Saturday, April 20, 2013

Urgent action needed to ‘arrest’ land degradation

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] Land degradation is major cost leading to loss of some USD490 billion per year to the international community. This is way higher than the cost of action to prevent it according to the conclusion of a scientific conference that took place in took place from 9-12 April in Bonn, Germany.
According to the meeting, sustainable land management, one of the most affordable tools to prevent land degradation and to restore degraded land, can help reduce poverty that comes with ecosystem service benefits for the wider society.
These were some of the conclusions from the UNCCD 2nd Scientific Conference on the economic assessment of desertification, sustainable land management and resilience of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, which took place from 9-12 April.
“Desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) is also an issue of market failure. The lack of economic market valuation has led to land being perceived as a cheap resource. But an investment in sustainable land management is a smart investment and many farmers worldwide are taking practical steps to address desertification and land degradation, and to adapt to drought, when they notice a change in their land productivity,” said Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD Executive Secretary, in his closing remarks.
 Pics: UNCCD
He said the meetings outcomes should be put into practice and those in attendance need to go back and run them. “The evidence that was collected needs to be a source of change at political, private sector and community level. So we need to take the outcomes and change the season through committed outreach and advocacy using these findings,” he added.
Scientists, experts, civil society organizations and media from every region of the world discussed the economic and social costs of desertification, land degradation and drought, and the costs of inaction, based on a study titled, “The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought: Methodologies and Analysis for Decision-Making.”
The four-day meeting was the first global valuation of these phenomena using a cost-benefit analysis, and the first economic assessment in over two decades. The study was called for in 2011 by the UNCCD’s Conference of the Parties (COP).
Walter Amman, President of Global Risk Forum GRF Davos, the organization that led the study, said sustainable management of natural resources is today more critical than ever to human survival. The conference, he said, relentlessly showed the importance of fertile land, undermining the fact that the cost of inactivity in combatting DLDD is much higher than to take appropriate actions now. “The question is, can we take a bold step towards zero net land degradation and sustainable development? I am convinced we can! Scientific knowledge and technology is the key to sustainable land management,” he said.
Antonio Rocha Magalhães, the current Chair of the Convention’s Committee on Science and Technology that was mandated by the Parties to commission the study to a consortium of independent scientific organizations, will present the results to the COP meeting in the latter half of the year.
“This conference was an important benchmark in bringing more science to support actions relating to the Convention. We know that desertification, land degradation and drought are serious global problem, and the Rio + 20 Conference called for a land degradation neutral world. But decision makers act on objective information, and so far we lack good and well organized information on the economics of DLDD,” Magalhães said.
 However, he said, the conference showed that the social and economic impacts of DLDD are very high and tend to increase, and the costs of inaction will be higher than the costs of action. He called for strong action on DLDD.
 “We will bring this information to the parties during the next COP 11 because strengthening the role of science in the UNCCD process will be key to improving the effectiveness of policies to combat DLDD in the world,” Magalhães stated.
The CST, he said, has identified Scientific and Traditional Knowledge for Sustainable Development (SCK4SD) as the consortium to organize the UNCCD 3rd Scientific Conference, with Agropolis International from France as the lead organization. This was in line with the mandate given by the last COP in 2011,
The theme of the 3rd Scientific Conference, as agreed by the Parties is ‘Combatting desertification, land degradation and drought for poverty reduction and sustainable development: the contribution of science, technology, traditional knowledge and practices’. The next COP is expected to agree on venue and dates of the next Scientific Conference.

Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi based journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world including Africa, the US and Europe. He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association. He can be reached at, or