Back to search

Sustainable land management (SLM)


ELD: A global initiative for sustainable land management," a publication produced by the Economics of Land Degradation, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and partners

Towards a land degradation neutral world, a publication produced by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Changwon Initiative, and the UNCCD

Sustainable Land Management

The growing loss of arable land: an alarming development

Sustainable land management (SLM) is an integral component of any stakeholder’s attempt to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) while ensuring ecologically responsible land management practices.   

Land degradation and desertification create a global threat for fertile land and the benefits it provides to human society. According to “A global initiative for sustainable land management,” published by the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative in 2013, around 10 - 20% of drylands and 24% of the world’s productive lands are degraded. The consequences are alarming: food insecurity, poverty, reduced availability of clean water and increased vulnerability of affected areas to climate change. It is estimated that 1.5 billion people across the world are already directly affected through reduced income or diminished food security. The annual economic losses due to deforestation and land degradation were estimated at 1.5 - 3.4 trillion Euro in 2008, equaling 3.3 - 7.5% of the global GDP (ELD). Competition for the scarce resources of soil and water is further intensified by a growing world population and increased demand for alternative land management products.

Every year, around 24 billion tons of fertile farmland worldwide is lost due to soil sealing, erosion, and desertification. Ongoing degradation of fertile soil needs to be halted, so that the earth can provide sufficient land-based ecosystem services for the ever-increasing number of inhabitants. Preliminary studies predict huge costs of future land degradation and emphasize the need to invest in measures that can reduce the loss of productive land, such as SLM practices. (ELD: A global initiative for sustainable land management, 2013).

The benefits of sustainable land management

Maintaining ecosystem functionality and services is a prerequisite for sustainable land management. SLM has great potential for preservation and enhancement of ecosystem services in all land-use systems. Degradation of water, soil and vegetation, as well as gas emissions contributing to climate change, can be limited by SLM practices that simultaneously conserve natural resources and increase yields. The ecosystem services provided through SLM belong to three distinct categories:  

1.    Provisioning services: Benefits for food, fodder, fiber, fuel and freshwater provision. SLM helps to:

  • Increase food security, primarily for smallholder farmers
  • Provide local energy
  • Provide local fresh and clean water

2.    Regulating and supporting services: Soil and vegetation cover – for water, carbon and biodiversity. SLM helps to:

  • Mitigate soil degradation and enhance soil development
  • Increase soil moisture, enabling soil development and functions
  • Enhance primary production and nutrient cycling
  • Preserve biodiversity at the farm level through agroforestry, intercropping, fallow, and preservation of locally adapted seed

3.    Cultural and social services: Benefits for culture and society. SLM helps to:

  • Keep cultural and natural landscapes alive and protect cultural heritage
  • Valorise indigenous knowledge and production methods
  • Enhance ecotourism 

Read more: