A dynamic and ecologically based natural resource management system. Through the integration of trees in farms and landscapes, it diversifies and sustains production levels for increased social, economic, and environmental benefits for land users at all levels. (IAASTD 2009)


A biological and biophysical natural resource system managed by humans for the primary purpose of producing food as well as other socially valuable non-food goods and environmental services. Agricultural ecosystems possess a range of functional attributes which distinguish them from natural ecosystems. Agro-ecosystems are designed for a purpose – that of producing certain goods to serve human needs. The outcome of this activity is often defined simply in terms of its biological productivity, i.e. of the biomass yield of the desired product(s). The products of agro-ecosystems are also given values beyond their biomass which may be computed in monetary terms, in terms of quality, or in the less easily defined social and cultural benefits associated with a particular type or process of production. Agro-ecosystems may thus be said to process a range of socioeconomic functions in addition to the biological functions that they share with natural ecosystems.  These agro-ecosystem functions can be enhanced by increasing the planned biodiversity (mixed species and mosaics), which will also then create further niches for ‘unplanned’ biodiversity. (IAASTD 2009; Swift et al. 1996)


Benefits from action

These are actual benefits that are derived from taking action towards sustainable land management. If they are exchanged on a market (e.g. carbon sequestration, emission trading), they can be measured accurately after action is taken. If not, the benefits from action can be estimated using economic valuation. They may correspond fully or partially to the potential benefits from action.(ELD Initiative interim report 2013)


This is the variety of life on Earth which includes diversity at the ecosystem, habitat, species, and genetic levels, as well as diversity in abundance, distribution, and behavior. Biodiversity also incorporates human cultural diversity, which can be affected by the same drivers, and also have impacts on the diversity of ecosystems, species, and genes. (UNEP Glossary)


Conservation Agriculture

Achieving sustainable and profitable agriculture, with efforts subsequently aimed at improving the livelihoods of farmers through the application of three principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, and crop rotations. It holds tremendous potential for all sizes of farms and agro-ecological systems. It combines profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability, has been proven to work in a variety of agro-ecological zones and farming systems, and is perceived by practitioners as a valid tool for sustainable land management. (FAO 2012)

Cost-benefit analysis

A comparison of all the costs and benefits associated with action undertaken for sustainable land management, against “business-as-usual” (changing no habits, practices, or systems). (ELD Initiative interim report 2013) 

Cost of action

The costs of appropriate actions that will prevent and/or reverse land degradation. It includes the costs of implementing interventions, such as conservation tillage or soil and water conservation structures. They are often better known than the potential benefits from taking action. (ELD Initiative interim report 2013)

Cost of inaction

This refers to the forgone benefits under “business-as-usual”, when no change is taken towards adopting more sustainable management. It is usually associated with estimates of loss in production and productivity, and represents the maximum potential benefits of taking action (which may or may not materialize fully after the action is taken). Economic valuation techniques can be used to estimate them prior to taking action. The costs of inaction are often not as accurate as the costs of action, but tend to be greater than the actual benefits derived from taking action. (ELD Initiative interim report 2013)



A form of land degradation that occurs in drylands (arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas). And is a result of various factors, including climatic variations (drought) and human activities (overexploitation of drylands). (UN 1997; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board 2005)


Prolonged absence or marked deficiency of precipitation which may contribute to desertification. (United Nations 1997)


Conventionally defined in terms of water stress, drylands are areas of land where the mean annual rainfall (including snow, fog, hail, etc.) is lower than the total amount of water evaporated into the atmosphere. This definition usually excludes the polar regions and high mountain areas, which can be classified as drylands as a result of their low average rainfall. Drylands can be found on every continent, and stretch over 41% of Earth’s land surface. (IUCN 2008)



Benefits humans obtain from ecosystems (1), and usually interpreted as the contribution of nature to a variety of “goods and services”. This term encompasses the following three categories normally used in economics: (i) “goods” (e.g., products obtained from ecosystems, such as resource harvests, water, genetic material, etc.), (ii) “services” (e.g., recreational/tourism benefits or certain ecological regulatory and habitat functions, such as water purification, climate regulation, erosion control, habitat provision, etc.), and (iii) cultural benefits (e.g., spiritual and religious beliefs, heritage values, etc.). Within the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ecosystem services are classified as provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting. (ELD Initiative interim report 2013)

Ecosystem goods

Products of land which have an economic and/or social value: they include land availability, animal and plant production, soil health and water quantity and quality. (FAO 2011)



The terrestrial bio-productive system comprised of soil, vegetation, other biota, and the ecological and hydrological processes that operate within the system. In very simple terms: it corresponds to the Earth´s surface and natural resources found there. (UNCCD 1994, article 1e; ELD Initiative interim report 2013)

Land degradation

This is defined by the United Nations as a reduction or loss of the biologic or economic productivity and complexity of rain-fed cropland, irrigated cropland or range, pasture, forest, and woodland. In relation to the ELD Initiative, it corresponds to the reduction in the economic value of ecosystem services and goods derived from land as a result of anthropogenic activities or natural biophysical evolution. (ELD Initiative interim report 2013)

Ecosystem goods

Activities associated with the management of land as a resource from both an environmental and an economic perspective towards sustainable development. (The Bathurst-Declaration FIG-Publication No. 22/1999)


Natural capital

Inputs used for economic production that are derived from natural resources. This form of capital is complementary to other forms such as monetary and physical or human-made capital (e.g., buildings, machinery). (ELD Initiative interim report 2013)


Soil Erosion

The wearing away of the land surface by physical forces such as rainfall, flowing water, wind, ice, temperature change, gravity, or other natural or anthropogenic agents that abrade, detach and remove soil or geological material from one point on the earth's surface to be deposited elsewhere. Soil erosion is normally a natural process occurring over geological timescales; but where (and when) the natural rate has been significantly increased by anthropogenic activity accelerated; soil erosion becomes a process of degradation and thus an identifiable threat to soil. (National Soil Resources Institute 2007)

Sustainable Development

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
• the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
• the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.
(World Commission on Environment and Development [Brundtland Commission] 1987)

Land degradation

The adoption of land use systems that enhance the ecological support functions of land with appropriate management practices, and thus enable land users to derive economic and social benefits from the land while maintaining the benefits for future generations. This is usually done by integrating socio-economic principles with environmental concerns so as to: maintain or enhance production, reduce the level of production risk, protect the natural resource potential, prevent soil and water degradation, be economically viable, and be socially acceptable. (ELD Initiative interim report 2013)


Soil Erosion

The full economic value allocated by society as a whole. This includes use value (direct and indirect, option value) and non-use value. (ELD initiative 2013)


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