Productive land is scarce in Pakistan – 80% of the country is arid or semi-arid [1] and the country is experiencing high rates of deforestation, land degradation, soil erosion and desertification [2]. Land degradation and desertification in Pakistan are caused by unsustainable land management practices, coupled with increased demand for natural resources, and driven by a rapidly growing and largely rural population dependent on drylands for their livelihoods [1]. The changes in water regime, due to changing weather patterns in Pakistan pose additional threats in the form of drought and resultant desertification. The most likely impacts of climate change in the country will be decreased productivity, reduced forest area, higher flood risks etc [3].

Pakistan's agriculture sector provides employment for approximately 70% of the population [4] but agriculture is facing significant challenges from land degradation processes such as soil erosion, salinity, and waterlogging. These processes will likely result in the reduction of per person cultivable land, which may result in food insecurity issues for Pakistan in the future [5]. In total, it is estimated that an area of 20,644 km²  of Pakistan is degraded, which affects the livelihood of 3.58% of the total population of the country, according to data from 1981-2003 [4], [6].  

Soil erosion is a major barrier in Pakistan to achieving sustainability. Soil erosion due to wind and water has annually reduced the country’s land productivity by between 1.5-7.5%, and 84% of the total soil erosion in the country has been caused by these factors. Water erosion has damaged about 13.05 million hectares of the total land of Pakistan, while wind erosion has damaged approximately 6.17 million hectares. The severe impacts of water erosion can be observed in the northern areas and in the KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) region of Pakistan, where about 1517.6 and 1517.0 million hectares of land are damaged, respectively. Wind erosion has affected the Sindh (1686.6 million hectares) and Balochistan (100.9 million hectares) provinces because of their hyper-arid climates [4].   

Increases in the frequency of climatic extremes in the form of floods and droughts are also deteriorating Pakistan’s land [4]. The United Nations has placed Pakistan among the top 23 countries in the world facing drought related emergencies in the last two years (2020-2022) [7]. The immediate impacts of drought in Pakistan include declines in crop yield and livestock productivity, which in turn, threatens the incomes of agriculture-dependent households and food security. The resulting land degradation and decline in ground water reserves can lead to increased water stress-related risk, such as the availability of safe drinking water for the population [8].

In order to address these challenges and protect the country's land resources, it will be important for the government to implement sustainable land management practices and regulate land use in order to prevent further degradation.


The direct causes of land degradation in Pakistan include deforestation, soil erosion, waterlogging and salinity, depletion of underground water table, overgrazing, poor irrigation and drainage practices, intensive agriculture, and droughts.

The underlying causes of land degradation in the country include population growth, poverty, insecurity of land tenure, poor agricultural extension services, and poor government policies and legislation [5].  


Key policies and governance approach

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Pakistan has ratified the convention with the obligation to make considerable efforts to combat land degradation [9]. Therefore, in 2002, Pakistan launched its National Action Programme to Combat Desertification in Pakistan (NAP) aiming to identify the factors that contribute to the process of desertification and to suggest practical measures and a strategy, using an integrated and coordinated bottom-up approach, to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in the country [10].

Additionally, the government of Pakistan has set its 2030 targets towards achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in arid and semi-arid areas by protecting degraded ecosystems and their essential services, involving key stakeholders who can contribute to reducing poverty and developing a green economy [9]. The LDN targets of Pakistan include achieving LDN by 2030 in at least 30% of degraded forest, at least 5% of degraded cropland, at least 6% of degraded grassland and at least 10% of degraded wetlands [11]. The prevention and management of land degradation in Pakistan comprises several institutions [9]


Successes and remaining challenges

A study published in 2022 identified the critical enablers, challenges, and benefits of LDN in Pakistan. To achieve this, the authors selected 14 degraded districts in four provinces of Pakistan and collected data from 63 institutions that were directly or indirectly involved in land degradation risk prevention and management. The critical LDN management enablers in Pakistan were described in order of importance as: (1) the Government’s long-term vision and strong commitment for LDN, one such example of this is the implementation of Pakistan’s Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project (TBTTP); (2) the development of horizontal and vertical coordination mechanisms for LDN, as all the country’s land degradation-controlling institutions at the national, provincial, district, local, and grassroots levels are currently all working separately without any coordination; (3) the development of public-private partnership (PPP) policies, procedures and services for LDN; (4) securing land tenure and property rights for achieving LDN; (5) the allocation of budget for LDN, because both federal and provincial budgets are relatively low compared with the volume of work required; and finally, (6) a comprehensive baseline assessment for LDN [9]

Some of the main challenges to LDN management in Pakistan, as identified in the same study, are (i) the lack of awareness in the country of the LDN concept; (ii) a lack of capacity at the federal, provincial, and local levels; and (iii) the lack of accurate market risk assessments, which are critical for the success of LDN projects in public and private partnership models [9]


Initiatives and Development Plans

In 2007, the Government of Pakistan began implementing a Sustainable Land Management program (SLMP I) across nine dryland districts. Over eight years, 120 square kilometers of degraded rangeland were rehabilitated through reseeding and community-based grazing management, and a further 80 square kilometers under sustainable rainfed agriculture and water conservation measures. The project was then extended in 2015 (SLMP II) and rolled out more widely, utilizing water control and storage structures, creating shelterbelts and rangeland management plans, restoring degraded dryland forest (e.g., community tree nurseries and plantations for domestic fuel), and implementing sand dune stabilization measures. As a result, some 13,000 households directly or indirectly benefited from nearly 200 square kilometers of improved land health, better access to water for livestock, and reduced wind erosion.

Additionally, the Billion Trees Afforestation Project in Pakistan’s mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, restored 3,500 square kilometers of forests and degraded land in just two years. Strong engagement with local communities was a key success factor to this project. The restoration target was achieved through both natural regeneration (60%) and planned afforestation (40%). In addition to significant income and job generation, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government also surpassed its 3,484 square kilometer commitment to the Bonn Challenge, becoming the first such commitment to be fully met. In 2018, the popularity of this initiative gave impetus to one of the world’s largest reforestation initiatives — the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme – as part of a suite of nature-based solutions to fight desertification and climate change in Pakistan [1].



  • The Government of Pakistan should continue to exhibit a strong commitment for LDN, including through the implementation of initiatives such as the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project.
  • Develop horizontal and vertical coordination mechanisms for LDN.
  • Develop public-private partnership (PPP) policies, procedures, and services for LDN.
  • Securing land tenure and property rights is critical.
  • Allocate a sufficient budget to LDN.
  • Complete a comprehensive baseline assessment for LDN.
  • Raise awareness of the LDN concept and build the capacity of relevant stakeholders.
  • LDN market risk assessment is critical for the success of LDN projects in public and private partnership models.
  • The public sector needs to initiate integrated green policy formulation and legislative reforms and develop a legal framework by hiring policy analysts and experienced experts related to land legislative and legal affairs.
  • The government needs to establish an impressive governing body at provincial and federal levels by recruiting specialists.
  • Integrated land-use planning systems could be used to embed soil neutrality mechanisms into land policy regulations in Pakistan.
  • Introduce Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices as an elective subject in higher secondary schools and offer SLM as a specialized course at all public and private sector universities.

[1] United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2022. The Global Land Outlook, second edition. UNCCD, Bonn.

[2] Government of Pakistan (2019). Pakistan’s Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Voluntary National Review.

[3] Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Climate Change (2021). National Climate Change Policy.

[4] Ulain, Q.; Ali, S.M.; Shah, A.A.; Iqbal, K.M.J.; Ullah, W.; Tariq, M.A.U.R. Identification of Soil Erosion-Based Degraded Land Areas by Employing a Geographic Information System—A Case Study of Pakistan for 1990–2020. Sustainability 2022, 14, 11888.

[5] Qasim, S., Shrestha, R.P. and Qasim, M., 2017. A national review of land degradation in Pakistan. Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia26(1), pp.91-108.

[6] Bai, Z.G., Dent, D.L., Olsson, L. and Schaepman, M.E., 2008. Proxy global assessment of land degradation. Soil use and management24(3), pp.223-234.

[7] United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (2022). DROUGHT IN NUMBERS 2022 - restoration for readiness and resilience.

[8] World Bank Group. 2022. Pakistan Country Climate and Development Report. CCDR Series;. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank Group. License: CC BY-NC-ND.

[9] Abbas, H.W., Guo, X., Anwar, B., Naqvi, S.A.A. and Shah, S.A.R., 2022. The land degradation neutrality management enablers, challenges, and benefits for mobilizing private investments in Pakistan. Land Use Policy120, p.106224.


[11] Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Climate Change (2020). Voluntary targets and associated measures towards achieving Land Degradation Neutrality.