A bi-monthly update on the work of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

 

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In this issue

 

Policy

 

Special Report

 

Interview


From the Executive Secretary
“The vision of and road to Rio+20 provides ample scope, time and opportunity to move land degradation into the centre stage of policy.” More…

Browsing
Publications and videos More…


UN General Assembly: “We must build a land degradation neutral world”
On 20 September 2011, the UN General Assembly dedicated a high-level meeting to desertification, land degradation and drought. Delegates affirmed that addressing these issues can be a major driver of sustainable development and poverty eradication. More…


Counting the costs
The Economics of Land Degradation Initiative was launched during a side-event at the UN General Assembly high-level meeting on desertification. It will address the economic costs of land degradation. More…

Practice

India: Prevention pays off
India is a country case study in the recent assessment of the economics of land degradation. The study compares the costs of inaction and action. More…


Assessing the global dimension
There is an urgent need to assess the global impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought, says Prof. Joachim von Braun, Director of the Center for Development Research (ZEF) in Bonn, Germany. This assessment should not only focus on the on-site use of land by individuals but also on the off-site implications of land degradation for societies and economies as a whole. More…

MESSAGE FROM THE EXECUTIVE SECRETARY


Shifting gears: making a land degradation neutral world the environmental legacy of our generation

Anyone who shares the goal of combating desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) will tell you that 20 September 2011 was a historic date. For the first time in two decades, more than 100 heads of state, government and delegations met in New York to discuss the urgent need to strengthen efforts at all levels to combat DLDD.

The last meeting on land degradation to take place at such a high level was the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, where the decision was taken to negotiate a United Nations convention to combat desertification “in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.” As the German State Secretary for Economic Cooperation and Development, Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz, stated in New York, the assumption at the time that land degradation was merely a local problem in some drylands was wrong.

Held on the eve of the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the meeting was a milestone in the international community’s pursuit of sustainable development. It shone a spotlight on the growing threat of land degradation, which is taking place at an unprecedented rate outside the drylands. Today, it directly affects over 1.5 billion people globally, the majority of whom are poor.

The pressure to act is immense, as one after another, heads of state, government or delegation, identified the multiple effects of DLDD in all corners of the world, ranging from food insecurity, conflict and political instability to poverty. Highlighting the famine in the Horn of Africa, a harsh consequence of the failure to act upon forecasts of impending severe drought, delegates stressed that the international community needs to work to further minimise the impacts of such natural disasters. After all, concerted international action can address the root causes of hunger and famine.

The discussion at the high-level meeting was unequivocal that addressing DLDD is a driving force for sustainable development and poverty eradication locally, nationally and globally. Many delegations therefore called for the pursuit of a land degradation neutral world, stating that a sustainable development goal is a large part of the answer. This demonstration of political will is truly inspiring, as it plants the seeds that may yield the paradigm shift needed to usher in an era of sustainable land management.

A few of the inspiring success stories which can already been seen were highlighted by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, at the New York meeting (see report on the high-level meeting). The task now is to agree how to pursue this further and translate ideals into action.

Setting a quantitative target such as the proposed zero-net land degradation is the next step. Translating this ideal into international, regional and national policies and programmes would create the momentum required to turn it into a reality. The UNCCD’s 10-year strategic plan, with its clear, measurable objectives stretching to 2018, provides a solid framework for further action.

Undoubtedly, challenges exist, especially the issue of the science of DLDD. High-quality scientific advice is the basis for sound decision-making, but it is underutilised in matters of land degradation. Not only has the science on land degradation shifted, but the practice has changed, too. Calls to strengthen the UNCCD’s scientific base were therefore abundant.

For far too long, land degradation has remained a blind spot in sustainable development. The vision of and road to Rio+20 provides ample scope, time and opportunity to move the issue into the centre stage of policy. The time is ripe to commit to building a land degradation neutral world and to set measurable sustainable development targets aiming for zero-net land degradation. Let us therefore put the political momentum created by our leaders in New York on 20 September to good effect and reach great heights in Rio.

The message from the recently concluded tenth session of the UNCCD Conference of the Parties in Changwon, Republic of Korea, has strengthened this resolve. A land degradation neutral world is possible. Let us make it the environmental legacy of the first half of the twenty-first century.


Luc Gnacadja
Executive Secretary


POLICY

UN General Assembly: “We must build a land degradation neutral world”

 
For the first time since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the United Nations General Assembly dedicated a high-level meeting to desertification, land degradation and drought. This meeting, held during the General Assembly’s 66th session, was one of the rare moments when global concerns about the critical state of the Earth’s soils and the commitment to prevention were the focus of this highest international body’s attention. 


In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 65/160 calling for a high-level meeting to raise awareness of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD). The resolution demanded this meeting to ensure that DLDD is given higher priority on the international agenda and to contribute to the preparation of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (Rio+20).

As a follow-up to this resolution, the General Assembly met for the high-level meeting on 20 September 2011, which is a milestone in the UNCCD’s history: The delegates emphasised the importance of reversing, preventing and mitigating land degradation for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and beyond.

The message sent out to the world was clear: addressing DLDD can be a major driver of sustainable development and poverty eradication locally, nationally and globally. Many speakers called for a stronger political commitment to build a land degradation neutral world.

UNCCD News summarises some of the statements made by heads of state and government as well as leaders of international organisations – putting the diversity of views, challenges and policy approaches into the spotlight. All statements can be viewed on the UN video on-demand webcast, written statements are available from the UNCCD special high-level meeting website.
 

Addressing DLDD can
be a major driver of sustainable development and poverty eradication.


Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General:

“Let me be frank. Drought does not have to become famine. Too often the international community reacts too late. Too often decisions are taken based on false economies. In the end we count the cost not just in human lives but in the extra expense of responding to crises that could have been averted for a fraction of the price. The world’s drylands are too often an investment desert, seen by governments and the international community as a lost cause. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Contrary to common perception, not all drylands are barren or unproductive. Some of the world’s primary cereal-producing regions are in semi-arid areas. Communities and businesses everywhere are discovering the potential of drylands. In other areas biofuels grow where little else can. The potential of dryland solar and wind resources has barely been tapped.

Success stories can point the way, and success stories abound. From restoring ancient terraces in the Peruvian Andes, to planting trees to hold back the encroaching Saharan sands, from rehabilitating watersheds in India to using summer floods to reduce salinity in China, there are examples from all continents of governments and communities reversing desertification and improving the productivity of the land. But we must also acknowledge that land degradation is not just a dryland issue. Studies show that land degradation is occurring in humid, tropical areas at a faster rate than ever before.”

“The world’s drylands are too often an investment desert.” (Ban Ki-Moon)


Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD Executive Secretary:

“In the last two decades, significant land recovery and improvement have occurred in the drylands. In many cases, drylands populations have been leading these innovations and progresses ... The threats and far-reaching impacts of land degradation are ignored largely because the issue is still a blind spot for the international community, despite the search for sustainability. ...

My main message is that to sustain life on Earth we must build a land degradation neutral world. This will involve a global commitment leading to effective action at all levels. Therefore I call for action. I urge you as the leaders of our planet to take policy measures, which will lead to a paradigm shift in the way we manage our land resource.

Through bold political decisions and with the knowledge now available we do have the means to successfully address desertification, land degradation and drought. This is the very raison d’être of the UNCCD. Through this process, hunger, poverty and famine can become history. We can do this and we must.” 

“We must build a land degradation neutral world.” (Luc Gnacadja)


Hifikepunye Pohamba, Namibia:

“Desertification and land degradation cost Namibia about 60 million US dollars in loss of agricultural outputs per year... We have taken a deliberate decision to work with both communal and commercial farmers to fight land degradation. ... Land degradation requires collective action and multi-dimensional approaches, involving both governments and the private sector.”  

Zacarias Albano da Costa, Timor-Leste:

“Land degradation on an island where less than 19 per cent of the land is arable presents a serious threat to the food supply and the ability of the people to provide for themselves.”
 

Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz, Germany:

“At the 1992 sustainability summit in Rio, the international community assumed that land degradation and drought were not global problems but only affected individual countries, especially in Africa’s arid regions. However, recent studies show that land and soil degradation are occurring in all continents and increasing worldwide.”  


Rajiv Shah, United States:

“[The global challenges of drought, desertification and land degradation] severely limit our collective goals of promoting sustainable development, eradicating poverty and strengthening food security around the world. They also threaten our national security. ... By fighting drought and famine in the Horn of Africa today, we fight the despair that can lead people toward violence and terrorism. When we help a nation feed itself through good times and bad, we break the cycle of food riots, famine and food aid that creates instability throughout regions.”


Dilip Sinha, India:

“Land degradation is both a cause and consequence of poverty. To fight both the problems synergistically, the policies of Government of India aim at a convergence between sustainable land management and poverty alleviation programmes. These innovative approaches are aimed to restore ecological balance by harnessing, conserving and developing degraded natural resources such as soil, vegetative cover and water while providing sustainable livelihoods.”


Mazhit Turmagambetov, Kazakhstan:

“In Kazakhstan, the area of desertified and degraded land accounts for about 70 per cent of the country’s territory. ... Collaborating together with the World Bank, Kazakhstan has achieved progress in reviving the country’s part of the Aral Sea by reconstructing the so-called Small Aral. This is a demonstration of how humankind can counteract even the worst environmental catastrophes.”


Juan Pablo de Laiglesia, Spain:

“The past 20 years have helped us understand that desertification, drought, climate change and biodiversity loss are aspects of the same reality.” 


Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly:

“I urge Member States to ensure a forward-looking outcome at Rio+20 that reaffirms the balance between the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development... Land is life and our life depends on land. We must stop the deadly process of desertification. ... This is your responsibility. This is our responsibility.”

“Land is life and our life depends on land.” (Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser)


Jato Sillah, Gambia:

“African countries remain committed to fulfilling their obligations under all multilateral agreements. However, resources often achieved have been limited because of the challenges caused by a number of global crises which have negatively impacted on the development and environmental efforts on the continent. In addition to this, the continent is still grappling with obstacles posed by the basic need for technology transfer and the inability to fulfil its needs of building and developing its institutional capacities and enhancing its human resources endowment which among other things has suffered repeated incidences of forced displacement and induced migration of highly qualified people to other countries.” 


Marcus Stephen, Nauru:

“Nauru is heavily reliant on imported food and is therefore highly vulnerable to shocks in grain prices. ... Nauru has a strong interest in protecting productive agricultural land around the world to maintain grain prices stability and availability.”
 


Oscar Rivas, Paraguay:

“It is very important to alert about the finite nature of productive soils. ... They guarantee life, our lives! Let us guarantee theirs.” 



Don Koo Lee, Republic of Korea:

“We have witnessed devastating trans-boundary impacts of DLDD... hence it is increasingly recognized as an impending global concern. ... The Changwon Initiative will be a new partnership to support science, civil society in addressing DLDD.”

Salah Youssef, Egypt:

“We cannot adapt to climate change or mitigate its effects without resorting to sustainable land management.”  


Andris Piebalgs, European Union Commissioner for Development:

“These problems are not restricted to the developing countries however and have reached a global dimension. Within the EU itself, 12 Member States have declared themselves affected countries with substantial areas already subject to land degradation... Rio+20 offers a unique opportunity to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development. As part of this, investing in sustainable land management is an integral part of achieving a shift to a green economy... Sustainable land management has become vitally important, representing the 'missing link' to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity. ... COP10 is an opportunity for us to establish a new, concerted approach to be able to effectively meet the challenges of desertification and land degradation that the world faces today.”
 

“Investing in sustainable land management is an integral part of achieving a shift to a green economy.” (Andris Piebalgs)

SPECIAL REPORT

Desertification and prevention: counting the costs

The economics of land degradation – a topic that has increasingly attracted global attention – now rests on a solid political foundation. On 20 September 2011, the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative was launched during a side-event at the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on desertification.
 

UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja joined forces with the European Union’s Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, and German State Secretary for Economic Cooperation and Development, Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz, for the launch. They expressed their confidence that representatives from over 60 countries and numerous international organisations will join it soon.

The economic dimension of land degradation plays a vital role in assessing the impacts of biological, social and political processes, in determining the effects of human activities and behaviour on the Earth’s soil, and in identifying suitable measures for the prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation of desertification.

“I hope the [initiative] will find a broad coalition of partners to give it the further impetus it requires and the impact that the issues deserve,” Piebalgs said. The initiative will address the economic costs of land degradation. For example, it will compare the costs of inaction with those of action, defined as prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation measures. Institutional and political arrangements must be considered too, because “they represent the formal and informal rules governing the economic production and thus influence land use decisions,” according to The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation, and Drought
 

The EDL initiative will compare the costs of inaction with those of action.


 

As Beerfeltz said at the launch: “Global environmental problems such as climate change and the loss of biodiversity cannot be successfully addressed without sustainable forms of land use and efforts to combat desertification.”  

The economics of climate change and loss of biodiversity have already been assessed at a larger scale. Now, the third of the three Rio conventions follows their lead and takes a similar approach as the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), by putting a figure on the social and economic costs facing countries as a result of desertification, land degradation and drought. The scientific approach of measuring the value of land ultimately pursues a political goal as well. The economics of land degradation must become an integral part of policy-making – locally, nationally and internationally. A transparent overview of the costs of action and inaction is likely to be a wake-up call for politicians and the business community, making them realise that human society will be much better off in the long term if they invest in healthy soils.
 

“Governments need to raise this as a priority national policy issue. Just six to ten inches of topsoil stand between us and extinction. Productive land is a finite resource like our oceans and forests,” Luc Gnacadja said.

The ELD partners, including the conveners of the New York event as well as new partner organisations, met him at UNCCD’s COP10 in Changwon and signed a Memorandum of Understanding during the high-level segment, underlining their resolution to support the new initiative. A number of countries and international organisations have expressed their interest in collaborating on raising awareness of the issue of land degradation through a process of economic discourse and analysis. As a next step in the follow-up to Changwon, the ELD secretariat will organise an open scientific debate to establish a baseline for the forthcoming scientific studies.

"Just six to ten
inches of topsoil
stand between us
and extinction."
(Luc Gnacadja)


¹ This policy paper was published in the lead-up to the global initiative and was presented by the international team of authors from the Center for Development Research (ZEF, Bonn) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, Washington) at the side-event in New York.


PRACTICE


India: Prevention pays off

India is a country case study in the recent assessment of the economics of land degradation by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Center for Development Research (ZEF) (see policy section and the interview with Professor von Braun). In the context of the value of ecosystem services in India, Ephraim Nkonya (IFPRI) and his team addressed, for instance, the off-farm costs of soil erosion – an aspect which economists usually ignore when computing agriculture’s contribution to a country’s gross domestic product.

Land degradation poses a serious threat to the food security of India’s population of 1.2 billion. Although agricultural productivity has steadily increased during recent decades, around 48 per cent of Indian children still suffer from malnutrition, stunting their growth and development. India’s land area, which accounts for 2.4 per cent of the world’s total land area, has to support around 17 per cent of the world’s population and 18 per cent of its livestock. The country therefore cannot afford to fail in its efforts to halt the further degradation of agricultural land.

Satellite-based desertification and land degradation status mapping in 2009 revealed that water and wind erosion, degradation of vegetation, and frost shattering are the major causes of desertification in India. The multi-temporal satellite data showed that desertification affects around 25 per cent of the country’s land. The mapping project, being part of India’s activities within Asia’s regional UNCCD Thematic Programme Network 1 (TPN-1) on ‘Desertification Monitoring and Assessment’, provided the first desertification status map on a regional and national scale based on a systematic spatial inventory.


 

India cannot afford to fail in its efforts to halt the further degradation of agricultural land.

The study on the economics of desertification identified the overexploitation of groundwater as one of India’s major environmental challenges. More than 60 per cent of India’s land under cereal production is irrigated, and 45 per cent of irrigation uses groundwater. As the study reveals: “About 2 per cent of crop area in India is affected by salinity. Salinity reduces crop rice yields by as much as 22 per cent.”

Government action

In view of these consequences of inaction, what is being done to address the problem? India is taking major steps to prevent further land degradation and restore degraded land, based on its National Action Plan to Combat Desertification, adopted in 2001. At the high-level meeting on desertification at the United Nations General Assembly on 20 September 2011, Mr Dilip Sinha, Additional Secretary at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, explained one aspect of the government’s strategy: “India’s Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment programme, which is perhaps the world’s largest cash-for-work programme, addresses the twin objectives of poverty reduction and ecosystem restoration. This scheme fosters conditions for inclusive growth including basic wage security, strengthening rural economy, capacity building of stakeholders, sustainable development of agro and natural resource based rural economy and poverty eradication.”

In addition, integrated watershed management programmes and agroforestry practices, as well as renewable energy programmes, are addressing land degradation.

Action cuts costs

In order to compare the costs of inaction and action in India, the ZEF and IFPRI scientists have used crop simulation models to look at the effects of salinity, for example. They conclude that the cost of desalinisation mechanisms such as staggered leaching (using more water to avoid excess salt build-up) would amount to just 60 per cent of the costs of inaction. “This suggests that profit incentive is not the reason for inaction,” according to the IFPRI Issue Brief Economics of Land Degradation.

However, costs of action and inaction differ widely across countries, so it is vital to analyse each case individually. In Peru, for instance, the costs related to salinity amount to less than 20 per cent of the costs of inaction. The need to reduce the soil’s salinity here is much more urgent than in India.

Research results of this kind can serve as a sound basis for policy advice. For example, they can help to identify prevention methods with a very good cost-benefit ratio. However, this type of research can only fulfil its potential if policy-makers use it to formulate appropriate prevention and mitigation policies. Change is needed and is already taking place, but is only possible if the associated benefits are genuinely felt by land users themselves.
 


Profit incentive is not the reason for inaction.

INTERVIEW

The economics of land degradation

Joachim von Braun is a Director of the Center for Development Research (ZEF) and Professor of Economic and Technological Change at the University of Bonn, Germany. From 2002 to 2009, he was Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) based in Washington DC. His research focuses on trade and aid, famine, health and nutrition and on a wide range of agricultural economics issues.

In cooperation with the UNCCD, von Braun has played a leading role in putting the economics of land degradation on the scientific and political agenda. Together with Ephraim Nkonya, Nicolas Gerber, Alex De Pinto and others, he recently published the pioneering study The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation, and Drought. Toward an Integrated Global Assessment.


Assessing the global dimension

Land users around the world are increasingly facing the same scenario: land degradation is increasing globally – as a consequence of unsustainable land management practices or changing climate conditions. It is obvious that this development creates costs. There are the on-site costs, such as a decrease in agricultural productivity, reduced acreage or pastureland, and off-site costs, such as environmental and social vulnerability. The overall costs – including off-site costs – are much more far-reaching than is generally assumed.

Despite their growing significance, the costs of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) have not yet been measured on a global scale or examined in relation to the costs of taking action against DLDD. As a consequence, we do not have a realistic picture of the actual cost dimension of these problems, and thus lack the basic facts which are urgently needed to design appropriate policy actions.

Sustainable land management is vital for effective prevention of land degradation. It brings significant added value, which also needs to be assessed in order for us to weigh the costs and benefits of action against the costs of inaction.
 

“Sustainable land management is vital for effective prevention of land degradation.“

The mapping undertaken in The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation, and Drought. Toward an Integrated Global Assessment shows that land degradation does not just affect marginal locations. Land degradation has become a global issue. We need to change the way we assess land degradation and stop focusing primarily on local biophysical impacts. There is an urgent need to adopt a method which considers the global impacts of DLDD. The method should not only address the on-site use of land by individuals but also off-site implications of land degradation for societies and economies as a whole.

Although DLDD is the subject of a substantial research effort, we still know very little about its underlying causes. As a start, we therefore selected three of the many factors leading to DLDD (poverty, population density and governance) for our research project and examined their relationship to land degradation. Some of the outcomes were foreseen – such as the positive correlation between poverty and land degradation. However, we were surprised by other results – such as the negative correlation between population density and land degradation globally and in particular, in East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. This could imply that degradation can be reduced while population density increases.

In short, our research has revealed that the costs of land degradation are high and impair economic growth and development. Land degradation accelerates poverty and undermines food security. These facts are alarming, especially in light of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.


Partnering up in a global initiative

Assessing the costs of DLDD and the benefits of sustainable land management is an interdisciplinary and highly complex task that must involve experts in various fields, including biophysics and economics, as well as stakeholders at all levels, from farmers to global forums. However, for the people on the ground, the implementation of this study’s results will be crucial. They will only benefit from this study if the outcomes translate into policies – at the local, national and global scales.

So I am calling for a science-based global initiative that combines country-led programmes and international partnerships. I think that the most suitable set-up for this global initiative would be a framework comprising a political and a scientific body. The scientific body’s role would be to identify the science-based priorities, while the political body would make decisions on strategy and investment. It is important that both bodies connect to the grassroots in order to safeguard relevance and address constraints.
 

“I am calling for a science-based global initiative.”

As a precondition for the initiative’s credibility and for successfully translating the academic findings into policy action, the scientific body should be composed of experts in a wide range of fields who are clearly independent of the political body. Its scientific work must be undertaken jointly by academics and research organisations from developed and less developed countries.  

This is a truly global undertaking. Therefore in my view, the United Nations – via the UNCCD, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and others – is ideally placed to take on a lead role in initiating policy change.

However, we should not overlook civil society and the private sector. They are important partners for this global initiative. Much of the investment to promote sustainable land use must come from the private sector, which includes farmers as the key land users. We will have to consider the new drive towards domestic and international investments in large-scale land use in an appropriate manner to facilitate sustainable investment and avoid negative effects.  

Building on lessons learned

As the question of the costs of environmental change is not new, the global assessment of the economics of land degradation can learn from earlier studies. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) (2008) are particularly relevant to the DLDD framework.

The Stern Review evaluated the impacts of climate change and its economic costs by employing a number of different techniques to assess costs and risks. The Review concludes that investing now in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions makes more economic sense than facing the future costs of failing to do so. Similarly, TEEB was concerned with a valuation framework for ecosystems and biodiversity, and proposed economic tools to address the true economic value of ecosystem services.


The time is ripe

Currently, I see strong support for a structured and coordinated international approach to assess the economics of land degradation, for various reasons. Degradation is an issue that relates to development and food security. Declining food security is a serious concern. Land values have increased substantially and the markets are now recognising that the costs of land degradation are higher than before. There are also growing concerns that environmental degradation is affecting the green economy, for instance, crop and biomass values. As a result, people are becoming more aware of the threats posed by land degradation.

I firmly believe that Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, will be an opportunity to move the issue up the global agenda. I hope that it will foster the development of sound policy advice which focuses on combating DLDD and promoting investment in sustainable land management.

The appetite for action is strong, not only politically, but also scientifically. As the first step in a long process, we should embark on an investment-oriented global assessment of the economics of DLDD. This would include research on one of the key questions that ecologists, soil scientists and economists need to address jointly: the long-run effects of unsustainable land use and soil management practices. Overall, the research agenda will need to be large and complex, if we want to set sound policy priorities.
 

“The appetite for action is strong, not only politically, but also scientifically.”

Prevention is the only way forward

Millions of hectares of fertile land have become degraded in recent decades and much effort is needed for its rehabilitation. We have to do everything possible to avoid future land loss, and that means investing in prevention.

Land users need to be persuaded to adopt measures that allow the land to maintain or regain its balance and fertility. It is vital that farmers benefit directly from preventing or mitigating land degradation; in other words, their direct investments must pay off. Our case studies have revealed that prevention is a realistic option as long as the benefits of prevention outweigh those of continuing the agricultural practices that cause land degradation. Prevention builds on location-specific sustainable land use practices with obvious benefits for the land user. But the same principle applies to prevention as to costs: off-site effects need to be considered too.

We have prepared several country case studies in which we compare the costs of sustainable land management as a prevention measure with the costs of land degradation. A number of cases such as India, Kenya, Niger and Peru demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of investing in prevention. If we are aware of the costs of action and inaction, it is obvious that an approach based on prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation is the only way forward.
 

“Our case studies have revealed that prevention is a realistic option.”

BROWSING

On the economics of land degradation

The economics of desertification, land degradation, and drought. Toward an integrated global assessment
By Ephraim Nkonya, Nicolas Gerber, Philipp Baumgartner, Joachim von Braun, Alex De Pinto, Valerie Graw, Edward Kato, Julia Kloos, Teresa Walter. ZEF-Discussion Papers on Development Policy No. 150, Bonn, May 2011.
Download discussion paper in PDF

Measuring the value of land. The economics of desertification, land degradation and drought. A global initiative for sustainable land management on the rise
Published by the UNCCD and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, Bonn, February 2011.
Download document in PDF

Economics of land degradation. The costs of action versus inaction
By Ephraim Nkonya, Nicolas Gerber, Joachim von Braun, and Alex De Pinto. IFPRI Issue Brief 68, Washington DC, September 2011.
Download issue brief in PDF

The Economics of Land Degradation: Toward an Integrated Global Assessment
By Ephraim Nkonya, Nicolas Gerber, Philipp Baumgartner, Joachim von Braun, Alex De Pinto, Valerie Graw, Edward Kato, Julia Kloos, and Teresa Walter. Peter Lang Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, Frankfurt/Main 2011.
More information about the book

Video

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Desertification

The short film "Desertification" by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, cinematographer and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme, was screened at the UN high-level meeting on desertification.
Watch the video on www.unccd.int 

Miscellaneous

UNCCD special website for the UN General Assembly high-level meeting

This website contains a broad range of background information on desertification, land degradation and drought: interviews, videos, human interest stories, an experts’ opinion section and the latest tweets.
UNCCD special website for the high-level meeting

OECD: Development Co-operation Report 2011

This key annual reference document for statistics and analysis on trends in international aid was published on 4 October. The special edition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and features contributions from noted development actors who have helped in their various capacities to shape thinking on the important issues that face us today.
Development Co-operation Report Website

Towards a global soil partnership for food security and climate change mitigation and adaptation

A ‘Global Soil Partnership’ to improve the management and protection of soil was launched in September 2011 to help tackle food shortages and the effects of climate change. A UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) initiative, its aim will be to promote awareness among governments and stakeholders about the “key role of soil resources for sustainable land management and sustainable development”
Download background paper in PDF

 

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 194 Parties (193 countries plus the European Union) and is one of the three so-called “Rio Conventions”, along with the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention of 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.

For more information: Awareness Raising, Communication and Education Unit, UNCCD
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Photo credits: Contents: UN/Lou Rouse; UN/Even Schneider; Edwardje/Dreamstime.com, 2006 Arsiema Berhane, Courtesy of Photoshare; Message ES: UN/Lou Rouse; Policy: UN/Evan Schneider; UN/Mark Garten; UN/Lou Rouse; 2x UN/Evan Schneider; Chung Jin Mac/Dreamstime.com, 4x UN/Lou Rouse; Gunold Brunbauer/Dreamstime.com; Special Report: GIZ; Edwardje/Dreamstime.com; Practice: Avijit Bhakta; Samrat35/Dreamstime.com; International Rice Research Institute; R.J.Oosterbaan/Wikimedia Commons; Interview: ZEF; Songsak Paname/Dreamstime.com; Zoran Simin/Dreamstime.com; Scaramax/Dreamstime.com; Isselee/Dreamstime.com; Edwardje/Dreamstime.com; Browsing: Michael Smith/Dreamstime.com.