A quarterly newsletter about achieving a land-degradation neutral world





Security beyond traditional dimensions
Land degradation exacerbates food insecurity, but may also contribute to forced migration, political instability, fragility and conflict. There is more to security than the political, economic and social dimensions. More…

Desertification: the invisible frontline More…

Syria’s conflict: is land degradation part of the story? More…

From the Executive Secretary
Land degradation can turn into a security issue. That’s why investigating the connection between land degradation and conflict is high on the UNCCD’s agenda. More…

Access to land and water –
the key to security in drylands

Hartmut Behrend, a climatologist with the German Armed Forces, takes a look at the impact of environmental degradation on security with a focus on how NATO deals with these new challenges. More…


Good practice

A contested link: environmental degradation and conflict
There is no scientific evidence proving that desertification, climate change and conflict interact. For some researchers, the correlation is obvious, whereas others refer to environmental stressors, threat multipliers or amplifiers. More…

Kenya: initiatives for land, lives and peace
In northern Kenya, competition over grazing lands and water has sometimes escalated into violence. But this is also a place for optimism about the potential for sustainable land management and peaceful conflict resolution. More…


Land degradation – a security issue

When land degradation reaches a level at which it seriously threatens people’s livelihoods, it can turn into a security issue. This is because land is so closely linked to basic human needs, such as access to food and water. If land degradation interferes with the fulfilment of these needs, it can lead to conflicts over scarce land and water resources, spark food riots or turn smallholder farmers into refugees.

Monique Barbut

It is striking that many of today’s violent conflicts are taking place in countries with vulnerable dry ecosystems. Syria, Mali and Darfur are just a few examples. I believe that this issue urgently needs to be addressed – by national and international policy-makers and researchers alike. That’s why I have put the investigation of the connection between land degradation and conflict high on the UNCCD’s agenda.

The question is not whether land degradation is a root cause of, or a contributory factor to, violent conflicts. The point is that we must take action to curb land degradation. By managing land sustainably, we can contribute to human security, stability and peace. The good news is that we have many useful tools at hand that can halt land degradation and restore degraded land. With this in mind, our mission to establish a land-degradation neutral world becomes even more urgent.

By managing land sustainably, we can contribute to human security, stability and peace.

I have seen sustainable land management initiatives with genuinely stabilising effects in many corners of the world. The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative is bringing a coordinated and harmonised response to food security and peace. The Sahel, which is the core area of the initiative, is severely affected by land degradation and has experienced violent conflicts over resources.

We are still in the early stages of exploring the link between land degradation and security. To get a clearer picture of the human connections between poverty, conflict and environmental degradation, the UNCCD secretariat is partnering with CAUX - Initiatives of Change for the
2014 Caux Dialogue on Land and Security
, an international conference to take place in Switzerland this summer. I am looking forward to fruitful discussions at Caux and it is my sincere hope that they will provide the UNCCD with further guidance about sustainable land management’s potential role in reducing the risk of any form of conflict.

But one thing is already clear: land degradation is much more than an environmental issue. It has major implications for people’s livelihoods and has the potential to become a genuine security challenge for many communities, societies and nations, especially for those engaged in agriculture. Let’s tackle this nexus between land and security in an integrated manner. That means combining a sustainable land management and a conflict prevention perspective. That’s what destabilised dryland communities need for their human security.

Monique Barbut
Executive Secretary


Security beyond traditional dimensions

Imagine a map depicting areas of the world particularly affected by land degradation and a map that highlights countries having experienced armed conflict in recent years. They look quite similar. Does that tell us anything or are the similarities just a coincidence? In searching for an answer, we need to look more closely at the assumed security implications of land degradation.

Today, many conflicts occur in dryland regions affected by land degradation and declining productivity. These regions are also particularly vulnerable to climate change. Drylands are prone to drought and desertification, but they are vital for global food security today. However, one of the most obvious effects of land degradation is food insecurity. The impacts of land degradation and climate change could well lead to a situation in which people’s livelihoods are under stress. In that case, social tensions are likely to arise.

Thomas Friedman from the New York Times sees this correlation existing in relation to the Arab Spring and asks: “Isn’t it interesting that the Arab awakening began in Tunisia with a fruit vendor who was harassed by police for not having a permit to sell food – just at the moment when world food prices hit record highs? And that it began in Syria with farmers in the southern village of Dara’a, who were demanding the right to buy and sell land near the border without having to get permission from corrupt security officials?”

New security dimensions

So there is more to security than simply the political, economic and social dimensions. As US Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out in February 2014: “In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, takes a similar view. He puts climate change, population growth, water shortages, rising food prices and the number of failing states in the world at the top of the list of real security threats today. However, land degradation and other environmental impacts related to climate change are just some of the many factors that might trigger conflict.

The world’s drylands are likely to be affected by more extreme weather with prolonged droughts and flash floods, which will not only exacerbate food insecurity, but might also cause forced migration, political instability, fragility and conflict. Some regions are more at risk than others. The Sahel, for example, faces a high desertification rate with an estimated 350,000 hectares of land lost per year. In addition, it is confronted with political instability – a worrisome combination of two critical developments.

The United Nations Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action has noted that land conflicts tend to become violent when they are “linked to wider processes of political exclusion, social discrimination, economic marginalization, and a perception that peaceful action is no longer a viable strategy for change”. The framework goes even further and states that “land issues readily lend themselves to conflict. Land is an important economic asset and source of livelihoods; it is also closely linked to community identity, history and culture. Communities, therefore, can readily mobilize around land issues, making land a central object of conflict.”

Conflicts over land not a problem – if managed non-violently

To put things into the right perspective, it is important to remember that there have been and will always be conflicts over resources such as land and water. There is, for example, a long tradition of rivalry between pastoralists and farmers over agricultural and grazing lands and water in many parts of the world. Most of these conflicts are limited in space and intensity; others have the potential to escalate.

The mere existence of these conflicts is not the problem. What matters is that they are managed and resolved in a non-violent manner. One small piece in the complex picture of peaceful conflict resolution is sustainable land management. That’s why Ian Johnson, Secretary General, The Club of Rome, concluded during the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security: “Getting land management right, and getting it restored to increase the amount of useful land, strikes me as both a development issue and also a peace issue.”

The other way round: effects of insecurity on land

But is the reverse also true? Does political and economic insecurity affect food security and land? “The worsening of the food security situation in the Near East Region is ... largely driven by factors such as conflicts, the flow of refugees and migration... Peace is fundamental for food security and food security is fundamental for peace,” says the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva. In addition, in times of violent conflict when people’s food security is seriously threatened due to factors such as forced migration, land restoration and sustainable land management are not priorities. All that counts is harvesting enough grain to feed the family for the next few months; sustainability has to be deferred.

UNCCD moving forward

For UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, the situation is clear: land degradation is a major driver of insecurity, forced migration and conflicts worldwide. She calls on the Convention’s stakeholders to address land degradation as an underlying cause of instability and insecurity. Action is particularly needed in the areas of food security, water security and migration.

Monique Barbut: “We will consistently promote a joint approach to environmental decision-making globally and full implementation of the UNCCD to deliver the greatest impact and multiple benefits to stakeholders.” This includes, for example, the post-2015 development framework, synergies with other conventions and strategies on climate change adaptation.

However, there are also obstacles to overcome. “Limited capacity and access to appropriate knowledge and technology remains a key challenge to promoting UNCCD implementation. Parties should be able to monitor and report, in a greatly simplified way, on their progress,” says Louise Baker, Senior Adviser on Partnership Building and Resource Mobilization at the UNCCD Secretariat.

The far-reaching security implications of land degradation and drought make the UNCCD’s cause even more pressing. It’s about land. And it’s about peace.

UNCCD’s cause is about land – and it’s about peace.

Desertification: the invisible frontline

The UNCCD Secretariat recently published a brochure entitled Desertification. The Invisible Frontline. It gives an overview of the various security touchpoints between desertification, land degradation and drought. These are:


Food insecurity

If land degrades, its agricultural productivity decreases. The result is less food for an ever growing population, leading to malnutrition and hunger. If there are no policies in place to reduce the impact of food insecurity, it can provoke civil unrest. In 2008, food insecurity sparked off riots in more than 30 countries.

Water insecurity

When the rains fail to come and drought takes away the basic prerequisites for survival, many people see only two ways out of their dilemma. Firstly, they may dispute others’ claims to scarce water resources and perhaps even take up arms. Secondly, they may decide to leave their degraded land in search of water elsewhere. But migration impacts heavily on societies and so the abandoned land lies bare, with little chance of being restored. Replenishing underground water sources, water-sensitive land management and drought-resistant farming techniques could therefore help to prevent conflicts over water in drylands.

Climate change

More severe droughts and new rainfall patterns are only two of the expected effects of climate change in dryland regions. Climate change is likely to increase land degradation and desertification and increase people’s vulnerability. This in turn could trigger violent conflict at local, national or regional level.

National security

States have a responsibility to ensure that natural resources are allocated so that everybody’s basic needs are met. But what happens if there are not sufficient resources available, because land degrades or is grabbed by large investors? In this situation, states and governments come under political and economic pressure, which may even open the door to agents of radicalisation and extremism.

Not an inevitable development

However, simply being aware of these security implications is not enough, so the brochure suggests land-related ways to promote security and peace. First, investments in large-scale restoration initiatives are needed. Second, because fragile states are prone to conflict, institutional reforms are essential, for example to facilitate sound agricultural policies. Third, farmers have to apply sustainable land management practices whose effectiveness is already proven.

So the bad news is that land degradation can be a security risk. But there is also a positive side to the story: this is not an inevitable development. Because managing land sustainably can halt land degradation, it may also prevent conflict over land – one of our most precious resources.

Syria’s conflict: is land degradation part of the story?

The outbreak of armed conflict in Syria in 2011 has triggered a humanitarian disaster on a vast scale. According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have been killed and around 700,000 injured. Almost 10 million people depend on aid inside the country, of whom at least 6.5 million are internally displaced, and a further 2.5 million are refugees in neighbouring countries. And there is no sign of any end to the suffering.

The crisis before the crisis

But for many Syrians, especially for farmers, the crisis began much earlier. In 2006, a period of severe drought started to hit the country and dust storms heralded the onset of a previously unthinkable humanitarian crisis. The United Nations and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported in 2009 that more than 800,000 Syrians had lost their livelihoods as a result of the droughts. Around 200,000 farmers simply abandoned their land. In 2011, crop failure amounted to 75% and in some areas, agriculture ceased completely. As a result, the country increasingly depended on grain imports, and hundreds of thousands of people fled from rural areas into the cities, which already accommodated around 350,000 Palestinian and Iraqi refugees.

Degraded land

In addition to drought, Syria’s arable land is severely impacted by unsustainable farming techniques. Overgrazing, water-intensive cotton and wheat production and ineffective irrigation techniques have taken their toll and contributed to land degradation. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in 2008, desertification affected a quarter of Syria’s land used to feed livestock. This figure may have increased considerably since then.


Social fabric under stress

Food price hikes and the pressure on cities resulting from an influx of refugees from abroad and rural Syrians leaving their home areas in pursuit of work have contributed to social unrest. “You had a lot of angry, unemployed men helping to trigger a revolution,” says Aaron Wolf, a water management expert at Oregon State University, quoted in The Smithsonian magazine. And according to Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, co-founders of the Center for Climate and Security, a think tank focused on the interactions between climate change and security issues: “The seeds of social unrest ... were right under the surface.”

“The seeds of social unrest ... were right under the surface.” (F. Femia and
C. Werrell)

The central management of the political regime constrained people’s social adaptive capacities and did not have any decentralised people-centred development models in place. That, in turn, limited local people’s innovation and resilience capacities to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Combined with the effects of drought, these factors negatively affected people’s human-environmental security.

Drought and land degradation – triggers, multipliers or drivers of conflict?

Scientists, journalists and policy-makers see or suspect a connection here. Some of them, such as Nafeez Ahmed, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, take the view that the conflict in Syria is “the result of converging climate” among other factors, but others are more cautious and refer merely to stressors or drivers. But William Polk, an American policy advisor with decades of experience, says: “Politically, they [the dust storms] triggered the civil war.”

However, science will have to provide evidence for this link. As Franceso Femia and Caitlin Werrell point out: “The degree to which internal population displacement and rural disaffection are driving unrest has been difficult to study given the continuing instability, but available evidence suggests that the influence of this phenomenon may not be insignificant.” For example, the city of Dara’a, a hotbed of the early protests in 2011, had been severely impacted by five consecutive years of drought and water scarcity.


Peace strategies

While the conflict continues to cause grave concerns about human security in Syria, long-term strategies for sustainable land management are highly unlikely to be a priority. However, as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggests, yields of rainfed crops in Syria may decline by 29-57% from 2010 to 2050 due to climate change. A long-term peace strategy for this country must therefore include political, social, economic AND land management issues. In the world’s drylands, droughts alone can result in human disasters. Action is essential to ensure that they do not become triggers of armed conflict.

A long-term peace strategy for Syria must include land management issues.


Access to land and water – the key to security in drylands

Hartmut Behrend is a climatologist at the German Armed Forces’ Geoinformation Office. He specialises in the impact of environmental degradation on security. From 2010 to 2013, he worked at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), where he advised the newly established Comprehensive Crisis Operations and Management Centre on the security threats caused by environmental degradation. He has been a policy advisor on climate change for most of his professional life, feeding scientific results into the policy-making process. For example, he was involved in formulating the first climate change policies for Germany in 1990 and later developed climate policies for the European Commission.



1. Which security risks are related to land degradation?

From a security perspective, the most important effects of land degradation are declining agricultural productivity and reduced access to water, especially in poor developing countries. I see these risks especially in the arid countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in Southwest and Central Asia.

Ultimately, land degradation leads to less food production. And that means more food insecurity. It also contributes to migration because the number of people who can no longer sustain their livelihoods is increasing. Of course, land degradation is just one of many causes of migration. Other political, economic, social and environmental factors come into play as well.

2. What are the security effects of large-scale migration?

Migration often overexploits the governance capabilities of fragile states, leading to a further deterioration of governance. This is particularly true of the drylands.

Migration also has security implications in that it is often directed towards cities along the coasts, where people mainly settle in floodplain regions, which are at risk from rising sea levels because of climate change. So these megacities face two serious challenges, which also interact.

Currently, the most important migration flow I see is from Bangladesh to India, which is amplified mainly by other effects of climate change rather than by land degradation. A second worrying migration stream, in which land degradation is a major contributory factor, is moving from the Sahel to the African Gold Coast. The United Nations Environment Programme utilised predictions which show that between the Nigerian megacity Lagos and the Ghanaian capital Accra, an urban agglomeration with a population of up to 50 million will spring up in the coming decades.


3. What does the relationship between land degradation and security risks mean for NATO’s general understanding of security?

So far, NATO has mainly focused on the security of neighbouring countries rather than of regions further south, despite operations far away like ISAF in Afghanistan. Today, however, the organisation also addresses issues of instability and fragility in other regions in a comprehensive way. One example is the Sahel, where groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda began to use certain areas as a place to organise themselves.

The war in Mali in 2012-2013 was closely related to this development. In addition, the terrorist attack on a gas plant in Algeria in January 2013 demonstrated how quickly instability can spill over towards NATO’s neighbourhood.

4. How do key security actors such as NATO react to these challenges?

NATO is primarily interested in securing peace, until recently in a rather traditional sense without looking that much into issues associated with human security, which implies a more individual understanding of security including economic, health, environmental and personal security.


However, the civil war in Libya in the wake of the Arab Spring was a rather new situation which took the international community by surprise and led to a new NATO operation. Member countries’ military actors realised that they were not able to forecast or prevent the conflict in Libya. But NATO’s new strategic concept, adopted in Lisbon back in 2010, had already recognised the growing importance of cooperation with civilian actors, which has been speeded up especially after the operation in Libya. Furthermore, budget constraints in most NATO countries – most of which are currently reducing their defence budgets – encourage NATO even more to prevent conflicts instead of being confronted with new operations.

For NATO, the risks can mainly be reduced by cooperating with civilian actors.

The operation in Libya was also one of the driving forces which led to the establishment of the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre (CCOMC) at NATO’s military headquarters. A Crisis Identification Group is currently being set up there. It is tasked with “horizon scanning”, which means predicting potential security threats which might affect NATO. This will then inform the CCOMC framework’s cooperation with civilian partners.


5. How can the risks mentioned above be reduced? Are any suitable conflict mitigation measures available?

From a NATO perspective, these risks can mainly be reduced by cooperating with civilian actors, especially development organisations. This type of cooperation will therefore be high on NATO’s future agenda. It is still in a very early stage, but will develop in the near future.

From a general point of view, the most important prevention measure is to considerably improve land and water management, especially in drylands, for example by restoring soils. That will help to increase agricultural productivity and food security. In addition, people need security in terms of land tenure. They need to know that they will continue to have access to land to grow their food.

6. What about links with climate mitigation and adaptation?

I see climate change mitigation and adaptation as another very important issue, to which a great deal of money is currently being allocated. Large amounts of carbon are stored in the soil. In fact, desertification and soil degradation accounted for around 5% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions during recent decades. The carbon sequestration function of degraded soils is considerably reduced compared with healthy soils.

There are already quite a few examples of the risk-reducing effects of climate change adaptation measures. In Niger, Malawi and Zambia, for example, techniques such as agroforestry are being used more frequently.

Risk-reducing effects of climate change adaptation measures

7. Are there additional entry points for tackling security issues related to environmental degradation?

Initial adaptation projects financed by the United Nations Least Developed Countries Fund have started and are closely linked to sustainable land management. For example, 50% of the related adaptation measures in Mali address soil restoration. These measures also reduce security risks. This is just one starting point. At the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Copenhagen back in 2009, the industrialised countries pledged to provide USD 20-30 billion for climate measures from 2010 - 2012 as a fast-start action and USD 100 billion per year starting in 2020. This offers huge potential which we have to use. And we have to use it now!

However, although the National Adaptation Programmes of Action within the UNFCCC framework contribute to reducing security risks, for example, the climate community is only just beginning to make a conscious link between these actions and security. Just last week, an important step was taken in the right direction: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the second instalment of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which includes one chapter dedicated to security issues.

The climate community is only just beginning to make a conscious link between adaptation actions and security.

8. Do you currently see any imminent land-related security risks?

At present, the entire Sahel belt is threatened by a looming famine. Currently, around 20 million people are food-insecure and this number is dramatically increasing. ECHO and FAO issued warnings back in February about the early start of the lean season.


We also have to keep an eye on land grabbing, which is escalating very quickly. Around 3% of the world’s agricultural land is in foreign hands, either leased or sold. Of this entire area, 10% is already being used by the foreign investors, most of it to grow biofuel feedstocks and to feed richer countries. The alarming fact, however, is that the area which is already in use by foreign investors tripled from June 2013 to January 2014 according to most recent data.

Local communities are left empty-handed. This situation is a perfect breeding ground for conflict and violence. So we urgently need to address this issue.



A contested link: land degradation, climate change and conflict

Is there a link between land degradation and conflict in the world’s drylands? If so, what’s the connection? Researchers have started to take a closer look at this question, also in the broader context of climate change impacts. Based on the findings of their research, scientists draw a broad range of conclusions. For some of them, the correlation is obvious, whereas others are more cautious and refer to environmental stressors, threat multipliers or threat amplifiers impacting armed conflicts.

At present, there is no scientific evidence proving that desertification, climate change and conflict interact. Researchers agree that land and other environmental degradation could be contributory factors to conflict but would never be the sole cause. As with all conflicts, there is always a mixture of causes and drivers such as political repression, economic crises and hostility between social groups. The question is how dominant one factor is in relation to others.

Many scholars therefore see a need for more extensive research. Only then will it be possible to gain a more accurate picture as the basis for sound policy recommendations.

There’s a need for more extensive research.

Here are some recently published scientific views on the topic:

Terra incognita

“Land degradation should perhaps be considered not as a 'threat multiplier' like climate change, but rather as a 'threat amplifier', since it slowly reduces people’s ability to use land for food production and water storage, which in turn increases the degree of insecurity ... The topic to a large extent proved to be a terra incognita ... It is very likely that an indirect relationship between land degradation and conflict exists. This applies in particular to poor countries, where populations are heavily dependent on locally produced food. This local effect appears most relevant for the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as for countries in south-east and central Asia.”

Louise van Schaik and Rosa Dinnissen (2014), Terra Incognita: land degradation as underestimated threat amplifier, Clingendael report for the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). » REPORT

Indirect effects via economic performance and migration

“Results from quantitative large-N studies, however, strongly suggest that we should be careful in drawing general conclusions ... Environmental changes may, under specific circumstances, increase the risk of violent conflict, but not necessarily in a systematic way and unconditionally. One of the key issues is that the effects of environmental changes on violent conflict are likely to be contingent on a set of economic and political conditions that determine adaptation capacity ... The most important indirect effects are likely to lead from environmental changes via economic performance and migration to violent conflict.”

Thomas Bernauer, Tobias Böhmelt and Vally Koubi (2012), Environmental changes and violent conflict, Environmental Research Letters 7:1-8. » ARTICLE

Serious risk of misguided policy

“Countries that are affected by climate-related natural disasters face a lower risk of civil war. One worrying facet of the claims that environmental factors cause conflict is that they may contribute to directing attention away from more important conflict-promoting factors, such as poor governance and poverty. There is a serious risk of misguided policy to prevent civil conflict if the assumption that disasters have a significant effect on war is allowed to overshadow more important causes.”

Rune T Slettebak (2012), Don’t blame the weather! Climate-related natural disasters and civil conflict, Journal of Peace Research 49(1) 163-176. » JOURNAL

Security syndromes of environmental conflicts

“Climate change so far has not directly affected large-scale conflicts such as war and will more likely cause small-scale events of societal instability and low-level conflicts. The latter have tended to increase in recent decades ... A challenge for future research is to expand and combine databases on various environmental conflicts, and socio-economic variable in order to identify security syndromes in regional climate hot spots.”

Jürgen Scheffran, P. Michael Link, Janpeter Schilling (2012), Theories and Models of Climate-Security Interaction: Framework and Application to a Climate Hot Spot in North Africa, in: Jürgen Scheffran, Michael Broszka et al. (ed), Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict, Berlin.

Exposure and vulnerability

“The overall risk of disruption to a society from a climate event is determined by the interplay among several factors: event severity, exposure of people or valued things, and the vulnerability of those people or things, including susceptibility to harm and the effectiveness of coping, response, and recovery. Exposure and vulnerability may pertain to the direct effects of a climate event or to effects mediated by globalized systems that support the well-being of the society. The security risks are unlikely to be anticipated by looking only at climate trends and projections.”

National Research Council (2013), Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. » STUDY

Substantial increase of conflict risks

“Deviations from normal precipitation and mild temperatures systematically increase the risk of conflict, often substantially. This relationship is apparent across spatial scales ranging from a single building to the globe and at temporal scales ranging from an anomalous hour to an anomalous millennium. Each 1-SD change in climate toward warmer temperatures or more extreme rainfall increases the frequency of interpersonal violence by 4% and intergroup conflict by 14% (median estimates)... Amplified rates of human conflict could represent a large and critical social impact of anthropogenic climate change in both low- and high-income countries.”

Solomon M. Hsiang, Marshall Burke and Edward Miguel (2013), Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict, Science Vol. 341 no. 6151. » ABSTRACT

Climate change: a threat multiplier in the Arab world

“In the Arab world, climate change has acted as a threat multiplier, exacerbating environmental, social, economic, and political drivers of unrest, including drought, water scarcity, food security, and migration, and it will likely continue to do so as the countries of the Middle East and North Africa region transition and change. In this context, addressing the effects of climate change in the Arab world will be critical for ensuring the longer-term stability of the region and legitimacy of its respective governments. As Arab publics demand voice and representation, they will also demand that their governments provide them with the resources necessary not just for protection and survival but also for growth and prosperity.”

Caitlin E. Werrell and Francesco Femia (ed.) (2013), The Arab Spring and Climate Change A Climate and Security Correlations Series, Center for American Progress.

New horizons for a new security deal

“Climate change may also hinder the negotiation of future water peace agreements on shared waters. A shrinking quantity of water to allocate between parties (whether as a result of reduced supply or increased demand or climate change) will almost inevitably complicate relations between countries, making it increasingly hard to negotiate new peace agreements.

Integrated water management, eco-regions and regionalism, can offer new horizons for a new “security deal” in an era of climate change and economic and political volatility. Policy makers need to realize that there is a cost for inaction and urgency for collective action to face climate change is a necessary condition for a sustainable human civilization..”

Prof. Odeh Al-Jayyousi (2014), Climate Change and Security in the Middle East: New Discourse for Sustainability » PAPER


Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace in Baringo County, Kenya

The ground is bare of vegetation, with loose sandy loam soil. In the dry season, wells, streams and rivers dry up. But once the rain falls, it comes down in torrents, washing away the fertile topsoil. 90% of the land is not well suited for agriculture, so most people are nomadic pastoralists. Their livelihood security is based around cattle – tough breeds that can survive and thrive in this challenging environment.


Welcome to northern Kenya. Living conditions here are harsh, and competition over fertile grazing lands and water can easily escalate into conflicts. Cattle rustling, for example, has become a serious problem. In November 2012 alone, 40 police officers were shot dead in Turkana County when they were ambushed while tracking armed raiders.

But there is reason for optimism about the potential of sustainable land management in adverse environments and peaceful conflict resolution in tense situations. The optimism stems from recent developments in the county of Baringo.

Rivalry over pasture and water

Sharing land and water, which are common resources, has become a major challenge for the Pokot, Tugen, Ilchamus, Turkana and other communities in Baringo County. These ethnic groups have developed a deep mistrust of one another. Tensions have increased, for example, because Turkana people search for water and pasture in agricultural areas in Laikipia and Pokots raid Turkana villages in a bid to gain control of local resources. More and more often, these animosities have escalated into violence and armed conflict. The fear of cattle rustling haunts the land.

A conflict assessment of northern Kenya by Pragya, an NGO working for the appropriate development of vulnerable communities and sensitive ecosystems, reports clashes occurring between the Tugen and Pokot in May 2012. At least five people died, and violence displaced more than 7,000 people and led to the closure of more than 10 schools.

Tensions about land and water have increased in northern Kenya.

Building peace

Although most people are concerned about this new level of insecurity, finding a way out of the conflict trap is not easy and many attempts at conflict resolution have failed. The armed conflicts have also led to the suspension of many land restoration projects. No peace, no development.

But in 2012, the Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace (ILLP), carried out by Initiatives of Change International, called a meeting of the Pokot, Ilchamus and Tugen community leaders which proved to be a milestone in the constructive management of the conflict. The leaders formed a peace committee and agreed to overcome their interethnic hostility.


A few months later, nine community leaders from Baringo County participated in a training seminar for grassroots practitioners. There, they watched the film An African Answer by Alan Channer. The film depicts an African initiative to foster healing and reconciliation, and in Baringo, it had a powerful impact. By the end of the seminar, the community leaders had developed a shared vision and an action plan to end cattle rustling in their county.

Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace (ILLP): peace-building through
land restoration

ILLP aims to empower local dryland communities to restore peace and dialogue and then work together on creating a virtuous cycle of soil and water conservation. It is carried out by Initiatives of Change International.

The initiative focuses on the links between land degradation and human security. Its work is based on the conviction that the basis for land restoration and the resolution of land-based conflicts is a change in people’s behaviour, attitudes and relationships towards other stakeholders such as neighbouring communities.

Initiatives of Change International had worked on land restoration issues for quite some time when in 2012 and 2013, the UNCCD partnered up with the NGO in order to dedicate the Caux Forum for Human Security to the link between land and conflict. A delegation from Baringo County will participate in the 2014 Caux Forum.

At another workshop on ‘Trust-building for sustainable development’, the film had a similar effect on participating community leaders, women, young people and elders. Initiatives of Change International reported that “genuine apologies for the pain and suffering the communities had inflicted upon one another were made... A Turkana lady was moved to tears when an Ilchamus youth apologised for his role in the raiding of a Turkana settlement.”

Participants learned that there is a long history of conflict over pasture and water in the region. However, in the past, elders from the different ethnic groups had peacefully negotiated access to dry-season grazing. These negotiations ceased when the tribal relationships were politicised, automatic weapons became available, droughts and degradation took their toll and population growth increased pressure on food production.

Sustainable land management: a prerequisite for peace

Usually, attempts to peacefully resolve a conflict, no matter how well-intended, won’t last long unless the root causes of the conflict are addressed. In the case of Baringo, these are (among others) land degradation and the difference between what the land can supply and what people demand from it to secure their livelihoods. If there were plentiful supplies of water, grazing and productive soil in Baringo, it probably wouldn’t occur to anyone to rustle a neighbouring community’s cattle using automatic weapons.

Only when its root causes are addressed, can the conflict be solved.

Much of Baringo County’s dryland is degraded; vegetation cover has become scarce and biodiversity has radically declined in recent years. Far too many trees were felled in the past, leading to serious land erosion.

But even in these harsh conditions, there is potential to boost agricultural yields. For example, farmers are advised to plant inter-crops, such as Irish potatoes, which can grow during the short rainy seasons. In addition, storage silos for harvests have the potential to enhance food security, because farmers would not have to sell their products at low prices as soon as they were harvested, but could store them until the beginning of the new year, according to Kenya News Agency reports from a food security meeting of Baringo’s governor with the national government, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, World Vision, Kenya Red Cross and other non-governmental organisations.


The Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace programme is encouraging attention on sand dams. These are reinforced concrete walls installed in seasonal riverbeds to create higher riverbeds that – like a sponge – store water during the dry season. ILLP linked up the communities in Baringo with Excellent Development, a UK and Kenya-based charity which provides training in the construction of sand dams. “A sand dam can hold between two and 20 million litres of water,” Simon Maddrell, the executive director of Excellent Development, explains. He is convinced that “the answer to restoring lands is the conservation of soil and water”. Water needs to be retained in the soil. Terracing, planting trees to prevent soil erosion and allow the land to absorb water, and building sand dams to retain the water from the rainy season in the land are suitable techniques to successfully restore land.

Exchanging an AK47 for indigenous grass seed

Joseph Kwopin from the Pokot community was once a victim of one of the many cattle raids.
42 of his cows were stolen – despite the AK47 he carried with him on his long journeys to find grazing lands. Finally, as a last resort, he turned his attention to degraded land and sowed indigenous grass seed. Today, the grass fattens livestock on more than 30 acres of pasture. In addition, his business includes a fodder bank and grass seed, which he sells to other farmers. Joseph Kwopin has demonstrated that with the right techniques, it is possible to maintain pastoralism in Baringo. “It is the people factor that is often the most critical for sustainability,” says Elizabeth Meyerhoff Roberts, a co-director of the Rehabilitation of Arid Environments Trust, which works in Baringo County and gained special recognition at the UNCCD Land for Life
Award 2013.

Warrior qualities dismissed

Baringo County’s Deputy Governor, Mathew Tuitoek, makes it clear that “without peace, we cannot have development in this county”. But without productive land, the county has no chance of experiencing peace. The bare ground of Baringo County reveals the close link between conflict resolution and land restoration. Once, the people of Baringo County were respected for their warrior qualities and their ability to defend their scarce resources. Today, they are recognised for something else – their reconciliation and sustainable land management efforts.


An audiovisual approach to peacebuilding

Dr Alan Channer, co-director of FLTfilms, who is deeply involved in the Initiatives for Land, Lives and Peace, takes an audiovisual approach to peacebuilding. He translated his film An African Answer into Swahili and screened it in Kenya. The film depicts peace-building methods led by two faith leaders – Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye from Nigeria.

Alan Channer then filmed the workshop in Baringo County in order to inspire other communities. The film Transforming Land, Transforming Lives in Baringo County, Kenya can be viewed on the UNCCD website.


About the UNCCD

Developed as a result of the Rio Summit, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is a unique instrument that has brought attention to the land degradation affecting some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems in the world. The UNCCD has 195 Parties (194 countries plus the European Union) and is one of the three Rio Conventions, along with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNCCD is increasingly recognised as an instrument that can make an important contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and poverty reduction.

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Photo credits: Contents: IRIN/Anthony Morland, UNCCD, UN Photo/OCHA/David Ohana, IRIN/George Kurian, Alan Channer; Message from the ES: UNCCD, UN Photo/Tobin Jones; In Focus: IRIN/Tanya Bindra, UN Photo/Evan Schneider, IFAD/David Rose, Nonviolence Peaceforce, Julien Harneis/flickr.com; Box ‘Invisible Frontline’: UNCCD, UN Photo/Gill Fickling, IFAD/Susan Beccio; Syria: UN Photo/David Manyua, Svetlana485/dreamstime.com, 2x IFAD/Sarah Morgan, IRIN/Heba Aly; Interview: CCAFS/C. Schubert, UN Photo/Kibae Park, NATO, UN Photo/UNHCR/A. Duclos, Oxfam/Simon Rawles, Center For International Forestry Research/Jeff Walker; Science: IRIN/Brahima Ouedraogo, Photoshare/Raymond Baguma, IRIN/Jodi Hilton; Good Practice: 5x Alan Channer.