Abandoned Farmland Restoration
Reduced / Sequestered
(To Implement Solution)
Around the world, farmers are walking away from lands that were once cultivated or grazed because those lands have been “farmed out.” The causes range from damaging agricultural practices to desertification, from lack of market access to migration. It can be cheaper to walk away from the land than to work it.
There are an estimated 950 million to 1.1 billion acres of deserted farmland around the world—acreage once used for crops or pasture that has not been restored as forest or converted to development. This land offers an opportunity to improve food security, farmers’ livelihoods, ecosystem health, and carbon drawdown simultaneously.
To feed a growing population and protect forests from deforestation for fresh farmland, restoring abandoned cropland and pastureland is key. Bringing abandoned lands back into productive use can also turn them into carbon sinks. Where soils are left to erode, abandoned farmlands can be a source of emissions.
Restoration can mean the return of native vegetation, the establishment of tree plantations, or the introduction of regenerative farming methods. Active restoration is labor intensive, yet necessary for cultivation to revive. Programs to finance regeneration are a necessary stimulus to action, helping landowners make changes without having to bet the farm.
Currently, 0.4 billion hectares of farmland have been abandoned due to land degradation. We estimate that by 2050, 189–296 million hectares could be restored and converted to regenerative annual cropping or other productive, carbon-friendly farming systems, for a combined emissions impact of 12.5–20.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide. This solution could provide a lifetime net profit of US$2.6–4.3 trillion with an initial investment of US$98–160 billion and lifetime operational cost of US$3–5 trillion, while producing an additional 9.2–15 billion tons of food.