Around the world, farmers are walking away from lands that were once cultivated or grazed because those lands have been “farmed out.” Agricultural practices depleted fertility, eroded soil, caused compaction, drained groundwater, or created salinity by over-irrigation. Because the lands no longer generate sufficient income, they are abandoned. Other contributing causes include a changing climate, desertification as in Chain and the Sahel in Africa, and the results of farming on fragile, steeply sloped land. ON the socio-economic side there is migration, the lure of higher income in cities, lack of market access, and high production costs for small-holders when competing with industrial agriculture. Whatever the case, for many, it is cheaper to walk away from the land than to work it.

These abandoned lands are not lying fallow; they are forgotten. Measuring how extensive they are and how quickly are growing is complex, and different approaches yield different numbers. A comprehensive study out of Stanford University estimates that there are 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. Ninety-nine percent of that abandonment occurred in the past century.

The quantity of forsaken lands continues to grow, even as the world strains to create more food.


Restoration can mean the return of native vegetation, the establishment of tree plantations, or the introduction of regenerative farming methods. In general, the more degraded the land, the more intensive the restoration efforts initially need to be. In less extreme cases, simply allowing natural processes to play out over time—passive restoration—will return the land to a healthy ecosystem. Passive restoration—will return the land to a healthy ecosystem. Passive approaches require little money but lots of time. Active restoration is often labor intensive, yet necessary for cultivation to revive. Its costs are higher, but so is its speed to productivity, carbon, storage, and ecosystem services.
Presently there are few financial incentives to induce farmland restoration. Costs are not inconsequential, and because change is slow, returns on investment lag.


The world’s abandoned farmland offers an opportunity to improve food security, farmers’ livelihoods, ecosystem health, and carbon drawdown simultaneously.


The default mode of all land is regeneration. That can be a slow process, but in the hands of skilled practitioners, the economic, social, and ecological benefits of farmland restoration can be greatly accelerated. At the moment, too much former farmland is something someone, for some reason, has abandoned—figuratively thrown away. The world, and many generations of farmers to come, would reap rewards from restoring and reactivating these neglected terrestrial assets.

IMPACT: Currently, 1 billion acres of farmland have been abandoned due to land degradation. We estimate that by 2050 424 million acres could be restored and converted to regenerative agriculture, or other productive, carbon-friendly farming systems, for a combined emissions impact of 14.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide. This solution could provide a financial return of $1.3 trillion over three decades on an investment of $72 billion, while producing an additional 9.5 billion tons of food.



March 2024 Update:

Introduction to Project Drawdown

Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “Drawdown” – the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change.

Founded in 2014, Project Drawdown has emerged as a leading resource for information and insight about climate solutions. The organization has conducted rigorous research and assessment of a comprehensive set of 93 climate solutions, which it has compiled into the Drawdown framework.

The Drawdown framework covers a wide range of solutions across different sectors, including:

– Electricity generation (e.g. renewable energy, energy efficiency)
– Food, agriculture, and land use (e.g. reduced food waste, plant-rich diets, reforestation)
– Industry (e.g. alternative refrigerants, cement production improvements)
– Transportation (e.g. electric vehicles, public transit, high-speed rail)
– Buildings (e.g. energy efficiency, heat pumps, smart thermostats)
– Land and coastal/ocean sinks (e.g. forest restoration, mangrove protection)

Project Drawdown’s mission is to advance these effective, science-based climate solutions and strategies, foster bold new climate leadership, and promote new narratives and voices around climate change.  The organization aims to support a growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and reach Drawdown as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.

Through its research, communication, and partnerships, Project Drawdown has influenced university curricula, city climate plans, business commitments, community action, and philanthropic strategy around the world. The organization continues to develop its resources and work to accelerate the deployment of climate solutions globally.