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Arguments - Intervention Costs
Arable Land
It is difficult to predict the effectiveness of land conservation programs. However, we can be certain that in any case they will be very costly for four principal reasons:
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) The geographical extent of the problem is huge. Land loss and degradation are, by their very nature, problems that spread across large areas and require land-extensive measures. They typically call for large-scale engineering solutions. A single farmer can do little to prevent wind or water erosion on his or her field. Whole forests must be planted or tens of thousands of hectares of dunes must be treated by air seeding. Construction of dams or reforestation of mountain slopes to prevent water erosion are extremely costly large-scale measures.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) The area causing a certain problem is not necessarily the place where the impact is the most serious. For instance, soil erosion on the Loess Plateau is creating sedimentation problems hundreds of kilometers downstream. Dams can affect soil hydrology far away. Deforestation in remote mountain areas can cause flooding problems in densely populated agricultural areas in other provinces. In other words, those who have to make the investment and do the work of erosion control are not necessarily those who receive the benefits. This lack of a clear incentive structure drives up costs, because the programs usually have to be implemented, organized, enforced, and controlled by various government agencies.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Land conservation requires sustained, long-term measures. While it is easy to initiate a one-time effort (such as planting of a few thousand trees), it is much more difficult and costly to maintain and control conservation measures for an extended period of time. Salinization control, for instance, is an ongoing process: day after day, farmers must control the soil, maintain the irrigation systems, and apply the appropriate leaching procedures. To keep up land conservation campaigns, they have to be repeated frequently.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Land conservation measures usually require the involvement of the population and the local elite. Moreover, social and cultural factors have to be considered. Without such involvement,  resistance, ignorance, or even sabotage of the measures might jeopardize the whole project. This necessary participation by the local population requires costly measures to inform, educate, and motivate all participants. Time-consuming processes of consensus building and political negotiation are necessary. The old-style approach of the communist era - characterized by top-down decision making, rapid implementation, and government control - will not work for land conservation projects in the future. Despite the government's strong support of the Three Gorges Dam Project, growing discontent and resistance on the part of the affected local population is noticeable.
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Related Arguments

Arable Land:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs

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Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)  - Copyright 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright 1999 by IIASA.)