Effort aims to restore an area larger than Uruguay
LIMA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Latin American and Caribbean countries will begin restoring over 20 million hectares of degraded land by 2020, backed by up to $365 million of new financing, governments and their partners said on Sunday.
Under the "Initiative 20x20", Mexico plans to restore 8.5 million hectares of land, Peru 3.2 million hectares, Guatemala 1.2 million hectares and Colombia 1 million hectares. Ecuador, Chile, Costa Rica and two regional programmes will account for the rest.
The total of 20.5 million hectares represents an area larger than Uruguay, and is 10 percent of the 200 million hectares that could be restored in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to research groups. More land may be added to the initiative in the future.
The land restoration programme will help avoid deforestation, plant new trees, store carbon in vegetation, make agriculture more productive and improve people's livelihoods, according to a statement from the initiative.
“Land restoration in the region is an essential element to promote equity, poverty reduction (and) alternatives for development in poor rural areas as well as a mechanism to achieve a low-carbon, more resilient future,” said Gabriel Vallejo López, Colombia's minister of environment.
Tackling environmental challenges such as degraded land will be particularly important for Colombia when it signs a planned peace deal, he told a launch event in Lima.
About half of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean are generated from deforestation, land use changes and farming.
Degraded land is land that has lost some degree of its natural productivity due to human-caused processes. Degradation often involves things like worsened soil quality, but there is no internationally approved definition, according to the World Resources Institute.
Luis Fernando Zuloaga, minister for Latin American affairs in Mexico's agriculture ministry, noted that many producers in his country have very low incomes and are living in extreme poverty. "They require support so that they can farm without degrading the land," he said.
The new land restoration activities will be partly supported by $365 million in commitments from impact investment funds - including Althelia, Moringa and Permian Global - as well as bilateral and multilateral funders.
The private money will support agroforestry and silvopastoral activities - where trees are planted on farms and grazing land - as well as maintaining and boosting forest cover. Other financial instruments, including a partial risk guarantee for restoration, are under design.
Clément Chenost, investment manager with the Moringa Partnership, said he hoped the initiative would help build a successful track record on land restoration, which would attract more investors and achieve bigger impact.
Juan Manuel Benites Ramos, Peru's agricultural minister, said the cost of restoring land was a concern for his government. "But those costs are very small if we compare it with the benefits this country will receive," he said.
The new initiative will count towards the Bonn Challenge, a global goal to begin regreening 150 million hectares of land by 2020.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering)
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