Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Makhotso Sotyu, has reiterated the urgency of investing in land, and enhancing partnerships to protect and restore natural ecosystems as part of the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic is exacerbating economic, social and environmental problems such as poverty, poor health, lack of food security, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, reduced resilience to climate change and migration, amongst others.
"Investing in healthy land as part of a green recovery is a smart economic decision, not just in terms of creating jobs and rebuilding livelihoods, but in terms of protecting economies against future crises caused by climate change and nature loss," the Deputy Minister Sotyu said.
Her remarks come as South Africa joined the international community on Thursday in marking the Desertification and Drought Day (DDD) under the theme: "Restoration. Land. Recovery- we build back better with healthy land".
South Africa's landscape is composed of 91% of drylands making it susceptible to desertification, land degradation and drought.
"It is for this reason that the government is committed to the rehabilitation, conservation and restoration of degraded landscapes by implementing the post economic recovery measures through the Presidential Stimulus Package.
"Evidence suggest that a green stimulus package could offer growth potential for the economy through investment in green projects and programmes; employment creation and co-benefit effects," the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment said.
These can be derived through restoration of degraded ecosystems and the conservation of the remaining intact ecosystems for the continued delivery of valuable services to livelihoods.
"It is important to take into account that all ecosystems can be restored, rehabilitated or conserved. When it comes to the restoration of ecosystems, all actions and efforts at all levels matter. Degraded lands exacerbate drought, floods, water loss, extinctions, disease, conflicts and migration, while restoring them is a most cost-effective solution," Sotyu said.
Land restoration offers multiple pathways towards a green recovery and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The department said tools to create healthier and more resilient societies and economies already exist, and include more responsible land governance, investments that protect and restore land, and coherent long-term policies and incentives.
"As the foundation of all forms of life on earth, land supports the provision of ecosystem goods and services such as food, water, energy, resilience to climate, and reduce vulnerability to [the] spread of Zoonotic diseases. Despite all the benefits provided for by land, about 70% of global drylands are affected by desertification and land degradation.
"However, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) offers a new hope in the struggle against environmental problems," the department said.