Sustaining Sustainability

Sustaining Sustainability: How restoring land contributes to a sustainable future

In the fourth episode of our ‘Sustaining Sustainability’ podcast series, we discuss and deliberate on the topic of land restoration, desertification, and resilience. Our Climate Change and Sustainability Services Partner Sayooj Thekkevariath shares insights on the interconnectedness of these crucial issues, the impact of human activities, and the role of technology in fostering a sustainable future. Join us as we explore practical steps to preserve and protect our planet.

In conversation with:

Sayooj Thekkevariath

Sayooj Thekkevariath
Partner, Climate Change and Sustainability Services, EY India

Key takeaways

  • Land restoration is the process of improving the land’s health by enhancing soil fertility and making it more productive. It plays a crucial role in ensuring a healthy ecosystem.
  • Implementing agroforestry, rotational grazing, and efficient water management can mitigate land degradation and desertification.
  • Leveraging technology such as remote sensing and drones can help gather and analyze data, helping improve land use practices and building resilience against climate change.
By harnessing technology and innovation, we can empower communities, enhance land use practices, and build resilience against desertification and climate change.
Sayooj Thekkevariath
Partner, Climate Change and Sustainability Services (CCaSS), EY India

For your convenience, a full-text transcript of this podcast is also available.

  • Show transcript#Hide transcript

    Pallavi: Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of the Sustaining Sustainability podcast series presented by the EY India Insights podcast. I'm Pallavi, your host for today. On this World Environment Day, we are focusing on land restoration, desertification, and resilience. In this episode, we will uncover the global and local significance and explore practical steps that individuals and communities can take to preserve and protect our precious planet.

    Joining us to facilitate the conversation is Sayooj Thekkevariath, a pioneer in sustainable practices and a partner at EY India's Climate Change and Sustainability Services. With nearly two decades of experience, Sayooj holds a commendable track record in providing climate change and sustainability services to global and national corporations, as well as multilateral agencies. Thank you for joining us in this episode.

    It's a pleasure to have you with us on this crucial day for global environmental awareness.

    Sayooj Thekkevariath: Thank you Pallavi, and I'm happy to be part of this conversation.

    Pallavi: Thank you. To start off, Sayooj, could you explain to all our listeners the concept of land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience and how they're interconnected to each other?

    Sayooj Thekkevariath:  Sure. So, I guess we are starting with the basics. So, Pallavi, as the terminology suggests, the process involves making or returning land to a healthy and productive state. This improves the overall fertility of the soil, the biodiversity, and in turn enhances the land's ability to support life and provide ecosystem services. In a nutshell, this is what land restoration means.

    Now, due to deforestation, overgrazing, certain unsustainable agricultural practices and even climate change, the fertility and productivity of the land can be significantly impacted. Gradually, this can lead to a scenario where vegetation is totally lost, resulting in desertification.

    The third thing you asked about was drought resilience. It simply refers to the ability to withstand and recover from drought conditions, minimizing the negative impact.

    So, these are the three terminologies we discussed. You also asked about the interconnectedness between these concepts. Simply put, restoring degraded land can reverse the process of desertification. Similarly, improving drought resilience helps mitigate the risk of desertification. This is how all these concepts are interlinked and contribute to each other.

    Pallavi: Thank you, Sayooj. moving on. How do human activities contribute to desertification and what can be done to mitigate these effects?

    Sayooj Thekkevariath: Well, you know, I think human activity, if you ask me, contributes significantly to desertification or land degradation, if not complete desertification. For example, let’s look at some cases to better explain the clearing of forests. It could be for agricultural purposes or fuelwood or consider overgrazing by livestock. All of this can lead to soil erosion and reduced soil fertility, disrupting the natural ecosystem.

    Similarly, let’s look at unsustainable agricultural practices. When I say unsustainable, I mean practices like mono-cropping, excessive tillage, improper irrigation and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. All of this accelerates soil degradation and reduces the water retention capacity.

    Since we're talking about water retention, the extraction of water from aquifers, rivers or lakes for irrigation, domestic or industrial purposes depletes water resources. This depletion contributes to drought conditions, which are linked to land degradation.

    Site development, such as the expansion of urban areas, construction of roads, dams and other infrastructure projects, can disrupt natural drainage patterns, increase surface runoff, and accelerate soil erosion. All of this contributes negatively to land degradation.

    The idea here is not to suggest that agriculture, urbanization or infrastructure development should be halted. Absolutely not. The intention is to ensure minimal or no negative impact and to mitigate the impacts where they occur.

    For example, in agriculture, we can adopt sustainable practices like agroforestry, rotational grazing and water-efficient irrigation systems. These practices not only conserve water and improve agricultural productivity but also reduces the risk of desertification.

    For forest conservation, practices such as reforestation, sustainable logging and community-based forest management can help control deforestation and reduce soil erosion.

    In water management, technologies like water harvesting and recycling, along with improved water management practices in agriculture, can help reduce degradation.

    It's also crucial to educate communities, policymakers and larger stakeholders about the causes and consequences of desertification and land degradation. Building capacity and promoting sustainable land management practices and climate-smart agriculture can enhance resilience to desertification.

    I think that is the approach we should be looking at.

    Pallavi: Thank you so much for the excellent insights. Now, pivoting towards land restoration, according to you, what role does land restoration play in tackling the issue of climate change?

    Sayooj Thekkevariath: Okay, an interesting question. Now, let’s link this to climate change, Pallavi. So, okay, let's get to the basics.

    What is the basic concept? Your trees and vegetation at large. What do they do? They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. This carbon is stored in the biomass and the soil. When we talk about increased vegetation or more land covered with green cover and restoring degraded soil, what does that mean? It means we are contributing to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change because carbon dioxide is one of the gases contributing to climate change.

    Similarly, let’s look at land degradation. What happens when we talk about deforestation or soil erosion? It releases stored carbon into the atmosphere in the form of not just carbon dioxide but also other greenhouse gases. Restoring degraded land and preventing further degradation helps mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Again, this helps mitigate climate change at large.

    Now, if you look at a healthy forest, grassland or wetland, all of these provide ecosystem services. What do we mean by ecosystem services? It could be regulating water flow, stabilizing the soil, or buffering against certain natural disasters. A restored ecosystem is more resilient to the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather, drought, floods and so on.

    Overall, if you ask me, land restoration plays a crucial role in addressing climate change. It can be through sequestering carbon, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, conserving biodiversity, improving water resources and water management and supporting communities to adapt and improve their livelihoods.

    An integrated approach that combines land restoration with climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies is essential for building a sustainable and resilient future for both people and the planet.

    Pallavi: Thank you so much. Lastly, our question to you is in what ways can technology and innovation be harnessed to address the challenges of desertification and drought?

    Sayooj Thekkevariath: Well, I think technology is definitely going to help across all fields and sectors. Let's look at some examples. You know why I'm saying this.

    Now, if I assume, Pallavi, that tomorrow you are going to get real-time data on land degradation, soil cover, soil moisture content and so on, this data will help you plan better. You can identify what needs to be done to minimize risks. All of this data can come from satellite imagery, drones and other remote sensing technologies. This is one way technology helps mitigate impacts.

    Similarly, let's look at agricultural technologies, like precision farming and drip irrigation. Drought-resistant crop varieties can help the farming community adapt to water scarcity and mitigate the impacts of drought. We can also consider smart water management technologies, such as water recycling, desalination and wastewater treatment. These technologies can manage water better for agricultural, industrial and urban purposes.

    If you recall, I mentioned the importance of educating and building the capacity of stakeholders, whether they are policymakers or the community at large. Digital platforms, mobile apps and social media can facilitate information sharing, training and collaboration. These tools are also strong in spreading awareness and providing practical information for improving livelihood practices and land use.

    By harnessing the power of technology and innovation, we can enhance our capacity to address the challenges of desertification and drought, build resilience to climate change, and create a sustainable and prosperous future for people and the planet. This is especially crucial for providing better ecosystem services in arid and semi-arid regions. So, yes, technology plays a critical role here as well.

    Pallavi: Thank you so much. I personally learned a lot. Thank you for sharing all your valuable insights. It reminded us that the health of our planet really relies on our collective efforts. So, that brings us to the end of the conversation. Thank you for joining us for this episode.

    Sayooj Thekkevariath: Thank you so much, Pallavi.

    And I think it's important that we spoke on a subject which maybe is not spoken, you know, so frequently and yes, you know, we should have more such conversations in the future. Thank you.

    Pallavi: Thank you. On that note, thank you to all our listeners and for more insights and resources on climate action. Please head over to our website and follow us on our social media platforms.

    Let’s make every day, environment day and thank you for tuning in. Goodbye.

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Duration 15m 03s

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