Topic 1.1.1-2021(RIA) Sustainable soil and water management for combating land degradation and desertification and promoting ecosystem restoration.
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Drylands cover 33.8% of the Mediterranean and poor soil and water management, overgrazing, deforestation and wildfires are turning large sections of these areas into deserts. Some studies have estimated that 30% of semi-arid Mediterranean drylands are now affected by desertification, which is also a security issue as it has the potential to force migration from the Middle East and North Africa into Europe. The causes of land degradation are not only environmental and technical (improper water management, soil erosion, land and water salinisation, drought, flooding and forest fires), aggravated by climate changes, but also socio-economic as a consequence of the lack of governance and appropriate policies. Small-holding farmers usually occupy areas impacted by land degradation, and agriculture is a primary source of livelihood. Therefore, the socio-economic impacts of land degradation are affecting the stability of the local population and particularly rural women and youth. Actions taken by single countries are not sufficient to deal with the challenges, research and innovation are needed to foster efforts at the transnational level to prevent land and water degradation considering different processes and mainly both prevention of desertification and soil and water quality restoration. At the same time, the current knowledge about the economics of sustainable land and water management and recovery is still needed to support decisions on investments. As a consequence, more applied research is required to quantify the final impacts of the proposed measures.
Good practices and approaches have been developed to enhance sustainable management of agricultural soils to avoid further degradation and to support the restoration of already degraded lands. These include sustainable land/soil management practices such as agroforestry, conservation agriculture, sustainable pasture management, agroecological practices, safe use of unconventional water resources including corresponding assessment, planning and management tools. Proper and sustainable management of agricultural soils can reduce degradation of land and soils (in particular soil erosion and loss of organic matter), preserve and increase soil health and fertility. Actions should be now taken to adapt and enhance the scaling up and out of the already available practices to increase areas under sustainable soil and water management resulting in tangible impacts on the environment and livelihoods. The “living lab” approach should be considered to demonstrate the scaling out of successful sustainable management option at massive scale. Proposals should identify representative sites based on previous works done in different Mediterranean countries, taking into account land degradation hot spots and following a participatory method that ensures the involvement of key stakeholders and decision-makers at different levels. At the same time, tools for assessment and monitoring of land degradation should be harmonised and standardised. The identification of site-specific constraints that hinder the widespread uptake of good practices is needed. The proposals should identify actions, at different levels, to enhance the enabling environment and promote a wider uptake and implementation of sustainable land and water management options. This includes knowledge, capacity, socio-economic, such as high costs and lack of incentives, inappropriate policies and governance, access to finance and markets and absence of strategic planning among others constraints and barriers to be considered. Indeed, the proposals should set up a methodology for the participatory assessment of the impact of the implemented solutions, for instance through living lab approach, to ensure sustainability beyond the project lifespan. Research on investment opportunities on innovative sustainable land and water management within the context of climate change should be considered. This includes the investigation of the cost and benefits (in terms of environmental, social, economic and climate-related) building up examples of business models to enhance investment, and organise the outcome of this work into a public domain available data to improve the investment on sustainable land and water management.