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New UN Study Aims To Push Sustainable Land Management Into Development Policy

Kelli Barrett

During the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference, presenters introduced a new study that examines the economic costs of desertification and land degradation. The study offers methods to incorporate sustainable land practices into policies which will, the UNCCD says, mitigate environmental damage and eradicate poverty.  

During the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference, presenters introduced a new study that examines the economic costs of desertification and land degradation. The study offers methods to incorporate sustainable land practices into policies which will, the UNCCD says, mitigate environmental damage and eradicate poverty.

11 April 2013 | According to a recent report, 870 million people suffer globally from chronic hunger with environmental degradation factoring in as one of the many causes. The study shows that between 4-12% of Africa’s agricultural GDP (gross domestic production) is lost due to this ruin. Several environmental situations also play a role in that number. In East Africa, nearly 3.7 million rely on food assistance because of the drought in 2011.

The study, The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought: Methodologies and Analysis for Decision-Making, was presented at the UNCCD 2nd Scientific Conference in Bonn, Germany that ran from April 9 through the 12th. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was formed shortly after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and addresses the drylands-arid, semi-arid and sub-humid regions-in terms of linking the environment and development to sustainable land management.

Unsustainable land management has caused chunks of the Earth that are three times the size of Switzerland to be lost each year to desertification,the degradation of these drylands from human activities and climate variations. The lands are no longer able to produce food as they dry up and lose their bodies of water and vegetation often from agricultural practices like overgrazing, deforestation and overdrafting or extracting too much groundwater out of the aquifer.

“The study points to significant opportunities for action but unless scientific understanding of all land degradation and drought is strengthened, especially in the context of a changing climate, the global community is poorly positioned to deal with the impact of change,” Luc Gnacadja, the Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, says.

The drylands are home to some of the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples. Scientists and other practitioners believe sustainable land practices and rehabilitation of degraded areas is an important step in securing livelihoods and alleviating poverty for the communities living there. This UNCCD report assesses the economic costs and benefits of addressing desertification, land degradation and drought.

“Sustainable land management, prevention of land degradation and rehabilitation of land is a most effective and cost benefit way to eradicate rural poverty,” says Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland and Chairman of the Global Sustainability Panel as well as a presenter at the conference. “Land will provide food, decent jobs and income to the rural people.”

Halonen says the data presented at the conference will help integrate sustainable land management into development policies leading to international cooperation that will mitigate environmental challenges and contribute to better life in rural areas.

At country level, the direct economic costs of environmental degradation vary, according to the report. In Guatemala, 24% of agricultural GDP is lost due to desertification and land degradation while in Paraguay, 6.6% is lost. In Burkina Faso, it’s 9%.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) completed the first valuation of desertification in 1992. Back then, they rated the direct cost at US $42 billion. Authors of this new report say unintended consequences and indirect and off-site costs, which have been overlooked for the most part, also need to be accounted for. The social costs such as the statistics mentioned concerning the number of people suffering from hunger need to be taken into consideration, the report says. In Uzbekistan, for instance, a country in Central Asia, food yields have declined by 20-30% due to land degradation.

This study as well as the conference, Gnacadja says, shows that desertification, land degradation and drought are key constraints to building social and environmental resilience, achieving global food security and delivering meaningful poverty reduction.

“Without action they will remain development’s Achilles Heel,” he says. “Business as usual is no longer an option.”

Kelli Barrett is a freelance writer and editorial assistant. She can be reached at kbarrett@ecosystemmarketplace.com

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