1 September 2023

UN is looking for its young Land Heroes


There is time until Oct. 15 to apply for UNCCD Land Heroes, the UN campaign that aims to bring out success stories in combating drought, desertification and land degradation

by Matteo Cavallito


Identifying young people who can be role models and inspirations through the implementation of best practices in combating desertification, land degradation and drought. This is the goal of UNCCD Land Heroes, the United Nations campaign that aims to bring out success stories, giving a contribution of $1,000 and ensuring visibility for those involved.

Launched in mid-August, the initiative continues in the coming weeks. Applicants can submit their stories by October 15. The ten winners, whose names will be announced in December, will be invited to attend Desertification and Drought Day, scheduled for June next year, and COP16 on desertification scheduled for December 2024.

The UN initiative

The campaign, explains the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, “aims to identify, celebrate, and support youth aged 18-35 engaged in sustainable land management, raising awareness of land’s link to biodiversity and climate.” Through sharing stories, the promoters say, “we inspire change, unite youth, provide mentorship, and showcase the transformative power of collective efforts.”

Land Heroes is part of the Land for Life Programme, launched in 2011 at the 10th UNCCD Conference of the Parties as part of the Changwon Initiative to Combat Desertification.

Four categories in the competition

According to the rules, young participants can apply in four different categories: drought resilience; soil restoration; inclusion and equality; and science and innovation. Among the aspects the initiative aims to bring out are proactive measures to anticipate and respond effectively to drought, among others.

But also large-scale strategies for restoring degraded land, promoting social equity and restoring traditional knowledge, and introducing innovative approaches to sustainable land management.

Climate, drought, soil

The United Nations have raised several alarms about the consequences of drought and climate change on soil health. Recently, for example, the chair of the UN Conference on Desertification, Alain-Richard Donwahi, suggested that world may face a particularly severe food crisis sooner than expected. “Everyone is fixated on 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels],” he said quoted by the Guardian.

However, he added, “some very bad things could happen, in terms of soil degradation, water scarcity and desertification, way before 1.5C.”

Donwahi particularly highlighted the problem of increased frequency of extreme weather events and the consequences of poor agricultural practices that impact soil health. “The degradation of soil comes with bad habits, and the way we do our agriculture will lead to degradation of the soil. When the soil is affected, the yield is affected,” he explained.