore already degraded land.

While a useful first step, the hierarchy fails to account for how differences in land potential, defined as its potential to sustainably generate ecosystem services, may affect the ROI of actions at each level of the response hierarchy. The objective of this paper is to present a strategy for improving ROI at the landscape scale and above by systematically applying a more holistic understanding of land potential to the identification and prioritization of land investments.

This objective is addressed in three sections. The first section explains how the potential short- and long-term resistance and resilience of the land can be used together with its potential productivity to prioritize actions designed to avoid, reduce and reverse degradation.

In the second section the authors explain how this prioritization can be further optimized based on an understanding of degradation risk as indicated by the land’s potential to generate relatively high short-term profits under management systems that are likely to increase degradation, or result in degradation of restored land. This potential, and land managers’ perception of it, depend on a wide variety of factors including markets, infrastructure, and access to technology. Together these first two sections provide a framework for increasing ROI, while reducing the risk of failure at hectare to national scales.

In the final section the authors briefly describe the Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS), a modular mobile app that makes it possible for virtually anyone with a smartphone to make the land potential determinations necessary to apply the framework described in the first two sections.

( Jeffrey E.Herrick; Jason Neff; Amy Quandt et al)