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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 46 - Thursday, 1 May 2008
The downside risk to developing countries of drought, land degradation, and desertification
By Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary, UN Convention to Combat Desertification
Luc Gnacadja
UNCCCD Executive Secretary
(Photo courtesy of UNFCCD)
Today the world faces a situation of uncertainty and growing urgency. In several developing countries there is difficulty to access food security due to unprecedented price hikes for commodities, driven by historically low food stocks, growing demand for agro-fuels and persistent drought cycles, land degradation and desertification. Inflated international cereal prices have already given rise to food riots.
 
The 16th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, meeting in New York, USA, from 5-16 May 2008, has its focus on the thematic issues of agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa. The focus of CSD 16 on these thematic areas is timely given that the available information indicates that food supplies have declined sharply because production does not cope with demand.

The main downside risk to developing countries is that drought, land degradation, and desertification disrupt subsistence food production and economic development, triggering unprecedented social upheavals.  Higher food prices have particularly adverse effects on the poor and projections show several developing countries suffering food price shocks.  Also, a rise in food prices may undermine gains the international community has made in reducing poverty. 

This situation calls for concerted responses at the international level. Recent developments point towards the unforgiving consequences of failing to sustainably manage and utilize land resources, thus demanding a fundamental change in the “business as usual” methods of addressing the issues of desertification, land degradation and drought. In this context, the newly adopted Ten Year Strategic Plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention (September 2007) could contribute to providing a lasting solution as degraded arable lands are restored and expansion of domestic agricultural production is enhanced.

On the occasion of CSD 16, a number of side events organized with the collaboration of the UNCCD Secretariat are scheduled to take place. The side events will focus on various thematic areas of particular concern to the successful implementation of the Convention, including events addressing:

  1. Reducing the Risks of Desertification and Drought: Building Partnerships for Combating Climate Change, organized in collaboration with UN/ISDR;
  2. The Right to Food and Water Implies the Duty to Conserve the Land, organized in collaboration with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, and the Government of Italy; and
  3. Enhancing the economic value of dryland areas through sustainable agricultural practices: an efficient way to fight desertification, organized in collaboration with the International Federation of Agricultural Producers.

1. Reducing the Risks of Desertification and Drought: Building Partnerships for Combating Climate Change

Thematically, the partnerships that the UNCCD is engaging in and or enhancing with key institutions and donor countries intend to deal with a common concern: Land and soil degradation as they relate to climate change adaptation. Partnerships sought are simple but highly adaptable, jointly undertaking common activities in the engagement of agendas on drought, land degradation and desertification and SLM policies and issues.

Operationally, the forging of partnerships targets identifing options to mobilize support and expand sources of finance, enhance donor coordination, harmonize priorities, and contribute to knowledge transfer and capacity building for the implementation of the Ten Year Strategic plan of the Convention among national and international stakeholders. 

The “Reducing the Risks of Desertification and Drought: Building Partnerships for Combating Climate Change” side event will seek to result in targeted collaboration of organizations involved in drylands development that pledge (1) to address issues pertaining to land and soil degradation as well as drought and climate change adaptation and (2) to foster increased awareness and policy setting to reverse, mitigate and prevent drought, land degradation and desertification in affected areas supporting economic and environmental sustainability, particularly through creating opportunities that enhance adaptation to climate change.

2. The Right to Food and Water Implies the Duty to Conserve the Land

This side event aims at demonstrating the complementarity of international human rights law and the UNCCD, and proposes concrete recommendations on how human rights can and must be mainstreamed in sustainable development issues and priorities.  The event will also achieve information sharing and exchange of experiences among participants with a view to establishing appropriate recommendations for mainstreaming human rights issues in sustainable development priorities and to discuss possible follow-up programmes based on these recommendations.

The side event is also envisaged to produce concrete policy recommendations for undertaking sustainable water resources management practices and priorities to enhance adaptation to water scarcity – which at a local level affects the economic well being of people, and at a global level the integrity, stability and peace among nations. 

3. Enhancing the economic value of dryland areas through sustainable agricultural practices: an efficient way to fight desertification (Organized in collaboration with the International Federation of Agricultural Producers)

Desertification and land degradation issues are important concerns for rural communities and farmers in arid and semi-arid areas, as these issues have significant impacts on the livelihoods and daily agricultural activities of these communities. Farmers and farmers’ organisations therefore have a central role to play in the fight against desertification, not only because they are the first victims of this plague but, more importantly, because farmers are agents of change and part of the solution. There are many successful experiences of farmers’ led innovative agricultural and non-agricultural practices to combat desertification in dryland areas.

This side event aims to initiate a multi stakeholder discussion between farm leaders, government representatives, other civil society representatives and the scientific community in order to identify common avenues of cooperation and possible answers for how policy makers can create the needed enabling environment to trigger and enhance sustainable economic development in dryland areas.

The outcomes of the side event will be promoted during the World Day to Combat Desertification (June 17), which this year will be celebrated worldwide around the theme “Combating land degradation for sustainable agriculture”.

Conclusions

The impacts of land degradation, drought and desertification are most severe in developing countries, where agricultural production can decline drastically and higher international food prices tend to put upward pressure on inflation, both directly and through their impact on nonfood prices, resulting in food riots such as those the world is currently witnessing. The international community should urgently seize the opportunity to propel an expansion of domestic agricultural production through effectively reversing the processes of land degradation and desertification and returning degraded arable land to crop production, improving local level infrastructure and distribution and storage systems, and removing policy distortions that discourage food production.

Stakeholders should pool their resources together and synergize activities in addressing drought, land degradation and desertification issues if the already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world are to be alleviated.
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