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13/06/2024

Soil Restoration and Circular Economy

By Arlene Carvalho, from the Circular Movement

Did you know that we are living in the "United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration"? The United Nations (UN) proposed "accelerating land restoration, drought resilience, and progress in the fight against desertification" as the theme for Environment Month 2024. Soil restoration involves active and planned interventions to recover its health, seeking to reverse degradation caused by intensive farming practices, deforestation, industrial activities, and other anthropogenic actions. These actions align directly with the principles of the Circular Economy. Restore is one of the 7 Rs of the Circular Economy, which encourages the creation of practices that are not just less impactful, but that help restore what has already been lost or seriously altered by human activities. For example, by transforming agricultural and urban organic waste into compost and biofertilizers, we can enrich the soil, increase agricultural productivity, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Additionally, practices like crop rotation, reforestation, and no-till farming help preserve the structure, fertility, and biodiversity of the soil.

But what is being done around the world to restore soils? Here are some successful cases worth highlighting:

Regreening Africa (Africa)

The Regreening Africa initiative uses agroforestry techniques adapted to the needs of farmers in different socio-ecological contexts to restore more than 350,000 hectares of soil in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, and Somalia over the past two decades. By 2030, it plans to restore another five million hectares, benefiting more than 600,000 families. The initiative aims to increase carbon storage, improve agricultural productivity, strengthen soil resilience, and enrich it with nitrogen compounds essential for plant growth.

ABC Cerrado, Brazil (South America)

The ABC Cerrado project is an initiative of the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Mapa), in partnership with Embrapa, Senar, and the World Bank. The initiative has already restored an area equivalent to 110,000 football fields, using various technologies developed by Embrapa. Additionally, the project promotes sustainable practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase productivity. The World Bank's Forest Investment Program, which donated $10.6 million, is also used to train 12,000 technicians and rural producers in the Cerrado biome. A total of 1,600 properties still need to receive free technical assistance for 18 months as part of this action.

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Qianyanzhou Ecological Research Station (Qianyanzhou Station). Image: Reproduction/Chinese Academy of Sciences

Qianyanzhou, China (Asia)

China has implemented an ambitious program that increased the country's forest area by 74.3 million hectares in a decade, including the Qianyanzhou region, where forest cover rose from 0.43% to nearly 70%. These efforts are praised by the UN Environment as an example of large-scale successful restoration, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, and essential in the global fight against climate change, capturing and storing carbon equivalent to one-third of annual fossil fuel emissions.

Trinational Atlantic Forest Pact (South America)

The Trinational Atlantic Forest Pact is a multisectoral coalition that brings together more than 300 organizations, including the Trinational Atlantic Forest Restoration Network, a cross-border movement with over 60 organizations. Originally covering a vast area of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, the Atlantic Forest has been reduced to fragments due to logging, agricultural expansion, and urbanization over the past centuries. So far, about 700,000 hectares have been restored, with the goal of recovering another one million hectares by 2030 and 15 million by 2050. The initiatives are creating wildlife corridors for endangered species such as the jaguar and the golden lion tamarin, ensuring the maintenance of different ecosystem services and collaborating in the fight against climate change, as well as generating thousands of jobs.

Great Green Wall (Sahel, Africa)

The Great Green Wall, launched by the African Union in 2007, aims to restore savannas, grasslands, and farmlands across Africa to combat climate change and halt desertification in the Sahel. With targets by 2030 to restore 100 million hectares, sequester 250 million tons of carbon, and create 10 million jobs, the project seeks to create a green belt in 11 countries. The UN Decade Flagship Initiative focuses on Burkina Faso and Niger, establishing a green barrier of 8,000 km of trees and vegetation, using practices such as tree planting and agroforestry to improve climate resilience and agricultural productivity.

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The Dry Corridor region encompasses Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Image: UN Reproduction

Dry Corridor, Central America

The Central American Dry Corridor restoration initiative focuses on traditional agricultural methods to increase landscape productivity and promote biodiversity. This region covers Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, being particularly vulnerable to climate change, with ecosystems and populations exposed to heat waves and unpredictable droughts. For example, agroforestry systems that combine trees with crops like coffee, cocoa, and cardamom can improve soil fertility, increase water availability, and sustain the original biodiversity of the tropical forest. By 2030, the goal is to restore 100,000 hectares of degraded land and create 5,000 permanent jobs.

All the aforementioned initiatives have the direct result of restoring soils, the basis for life and the most essential human activities, which is crucial to facing global socio-environmental challenges such as climate change, desertification, and biodiversity loss. Throughout this decade, several initiatives in different parts of the world have been successful in recovering degraded landscapes and promoting more sustainable practices. Projects like Regreening Africa, ABC Cerrado, Great Green Wall, and Trinational Atlantic Forest Pact are clear examples of how soil restoration not only improves ecosystem health but also strengthens local economies and communities.

About Circular Movement

Created in 2020, Circular Movement is a collaborative ecosystem committed to encouraging the transition from a linear to a circular economy. The idea that all resources can be reused and transformed is the motto of the Circular Economy, the basic concept of the movement. Circular Movement is an open initiative that promotes collaborative spaces with the aim of informing individuals and institutions that a waste-free future is possible through education and culture, the adoption of new behaviors, inclusion, and the development of new processes, products, and attitudes. The work is done in partnership with Dow, a chemical, plastics, and agricultural products company based in Michigan, USA. Circular Movement currently impacts 2 million people through its activations and content.

And you? Do you want to learn more about Circular Economy?

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, access Circular Academy, the first free Latin American course on Circular Economy aimed at the general public. Together, in partnership and collaboration, we can make a difference in building a more circular planet.

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