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


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In this issue




Special focus


From the Executive Secretary
Our commitment to combating desertification, land degradation and drought is coming of age. In June, world leaders reunited in Rio de Janeiro and committed to a new paradigm: land-degradation neutrality. More…

Publications, websites etc. More…

A new dawn for sustainable land management
A new concept calling for a paradigm shift to build a land-degradation neutral world was born at Rio +20. The UNCCD welcomes the Rio+20 commitment to zero net land degradation. More…

Land for Life Award

And the winner is ...
the Earth’s soil.

The UNCCD’s Land for Life Award puts the spotlight on three initiatives that embody excellence and innovation in sustainable land management. UNCCD News showcases the winning organisations with a closer look at their activities and an interview. More…

1st Prize: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), Haiti. More…

2nd Prize: Conservation Efforts for Community Development (CECOD), Uganda. More…

2nd Prize: Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA), Turkey. More…


A new global paradigm – local reality

Our commitment to combating desertification, land degradation and drought is coming of age. Twenty years ago at the Rio Summit in 1992, the world pledged to take action on land degradation and the decision to have a legally binding agreement to combat desertification, land degradation and drought was taken. Recently, world leaders met again in Rio de Janeiro and agreed to strive for a new paradigm: land-degradation neutrality.

This was a vital step, as global demand for food is likely to increase by 50% by 2030, with a similar rise in demand for energy and water. Each of these demands will claim more land and cause the loss of millions of hectares of forests unless we make serious efforts to restore degraded land.

So what action is needed to make the new paradigm a reality? For the UNCCD, it means fostering partnerships among all stakeholders to facilitate global monitoring of land degradation and restoration of degraded land, especially in the drylands. It also means building capacities through knowledge management and knowledge sharing.

Yet this knowledge has not spread far enough. Often, people associate soil with dirt, don’t value it and take its services for granted. But soil is the essence of life; we can’t value it highly enough. Once degraded, it takes centuries for soil to recover its fertility and ecosystem functions.

Many local initiatives around the world have already made enormous efforts to protect the soils that their communities depend on. They take this task extremely seriously. They know that maintaining healthy soils is a matter of survival.

Three of these initiatives – the winners of the UNCCD’s first Land for Life Award – are featured in this issue of UNCCD News. We are very proud to showcase their success. They have taken charge of their own destiny. Instead of waiting for others to initiate change, they are taking action themselves and are making a major difference to their environment and their communities, often with very meagre financial resources. Each of the three stories from Haiti, Turkey and Uganda is truly impressive. Each one is different, but they are all about breaking the vicious cycle of land degradation and poverty and shifting the paradigm towards a virtuous cycle of healthy soils and better conditions of life.

I am delighted to congratulate SOIL (Haiti), CECOD (Uganda) and TEMA (Turkey) on winning the first Land for Life Award. Choosing three winners was not an easy task for the jury, for all 110 projects are truly inspiring. Every one of them has a vital part to play in a growing and increasingly dynamic global movement for a land-degradation neutral world.

Luc Gnacadja
Executive Secretary


A new dawn for sustainable land management

On 22 June 2012, the international community finally set out its vision for the future. Governments, international and non-governmental organisations fiercely negotiated “The Future We Want”, as the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro is called. The world leaders agreed on a common vision, renewed their political commitment, embarked on advocating a green economy and set the cornerstones for the implementation of sustainable development. For the UNCCD, the agreements “heralded a new dawn” in the way land is managed.

The UNCCD had clear goals for Rio+20, above all to reach an agreement on the target of zero net land degradation. Around 100 heads of state and government who attended the Conference agreed to strive for this goal. They also agreed to take coordinated action nationally, regionally and internationally, to monitor land degradation globally and restore degraded lands in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. In addition, they underlined the global dimension of land degradation – thus recognising it for the first time ever at the international policy level.

“From Rio 1992 to Rio 2012 we have learned that desertification, land degradation and drought are drying up The Future We Want. So I am pleased to acknowledge that in the context of sustainable development, a new concept calling for a paradigm shift to build a land-degradation neutral world was born at Rio +20,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja said.

As the overarching theme of Rio+20 was a green economy, the economic and social benefits of sustainable management were put under the spotlight. It became very clear that future demands for food, energy and water cannot be met if land degradation continues at its current pace. The annual loss of 12 million hectares of land and of 75 billion tons of fertile soil is unsustainable. Only healthy soils will secure livelihoods, especially for people living in rural regions.

The UNCCD welcomed the Rio+20 commitment to further develop and implement scientifically based, sound and socially inclusive methods and indicators to monitor and assess the extent of desertification, land degradation and drought. How the scientific advice to the UNCCD will be set up will be determined in the near future. The Future We Want is in our hands now – we must act rightly, promptly and boldly.

Land degradation is drying up The Future We Want.

During the Rio Summit, the UNCCD joined forces with its sister Rio Conventions, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Together, they hosted the Rio Conventions Pavilion where they highlighted cross-cutting issues relevant to the three Rio Conventions and presented synergies and co-benefits for the implementation of each Convention.

Rio Conventions: synergies and co-benefits

“The need for synergies cannot be over-emphasised,” Gnacadja said. “Efforts to combat desertification by fostering sustainable land management practices have potential co-benefits for climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use through protecting and restoring the productive potential in drylands.”

Land for Life Award 2012

And the winner is... the Earth’s soil

Countless individuals and initiatives around the world are committed to combating desertification and land degradation. They develop and implement innovative solutions for more sustainable land use and are tireless in their efforts to educate and engage in advocacy. However, their voices are often not heard across borders between countries, disciplines and political spheres, leaving their efforts under-appreciated and under-utilised elsewhere. This is why the inaugural Land for Life Award puts the spotlight on three outstanding initiatives that embody excellence and innovation in sustainable land management. It was launched last year at the 10th UNCCD Conference of the Parties in Changwon, Republic of Korea, as part of the Changwon Initiative.

The three winners, selected from 110 applications, were presented during the global celebrations of World Day to Combat Desertification in Rio de Janeiro on 17 June 2012. Miss Universe 2011 and Drylands Ambassador Leila Lopes opened the sealed envelope and announced these winners of the Land for Life Award:

  • 1st prize:
    Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), Haiti – USD 40,000
  • 2nd prize:
    Conservation Efforts for Community Development (CECOD), Uganda – USD 30,000
  • 2nd prize:
    Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA), Turkey – USD 30,000

The Wand Foundation from the Philippines and DeCo! Ghana received a special mention.

The jury was made up of renowned experts in development, sustainable land management and soil science, including Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International, Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, and Dennis Garrity, UNCCD Drylands Ambassador and former Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre. They selected the three winners based on the innovation, inspiration, impact and replicability of their projects and approaches. This proved to be a quite difficult task, since so many of the 110 applications deserved recognition for their outstanding contributions to sustainable land management.

Selection criteria: innovation, inspiration, impact and replicability

“We are so pleased to see that applications have come in from all corners of the world”, says Yukie Hori, Coordinator for Awareness-Raising, Communication and Education at the UNCCD secretariat. “We are also very excited about the range of efforts to fight land degradation that were submitted – from community farmers to school children, to innovative scientific research and governments implementing new policies.” Applications ranged from scientific research to technical innovations in soil enhancement, community mobilisation to restore degraded land, and advocacy for laws to protect soils.

In December 2012, an awards ceremony will take place in Doha, Qatar, where the winners will be congratulated in person. Nominations for the Land for Life Award 2013 will open in October 2012 and can be submitted via the UNCCD website.

In this issue of UNCCD News, we showcase the winning organisations with an interview and a closer look at their activities.

Applications overview

  • • 110 applications (29 from Asia, 28 from Latin America and the Caribbean and 20 from sub-Saharan Africa, 11 from the Middle East and North Africa, 12 from Europe and 2 from North America).
  • • 54 per cent of the applications were from non-governmental organisations, 20 per cent from individuals and scientists, 10 per cent from governments and 8 per cent from businesses and research institutions respectively.

First prize: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), Haiti

Ecological sanitation for healthy soils

When confronted with two or more related challenges – let’s say from the fields of biodiversity and desertification – the ability to multi-task is often essential. But it’s difficult to imagine how sustainable land management and sanitation can be combined to create a win-win situation. The non-governmental organisation SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) has managed this balancing act in Haiti, using compost gained through ecological sanitation to regenerate the country’s soils.

Meeting people’s daily food needs is one of the greatest and longstanding challenges for Haiti. Declining soil fertility and extensive soil erosion are resulting in low agricultural productivity and widespread poverty. When a massive earthquake hit the island in January 2010, the situation worsened dramatically. The country’s recovery is painfully slow. In order to meet the dietary needs of the rural population, in particular, over the long term, soil fertility urgently needs to be improved.

But it’s not just food insecurity that is putting people’s health at risk. Haiti also faces a sanitation crisis. The ocean, rivers, ravines, plastic bags, or abandoned houses are often the only way of disposing human waste. This was one of the main reasons for the cholera outbreak in late 2010, which quickly turned into an epidemic and claimed almost 7,000 lives.

Haiti faces a food and sanitation crisis

Since 2006, SOIL has been addressing these issues, relying on an integrated approach to ecological sanitation (EcoSan). With specially designed toilet facilities, human waste is turned into safe, nutrient-rich compost that is well suited to regenerate depleted soils and improve agricultural production. This technology is not only environmentally sustainable; it is also affordable – a great asset in a country like Haiti.

More than 20,000 people in Haiti already use SOIL EcoSan toilets and many other similar sanitation facilities set up by other organisations with SOIL’s expertise. Waste treatment centres then collect all the waste products and process them into compost. It is crucial that the waste treatment facilities operate in accordance with the highest public health standards, according to Sasha Kramer, Executive Director of SOIL. The end product meets the users’ needs, with many farms, nurseries and gardens witnessing the positive effects on soil quality and yields. In its experimental gardens, SOIL is able to prove the quality of the compost, but it also tests and demonstrates other sustainable land management practices and cultivates seedlings for reforestation.

However, compost sales alone will not provide the financial security that the project needs because the current prices for compost do not cover the costs. But ”if compost sales are complemented by other potential revenue streams, such as private toilet collection and treatment fees, the full costs of providing ecological sanitation services are quickly covered,“ according to SOIL’s market analysis conducted in 2011.

Reaching out to the rural people and informing them about the EcoSan win-win approach is key for SOIL’s success. It has not only published the ”SOIL Guide to EcoSan“, but gives seminars and offers toilet tours for organisations, community groups and individuals. SOIL was a lead organiser in Haiti’s first Sustainable Sanitation Conference held in June 2012, another major milestone.

Facts and figures

  • • In the past decade, per capita food production in Haiti has dropped 20 per cent, forcing the country to import 54 per cent of its food supply.
  • • Topsoil erosion was estimated to be 36.6 million metric tons annually in 1990, compared to 2.2 million metric tons in the United Kingdom.
  • • Less than 4 percent of Haiti's original forests remain.
  • • Only 12 per cent of the rural population and less than 25 per cent of city dwellers have access to sanitation.

Satellite image showing deforestation in Haiti. This image depicts the border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right).

What the jury says

“The project puts existing innovation to a wider use and connects it with research and policy formulation for soil regeneration.”

What others say

“SOIL is a particularly outstanding example of an organisation that has succeeded in conducting critical scientific research into soil regeneration while simultaneously engaging local communities and businesses in their innovative program designs. SOIL has achieved some incredible feats in Haiti.” Susan Poulton, Vice President, Digital Media, National Geographic Society, USA

Interview: Sasha Kramer, Executive Director, SOIL

EcoSan is not a particularly common method of sustainable land management. How did you get the idea for the SOIL project? Was the approach EcoSan or soil-driven?

In nature, soil transforms organic matter, sustaining ecosystems by converting one organism’s wastes into another’s resources. It is from the soil that our organisation has borrowed both its name and its philosophy. In this sense, I would say that the ecological sanitation work that we do is driven by our desire to rebuild rich fertile soil, on an island that was once known as the Pearl of the Antilles and is now the most deforested country in the western hemisphere.

The decision to use ecological sanitation to achieve this goal was based on community feedback. When SOIL first started in Haiti, we ran seminars and training workshops on a range of different environmental technologies (water treatment, solar energy, sustainable agriculture techniques, etc) but improved sanitation quickly emerged as the most urgently needed intervention. And a sanitation solution that also treats wastes and produces rich, organic compost as a by-product is a perfect fit for Haiti.

Maintaining soil is the essence of sustainability from both an environmental and social perspective. The basic elements that make up living matter all come from, and return to, the soil.

How do local people react to SOIL’s activities and approach? Are they sceptical or enthusiastic, and do they feel a sense of ownership?

EcoSan is a new concept in Haiti. SOIL built Haiti’s first EcoSan toilet in 2006 and its first urban EcoSan composting waste treatment facility in 2009. SOIL builds toilets in communities that come to SOIL to request this technology rather than the other way around and from the beginning it’s been impossible to keep up with demand. Most significantly, SOIL’s first compost buyers were community organisations based in neighbourhoods with SOIL toilets – people knew it made sense!

In order to ensure that demand continues to grow and that this technology can scale up, almost 10 per cent of SOIL’s project activities are education and outreach programmes. The aim is to increase information sharing, promote scientific research and draw international attention to the importance of regenerating soil and improving sustainable land management practices in Haiti.

SOIL has been operating in Haiti since 2006. Which lessons have you learned so far?

SOIL has certainly experienced hundreds of small disasters since opening in 2006 and there have been a few dark moments where we thought that we would have to close our doors, but, just like Haiti, we pick ourselves up and come back stronger.

We live by the Haitian sayings painted on the back of the SOIL Poopmobile: “Pwoteje anviwonman an se pwoteje tet ou” (Protect the environment and you are protecting yourself) and “Chanjman tout bon an komanse nan mwen avan” (Change begins with me).

What were the greatest obstacles in the past and which obstacles do you see ahead of you?

Two of the biggest challenges that SOIL continues to face are cholera and lack of funding. It is unconscionable that just 1,000 kilometres from Miami, 7,000 people have died over the past two years from a preventable disease. And without access to complete sanitation – toilets and waste treatment – cholera will be in Haiti for a long time to come. However, sanitation is historically underfunded by donor agencies and Haiti has been a prime example of this.

Lack of funding for sanitation is one of the reasons why, prior to the earthquake, there was ZERO waste treatment in the country (with the exception of SOIL’s small composting site in northern Haiti, which has since grown considerably). Although there is now substantial funding to combat cholera, the majority of those funds go towards short-term water treatment interventions instead of addressing the root of the problem, which is poor sanitation.

“The root of the cholera outbreak in Haiti is poor sanitation.”

How did the earthquake in 2010 affect your work?

Oxfam Great Britain approached SOIL about the possibility of using ecological sanitation toilets to address the growing sanitation crisis in the capital, but at first SOIL was very hesitant to do so because EcoSan had never been tested in emergency relief situations.

SOIL agreed to run a pilot project to build EcoSan toilets in camps for internally-displaced people around Port-au-Prince and develop decentralised composting waste treatment facilities. The outcome of this effort is better than we could ever have hoped for: SOIL’s low-cost and popular EcoSan toilets in Port-au-Prince following the 2010 earthquake provided clean and dignified sanitation access to over 20,000 earthquake victims and generated more than 300,000 gallons of compost for use in agriculture and sustainable land management.

Do you already have plans for the prize money?

SOIL will move to the next phase of our work, which is the valorisation of compost to rebuild damaged agricultural soils and reforest barren mountains. With the funds, we plan to work towards developing an integrated agricultural livelihood learning centre which will include a full-scale composting operation, fruit tree nursery, and solar-powered drip irrigation demonstration farm near Cap-Haïtien on the northern coast.

Second prize: Conservation Efforts for Community Development (CECOD), Uganda

Children: Agents for sustainable land management

Learning for life should be the goal of education for all. In Uganda, a local NGO – Conservation Efforts for Community Development (CECOD) – has taken this mission to heart and is introducing primary school pupils to sustainable land management practices. As 85 per cent of Uganda’s population depends on subsistence agriculture, CECOD’s work is a vital investment in children’s futures and also lays the foundation for a healthier environment.

The reality of the Ugandan primary school system is often disheartening. Drop-out rates, especially in rural areas, amount to 75 per cent and the curriculum tends to focus on theory rather than practice. Children who drop out of school early without completing their education often depend on subsistence agriculture, unaware of the many negative environmental impacts that may result from their agricultural practices.

This unsatisfactory situation is the starting point for CECOD’s engagement. The NGO promotes action-based learning in primary schools, turning children into agents of change in rural communities. So far, CECOD has trained 7,500 teachers in its eco-schools network, for it is the teachers who enable the students to become environmental stewards.

CECOD takes children out of the classroom and into the real world, where they learn many different ways of managing land sustainably. At present, the NGO has 199 ongoing micro-projects which promote sustainable land management practices. In St. Aloysius Primary School in Mbarara, for instance, 14-year-old Ndagire Brendah Nyakato shows her school friends how to sort waste and produce organic manure which will be used in the school garden, where the children grow bananas. In another primary school in Mbarara, children learn to build energy-saving stoves with the aim of avoiding deforestation and thus protecting soils from erosion. They are also encouraged to take practical action to improve local environmental quality. The outcomes are impressive : so far, eco-school children have planted almost 40,000 trees in their communities.

Out of the classroom and into the real world...

CECOD also addresses the parents of students attending the 161 eco-schools. There are now 161 Eco Parents’ Associations, which encourage parents to get involved in local government planning and budgeting processes. Courses on a wide range of topics are also available: for example, parents can learn how to increase banana yields, get to know the advantages of agroforestry and find out more about organic farming.

Reaching beyond its core target group, CECOD has led campaigns to stop bush burning and advocates for more education for sustainable development with parliamentarians and policy-makers in Uganda. With its pioneering approach to community development in the environmental sector, CECOD is making a major contribution to global efforts to curb desertification and land degradation.

Facts and figures

  • • CECOD has trained 7,500 teachers from 161 primary schools.
  • • 199 micro-projects have been established, involving 34,700 primary school pupils and 1,343 trainee teachers.
  • • 12,000 households have undergone training in sustainable land management.
  • • 161 ECO-student parliaments and ECO Parent’s Associations have been established.
  • • 199 rainwater harvesting tanks and 565 energy-saving stoves have been constructed in schools and neighbouring communities.

What the jury says

“This approach may have several other positive externalities in addition to promoting sustainable land management education, such as improved school attendance by children, if they perceive that there are tangible additional benefits of going to school because of sustainable land management learning.”

“The project creates a spirit of collective action for environmental conservation.”

What others say

“The activities of CECOD have their onset in schools but the impacts are also felt in the wider communities as a result of successful community interaction and empowerment. The technologies being promoted, for example in relation to sustainable land-use practices, can easily be replicated by surrounding communities. Thus, CECOD has with overwhelming success managed to make primary schools local agents for change, promoting wider sustainable community development.” Torbjorn Eriksen, Friluftsraadet/Danish Outdoor Council

Interview: Robert M. Isingoma, Country Director CECOD Uganda

What prompted CECOD to set up its Eco-Schools initiative?

In response to some of the needs identified at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992), the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) developed the Eco-Schools programme to enhance learners’ participation in decision-making, planning and environmental activities. CECOD embraced the Eco-Schools concept in 2006 and reoriented it to suit the Ugandan context. It aims to empower children and communities to address real-life issues through schools.

What was it about the Eco-Schools approach which particularly appealed to CECOD?

Most Ugandans interact with land on a day-to-day basis. The Government of Uganda acknowledges that training communities in sustainable agriculture is the only way of ensuring that Ugandans improve their agricultural practices. However, Uganda’s education system tends to be theoretical and academically oriented and does not equip learners with sustainable land management skills. This is the background to the Eco-Schools programme in Uganda. It focuses on action-based learning through micro-projects which introduce students and their communities to appropriate sustainable land management practices.

How would you judge the Ugandan population’s awareness of land degradation and the need to establish sustainable land management practices?

The project area is located in the South Western Uganda cattle corridor and is characterised by overgrazing, bush burning, deforestation and over-cultivation.

The Ugandan population may be aware of the effects of land degradation and the need to establish land management practices. However, high levels of rural poverty and inadequate knowledge of sustainable land management practices leave local communities with no choice but to exploit land resources by any means in order to survive.

Which sustainable land management practices do you focus on, and why?

Uganda’s Eco-Schools programme promotes a thematic and integrated sustainable land management model using the “Investigation, Vision, Action and Change (IVAC)” approach, focusing on agriculture, waste, forestry, water, energy, biodiversity and climate change.

This approach addresses key areas which have a direct impact on soils. It builds people’s capacity to

  • • carry out community-based action research (Investigation)
  • • imagine the kind of future they want (Shared Vision)
  • • take appropriate and sustainable actions (Action), with a focus on sustainable land management practices. It includes soil and water conservation, agroforestry, waste management, woodlots establishment, enrichment planting and collaborative forest management, sustainable water resources management such as rainwater harvesting, biomass and energy-saving technologies, identification and conservation of endangered species (e.g. medicinal herbs), and climate change adaptation mechanisms, including drip irrigation and backyard gardening
  • • engage duty bearers, hold them accountable and advocate for positive change.

How does CECOD involve local communities?

CECOD uses the “birds of a feather” approach. For example, communities near project schools are organised into Eco Parents’ Associations (ECOPAs), bringing on board parents who have children in the project schools and parents living near the schools. ECOPA members group themselves further into small Eco Community Nodes of between 10 to 25 households. An Eco Community Node is the most dynamic entity within the ECOPA. This is where issues, ideas and innovations are generated, while the ECOPA acts as the overarching legal entity.

The approach has worked successfully and, once properly established on a systematic basis, it is self-sustaining.

What are your long-term goals?

We have many! Let me give you just a few examples. We want to set up Eco-School demonstration centres in different regions of the country, institutionalise the Eco-Schools approach in the state education system, which must include redesigning the national examinations, and developing the Eco-Schools concept using the human rights-based approach for scaling up and replication in all the African countries.

How will you use the prize money?

We will use the award money for our own award, the National Annual Green Flag Award Scheme. It is a school and community-based competition that promotes collaborative sustainable natural resource management practices. The winners will be awarded with an Eco School Green Flag.

Second prize: Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA)

Tackling desertification in Turkey

It’s the same vicious circle that takes place in marginal lands all over the world. In rural areas of Turkey, agricultural production is the ticket for many people to rise out of poverty. At the same time, farmers often overexploit marginal soils. Erosion and land degradation are the inevitable consequences. But in its fight against land degradation, Turkey has an ace up its sleeve – the work of the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA).

TEMA, the largest environmental NGO in Turkey, tackles the problem of land degradation in various ways. Educating multipliers and students from pre-school to university, publishing books and teaching materials and hosting one of Turkey’s largest environmental libraries are just some of the activities on its wide-ranging agenda. The NGO reports that around 2.5 million people have so far attended its education programmes.

Influencing national legislation and court rulings is at the core of TEMA’s advocacy campaigns. In the past, the NGO was able to mobilise more than one million people to sign petitions for environmental laws. TEMA has filed or was involved in 158 legal cases so far, with great success. For example, it has prevented more than 70,000 hectares of fertile agricultural land from being sealed for tourist sites or power plants.

One of TEMA’s strengths is that its work is based on practical experience. All over the country, TEMA has implemented more than 100 demonstration projects on sustainable rural development, reforestation, biodiversity protection and combating desertification. Many of them show that sustainable land management does not have to be overly complicated. One example is a saffron project in Çütlük, a semi-arid upland region close to the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Here, soils suffer from widely practised cotton mono-cropping, which demands frequent irrigation and leads to increased salinity and the loss of nutrients in an already water-scarce area. Together with experts from Harran University, TEMA explored the viability of re-introducing commercial saffron cultivation into the area. Saffron requires only ten per cent of the irrigation water needed to grow cotton. In addition, the economic, social and educational gains from the project were remarkable.

In 2012, TEMA celebrates its 20th anniversary with the motto “Earth means Life”. The prize money from the Land for Life Award will be used for the anniversary campaign, for instance to co-host the Earth Festival, to develop education materials to be distributed all over the country and to organise public lectures with leading environmental experts.

But for TEMA, the international recognition connected with this prize is far more important than the prize money. “The Land for Life Award will enable TEMA to motivate its volunteers, stakeholders, supporters and partners to further cooperate with us and to support us. Moreover, the award will strengthen TEMA’s position towards decision-makers,” says Yeşim Erkan, TEMA’s Director of Projects and International Relations.

TEMA profile

  • Founded: 1992
  • Topics addressed: Soil erosion, deforestation, desertification, climate change and biodiversity loss.
  • Fields of activity: Education, awareness raising, advocacy, community mobilisation and empowerment, knowledge-sharing.
  • Staff and support base: 450,000 supporters, 555 regional voluntary representatives plus over 100 volunteer scientists and legal advisors.
  • Recognition: 40 per cent of the Turkish population know about TEMA, an NGO accredited with the UNCCD.
  • Other interesting facts: In 2001, TEMA volunteers collected one million signatures supporting the adoption of the “Law on Soil Protection and Land Improvement”. In 2008, TEMA collected 1.2 million signatures against government plans to sell off land that had supposedly lost its forest quality.

What the jury says

“TEMA’s approach does not involve complicated technological or institutional fixes, but is based on a powerful commitment to its agenda. Its approach has the potential to be replicated in many other settings.”

“TEMA has achieved enormous impact on the ground and it is noteworthy that this was accomplished through the efforts of a voluntary organisation.”

What others say

“I can think of no organisation that has done so much for soil conservation as TEMA has through its massive tree planting effort in Turkey. This has been an outstanding success and has inspired countless other tree planting programmes throughout the world.” Lester Russell Brown, President and Senior Researcher, Earth Policy Institute, USA

Interview: Serdar Sarigul, General Manager, TEMA

TEMA is an extremely successful NGO with strengths in various fields (education, advocacy, awareness-raising, etc). What is the secret of your success?

Our volunteers are our most important asset. They help us to communicate our message to the public. TEMA talks about the issues of soil erosion and land degradation in a language that the public can understand. The volunteers can also launch their own initiatives in their respective regions. This means that TEMA is always relevant to local people’s current concerns.

The other basis for our work is our cooperation with experts in different fields. They provide us with the knowledge we need to respond effectively to the problems identified on the local level. They also point out worrying environmental developments which we will then incorporate into our advocacy work. We also cooperate on an ongoing basis with lawyers who investigate the legal aspects and present us with strong arguments to support our work.

TEMA was founded by a number of influential people from a variety of social and professional backgrounds. This gave TEMA the momentum it needed, during its start-up phase, to mobilise different sectors – including government and the business community – to focus on its main concerns, namely soil and erosion.

No other NGO in Turkey was concerned about the issue of soil erosion. TEMA filled this gap by building a bridge between the public on the one hand and government, business and academia on the other, and continues to do the same for the protection of natural habitats and resources.

Which action must Turkey take to combat land degradation? Where are things still moving in the wrong direction?

We have to create a legal basis for efforts to combat land degradation. The Law on Soil Protection and the Graceland Law, adopted as a result of TEMA’s efforts, are important steps in this process. But an NGO can’t do it all. An NGO needs to bring together different stakeholders and encourage broad-based adoption of its best practices.

There is still much to be done for enforcement and better implementation of the Law on Soil Protection. The formation of soil protection councils, which promote soil protection in the context of land use planning, is a positive step towards this goal. However, efforts are still needed to implement appropriate land use plans and find solutions to basin management issues.

Which are the greatest obstacles to your work?

On the one hand, as is the case in the rest of the world, the way in which policy-makers perceive and manage growth is the greatest obstacle in our work, making it hard to persuade the public. On the other hand, it is difficult to access the resources, especially funding, that we need to accomplish what we want to do. The global environmental movement is still limited in scope and does not include all stakeholders. In the corporate world, it hasn’t gone beyond corporate social responsibility projects.

For many years, sustainable land management has not been on the top of the agenda in Turkey and the relevant ministries and authorities are not strong enough, in the sense of their role in influencing the decision-making process.

Which advice would you give NGOs in other countries affected by land degradation? How can they follow TEMA’s example?

Each country has its own dynamics. We are not in a position to offer advice to other NGOs, but we are ready to share our experiences and practices. TEMA is already active internationally and is a member of several networks, such as DRYNET, which aims to promote international collaboration and knowledge sharing on drylands.

How does TEMA succeed in attracting so many volunteers and supporters? How do you recruit them and what is the volunteers’ job?

TEMA works with a very wide range of volunteers and supporters from different age groups and geographical backgrounds. Our local volunteers are responsible for the recruitment of new volunteers and supporters. Other responsibilities include awareness raising activities, training, local afforestation projects, media relations and explaining the legal position to local communities. Our volunteers gain a great deal of recognition through their activities. Currently, they are sharing the draft framework law on water that was prepared by TEMA with the public and gathering feedback.


Recently released

European Report on Development 2012: Confronting scarcity: Managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth

This report, prepared by DIE, ODI and ECDPM, examines how water, energy and land constraints are interrelated. It focuses on how these resources can be managed effectively with the ultimate aim of promoting growth that is both socially inclusive and sustainable. The report calls on the EU to adopt an ambitious integrated approach to the management of the “Water-Energy-Land Nexus”. Finally, it highlights the potential that innovative solutions can have, for instance, payments for ecosystem services.

Download the report as PDF

From the UNCCD secretariat

Opinions about Rio+20 outcome on land-degradation neutrality
UNCCD stakeholders say, what this Rio+20 outcome means to them and what next steps should be taken to achieve a land-degradation neutral world.

Stakeholder opinions on the UNCCD website

World Day to Combat Desertification
This year’s World Day to Combat Desertification, observed on 17 June, was celebrated with the motto “Healthy soil sustains your life: Let’s go land-degradation neutral”. Watch video messages from world leaders in sustainable development and find out more about the celebrations in around 30 countries worldwide, including the global observation in Rio de Janeiro.

World Day to Combat Desertification

Subscribe to UNCCD’s Land Scan
Do you already know Land Scan, the UNCCD Library’s weekly information service? It gives a good overview of all that has been published about desertification, land degradation, drought, drylands and sustainable land management on the world-wide web.

Subscribe to Land Scan


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.

For more information: Awareness Raising, Communication and Education Unit, UNCCD
Tel: + 49 228 815 2800   Fax: + 49 228 815 2898   secretariat@unccd.int

Contact UNCCD News at newsbox@unccd.int


UNCCD News is published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Editor: Susanne Reiff, to the point communication (Email)
Design: Rebus, Paris (Email)
Copyright ©2012 UNCCD (Email)

Photo credits: Contents: IISD/ENB; UN Photo/Maria Elisa Franco; IISD/ENB; SOIL Haiti; Message from the ES: IISD/ENB; Policy: UN Photo/Maria Elisa Franco; UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe; IISD/ENB; Land for Life Award: IISD/ENB, SOIL Haiti: UN Photo/Sophia Paris; 2x SOIL Haiti, NASA/Wikimedia Commons; Center for Strategic & International Studies; 3x SOIL Haiti; UN Photo/Logan Abassi, 2x SOIL Haiti; CECOD: 8x CECOD Uganda; TEMA: 7x TEMA; Browsing: Steffen Foerster/Dreamstime.com.