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


See previous issues 1.1 | 1.2 | 1.3 | 2.1 | 2.2 | 2.3 | 2.4 | 2.5 | 2.6 | 3.1 | 3.2 | 3.3 | 3.4 | 3.5 | 3.6 | 4.1 | 4.2/4.3

In this issue







From the Executive Secretary
“The UNCCD is strongly committed to cooperation with CSOs. Working together is crucial if we are to translate the paradigm of zero net land degradation into reality.” More…

Publications, websites etc. More…

CSOs: key players in the UNCCD process
CSOs provide vital input in the UNCCD process – with their non-governmental or business perspective, their advocacy and outreach, information-sharing, strategy development and programme delivery. More…

Businesses as leaders in environmental protection
Kook-Hyun Moon, Chair of the Sustainable Land Management Business Forum, explains why the business community is not only a key driver of desertification and land degradation, but also a potential agent for change. More…

From Argentina and France: Examples of best practice
CSOs can make a difference – by locally implementing innovative projects or advocating for the drylands’ cause in international forums. UNCCD News puts two CSOs in the spotlight: CARI from France and GADE from Argentina. More…


CSOs: integral to the implementation of the UNCCD

Imagine a world without civil society. Many people living in the drylands would find it hard to make their voices heard, never reaching the global forums that make the decisions affecting their lives. Countless smallholder farmers would be left to struggle alone on their degrading land, with no access to the information they so desperately need to manage their land more sustainably. Communities and businesses would have little prospect of influencing national legislation and international agreements.

It’s a bleak scenario – but thankfully, it’s far from being reality. On the contrary, people all over the world are working with dedication and commitment to protect and preserve healthy soils and an environment that can provide adequate food for everyone now and for generations to come. These people belong to the large and diverse group of civil society organisations (CSOs). They are not part of government institutions, but the Convention defines them as core stakeholders. From community organisations to international networks, CSOs are key players – for good reason – in our efforts to combat desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD).

In this issue of UNCCD News, we turn the spotlight on civil society and its role in the UNCCD process. We showcase two outstanding civil society organisations with rather different approaches: GADE (Grupo Ambiental para el Desarrollo) from Argentina and CARI (Centre d’Actions et de Réalisations Internationales) from France. These are just two examples of the countless CSOs working with people in the world’s drylands against all odds for a global good that has received limited policy traction – healthy and productive soil and land.

No solution to the global crisis of DLDD can be found without pro-active business engagement as well. And while small businesses have made investments that curb land degradation, restore degraded land or promote sustainable land management, this form of investment from big business has been either rare or invisible.

But business and industry entities are stepping up their commitment and are playing an increasingly significant role in the UNCCD process. This is essential, for the business community also faces land-related challenges like groundwater depletion and falling food production, and is a major player in land degradation. But there’s also some good news, which we share in this issue: the huge potential for business that exists in the restoration of more than two billion hectares affected by DLDD worldwide. More and more forward-looking companies are making sustainable land management (SLM) and restoration of degraded land a part of their corporate strategy. For some, it is a highly cost-effective and efficient business practice, but it is also a source of revenue for others. In this issue, Kook-Hyun Moon, Chair of the Sustainable Land Management Business Forum, shares his views on private sector engagement and explains why we should stop thinking about the drylands as investment “deserts”.

We can only halt and reverse land degradation if all UNCCD stakeholders pull together. Alongside governments – the main actors in the UNCCD process – civil society has a key role to play. We are strongly committed to making the impact of CSOs matter, and their input is vital in initiating and effecting the transition to land-degradation neutrality worldwide.

Luc Gnacadja
Executive Secretary


Civil society organisations – key players in the UNCCD process

Although Country Parties are the foundation of the Convention, they are certainly not the only stakeholders needed to achieve the goal of zero net land degradation. Vital input is also provided by civil society – with its non-governmental perspective, its important role in advocacy and outreach, information-sharing, strategy development and programme delivery. For the UNCCD, the contributions from civil society organisations (CSOs) are key to the successful implementation of the Convention at all levels. While it has always been committed to a bottom-up approach involving local communities, COP10 last year decided to further strengthen the role of CSOs. But who are the CSOs, and how can they feed into the UNCCD process? This article puts them under the spotlight.

Who are they?

In the context of the UNCCD, the CSOs are highly diverse: they include local community organisations which share their traditional knowledge and experience of land management in the drylands, cooperatives, training and education providers, farmers, foresters and livestock breeders. Nationally, advocacy groups, foundations and trade unions are part of civil society, in addition to CSO networks, which often also operate regionally or internationally. Business and industry entities also belong to the CSO stakeholder group – from local entrepreneurs to international forums such as the Sustainable Land Management Business Forum launched in 2011.

This diversity is not a constraint, but an invaluable asset, offering a wealth of experience which no other stakeholder group can match. What’s more, CSOs have the benefit of legitimacy within the UNCCD – not only due to the acknowledgement of their role in the Convention itself but also because they represent and are supported by local communities in the world’s drylands. These people are at the core of the UNCCD, because they live on the land threatened or already affected by desertification, land degradation or drought (DLDD).

CSOs offer a wealth of experience.

The growing role of CSOs reflects a general movement discernible within the entire UN system over the past decade: CSOs are increasingly acting as partners for UN agencies and are a valuable link between the UN and “people out there”. CSOs feature prominently at major United Nations conferences, are vital partners for the UN’s efforts at the country level, and are regularly consulted on UN policy issues.

How do they contribute to the UNCCD?

CSOs were key stakeholders in the UNCCD process from the very inception of the Convention. Although their level of participation has varied, the UNCCD has always valued their contribution and is committed to improving their participation.

“We have fully implemented recommendations from the governing bodies on the participation of the civil society representatives in the UNCCD statutory meetings; however, there is still much to do to foster their active involvement in our process,” explains Massimo Candelori, Coordinator, Facilitation and Monitoring of Implementation at the UNCCD Secretariat.

CSOs contribute to the UNCCD process in many different ways. They implement a vast array of projects to combat DLDD: soil and water conservation, natural resources management, and agroforestry initiatives, for instance.

For many CSOs, the key motivation is to be a voice for affected communities and deliver training to enhance livelihoods for the rural poor. Their aim in every case, says Emmanuel Seck from the Senegalese CSO Enda Tiers Monde, a member of the CSO network Drynet, is to “improve local communities’ living conditions”. According to Friederike Knabe, a civil society expert on the UNCCD, they act as information hubs, providing “competent and detailed information on the effects of desertification on communities, on the abilities of these communities to adapt and on their know-how in controlling or reversing land degradation... NGOs can bridge the gap between communities, governments and international policy-makers.” When CSOs present case studies of community initiatives, they exemplify the environmental problems affecting local communities and highlight the success of local projects or strategies in national or international forums.

And finally, CSOs seek to influence policy-making at different levels, reminding governments and international organisations of their commitments and bringing pressure to bear when discrepancies exist between these commitments and national legislation and policies, and mobilising the public to put additional pressure on national leaders. One of the best examples of national advocacy comes from Turkey. The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats (TEMA) – one of the winners of the UNCCD Land for Life Award – runs various advocacy campaigns to influence national legislation and court rulings. It was largely thanks to TEMA’s efforts that in 2005, Turkey adopted the Law on Soil Protection and Land Improvement. TEMA volunteers from all sections of Turkish society actively lobbied for the legislation to be approved by Parliament.

One example of CSO’s global advocacy is the Declaration of Civil Society Organisations, meeting in Turkey in June 2012, which calls for an intergovernmental panel for combating desertification, similar to the pattern followed by the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to provide the world with a clearer scientific view on the current state of knowledge in land degradation and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

Declining interest?

Until 2012, more than 900 CSOs were accredited to the UNCCD Conference of the Parties. However, at COP10, the Parties decided that civil society organisations should reconfirm their accreditation with the UNCCD. Nearly 200 organisations expressed their strong interest in remaining accredited to the Conference of the Parties and in supporting the global process through local engagement. “Despite the strong commitment shown by this core group, the presence of the CSO representatives in the meetings of the governing bodies of the Convention has been reduced,” says Marcos Montoiro, the CSO liaison officer at the UNCCD Secretariat. “Over the past years we have observed the declining financial resources to ensure the participation of CSOs in UNCCD meetings. To us, this is a matter of great concern.”

In order to counteract this development, the UNCCD stepped up its efforts to further promote the various mechanisms through which CSOs can channel their input. One of these mechanisms is the possibility to contribute to the UNCCD’s Performance Review and Assessment of Implementation System (PRAIS). Accredited CSOs can report upon civil society initiatives either by contributing to national reports to the PRAIS or by uploading information on best practices on sustainable land management technologies, including adaptation, into the PRAIS system.

At major UNCCD meetings, open dialogue sessions are organised by the CSOs themselves, providing the opportunity for CSOs to voice their views and interact with the Parties during the official sessions of the multilateral negotiations. CSOs have frequently stated that they wish to share their experience and expertise in this way.

CSOs themselves have recognised the problem of declining participation, which they admit “undermines the spirit of the Convention”. A CSO statement at the closing ceremony of the High-Level Segment of COP10 summarises the CSOs’ position, which is centred on the demand for CSOs to be granted full-member status at COPs and in its subsidiary bodies. Unless CSOs are fully taken on board in the UNCCD process, “effective combating of desertification for poverty eradication remains elusive.” According to a delegate from Argentina, “there needs to be better interaction between CSOs and respective governments; CSOs are closest to the problems faced by people, know their concerns.” For Khadija Razavi, representing the CSO CENESTA in Iran, it is clear that “this decline in participation has to be reversed: CSOs should be involved in the entire process of UNCCD from the beginning.”

Declining CSO participation is a major problem.

So why the decline, when both the UNCCD and the CSOs themselves are firm advocates of participation? A major factor is funding – the never-ending problem many civil society organisations face. The Global Mechanism identifies lack of access to, or underutilisation of, financial resources as a key constraint for CSO groups wishing to implement activities to combat desertification and promote the restoration of productive lands. For many small CSOs, active involvement in relevant national and international forums is expensive, labour-intensive and time-consuming. Given that the UNCCD’s meetings take place in different countries around the world several times a year, CSOs have to invest time, effort and money in order to make their voices heard. Other obstacles also make participation more difficult, for instance language barriers in the case of the smaller NGOs, and staff shortages, which make it hard for CSOs to send representatives to monitor and influence international negotiations.

“Another reason for the decline in participation is that the scope of combating desertification is too broad and that the funders and other decision-makers are much more focused on more specific issues like agriculture, land, water, etc. At the same time, climate change has become the last fashion buzzword undermining other issues; but times are changing and the issue of land is coming back as a priority. CSOs involved in drylands concerns would need a strong international alliance based both on field activities and advocacy,” says Patrice Burger, Director of the French CSO Centre d’Actions et de Réalisations Internationales (CARI).

RIOD: Successful networking across a continent

Many CSOs form networks and pool their resources. A prominent example is “Red Internacional de ONGs sobre Desertificación” (RIOD – International NGO Network on Desertification), established in November 1994 with member CSOs in various Latin American and African countries. RIOD’s mission is to promote and enhance civil society participation in the implementation of the UNCCD at all levels, especially in the National Action Programmes (NAPs).

Jaime Nalvarte, Executive Director of AIDER, which is the National Focal Point of RIOD in Peru, indicates that “the strength of this network is the focal point system at local, national, regional, subregional and global level to facilitate and promote the exchange and flow of information.”

RIOD’s mission goes beyond desertification issues. The network’s approach includes all three Conventions, one example being an AIDER project in dry forests at the north coast of Peru, which promotes productive practices compatible with the fragile condition of the ecosystem, contributing to the conservation of biodiversity and the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

RIOD is well-known for its advocacy vis-à-vis governments, international organisations and conventions. As a result of RIOD ’s work in Peru, the Environment Ministry has incorporated desertification issues into its Action Plan and promoted capacity building. The network also has ties to other CSOs and donors such as the Global Mechanism.

CSO participation in the other two Rio Conventions suggests that the degree of involvement also depends on the attention the Convention receives globally. Climate change in particular is a topic of great concern in many countries worldwide. Countless CSOs are committed to reducing emissions and promoting adaptation to climate change. As a result, many of them are eager to attend the UNFCCC’s Conferences of the Parties and more than 1,400 CSOs have observer status at the UNFCCC COPs. But whereas more than 12,000 representatives from nearly 800 CSOs attended UNFCCC COP15, fewer than 200 participants representing 51 CSOs attended the last UNCCD COP in 2011. Still, according to Friederike Knabe, “the UNCCD is notable among the multilateral environmental agreements in its inclusion of civil society.”

No matter who is involved – the Parties, scientists or CSOs – zero net land degradation can only be achieved if all stakeholders work together. Ideas about how to reach this goal may vary, but what counts is the shared commitment to making it a reality. And that’s something that civil society has in abundance.

DLDD and the business community

No discussion of civil society organisations in the UNCCD process would be complete without a brief review of the role of the private sector. There is no denying that businesses are key drivers of DLDD. Many of their practices are unsustainable, resulting in overgrazing and over-cultivation, deforestation, poor irrigation management, and resource extraction which lowers water tables and degrades land. Usually, this stems not from ill will on the part of companies but from a lack of knowledge of how ecosystems function and react to certain land management practices. This is also the reason why COP10 decided to grant observer status and participation in official meetings of the UNCCD’s governing bodies to business and industry entities with specific expertise in matters relating to the Convention.

From multinational corporations to small subsistence farmers: businesses are part of the problem, but they can also be part of the solution as agents of change in reaching the goal of zero net land degradation. The campaign against DLDD offers a host of innovative business opportunities and incentives, going far beyond the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. Expected population growth and changing living conditions will produce around two billion more potential consumers by 2030, dramatically increasing demand for products and services. For food producing companies in particular, this offers the prospect of a massive increase in turnover.

Although land degradation could reduce global food production by as much as 12 per cent, potentially causing a 30 per cent surge in world food prices, land is a scarce resource: the 1.5 billion hectares of degraded land – once restored and regenerated – have great economic potential. So while combating desertification may not provide an immediate return on investment, it will certainly pay off in the long term.

The private sector has recognised that if these opportunities are to be fully realised, it must play its part in combating DLDD. The business community has therefore started to build closer relations with the UNCCD. The awareness that the private sector “can provide a greater part of the solution required for sustainable development” was also the driving force behind the launch of the SLM Business Forum, a private sector initiative which aims to raise awareness of the importance of land, its productivity and ecosystem services, and forge collaboration for its sustainable management.


Kook-Hyun Moon: “Business community can be a leader in environmental protection”

Kook-Hyun Moon is Chair of the Sustainable Land Management Business Forum, which was launched on the sidelines of the UNCCD tenth Conference of the Parties in the Republic of Korea in October 2011. Mr. Moon has received much recognition as a business leader in his capacity as President and CEO of Yuhan-Kimberly. Realising a good 20 years ago how important it is to protect the environment, he launched the Keep Korea Green campaign, the first environmental protection initiative by a private company in the Republic of Korea. He is a Laureate of the Global 500 Roll of Honour, which recognises individuals and organisations that promote environmental issues despite social, political and logistical obstacles. In 2010, Mr. Moon founded the New Paradigm Institute for Green & Responsible Competitiveness in Seoul to advance environmental sustainability and lifelong learning throughout Korea. As the leader of the Creative Korea Party, he also stood as a candidate in the Republic of Korea's presidential election in 2007.

What motivates businesses to commit to combating desertification, land degradation and drought?

Over the past 50 years, human activity has altered ecosystems faster and more extensively than ever before. Business and ecosystem services are inextricably linked and corporate activities not only affect but also rely on ecosystem services. This interrelationship entails significant risks to companies as well as to their suppliers, customers and investors. Sustainable use and management of land to prevent land degradation and help restore degraded areas are therefore in everyone’s interest, for we all rely on the land’s productivity.

Business communities are important stakeholders in the desertification and land degradation arena. They are not only key drivers of desertification and land degradation: they are also potential agents for change. Government and citizen groups’ action to combat desertification is not enough. As long as businesses continue to degrade land and reap short-term rewards, positive impacts will be limited.

Government and citizen groups’ action to combat desertification is not enough.

With the rise in global awareness of carbon emissions, climate change and the need to change behaviour, sustainable land management (SLM) is a good fit for any company seeking to become more sustainable in a rapidly changing world. The link between land, biodiversity and ecosystems services is not only tangible but obvious and is relevant to all. Businesses are the key link in combating desertification: They can implement SLM practices and thus pave the way for zero net land degradation by 2030. That is why I think that businesses can help the UNCCD to reach its mission in ways that complement government and other civil society efforts.

What role can the private sector play?

I strongly believe that the potential role that the private sector and business community can play is as much critical and momentous as the role of governments. As a key environmental actor, the business community is willing to take responsibility and help to resolve Earth’s environmental problems. Businesses have made major efforts to improve energy efficiency and to develop innovative and renewable types of energy generation in order to mitigate climate change. In light of recent research which shows that land degradation is a main cause of climate change, the business community must focus its efforts and creative ideas on the management of land, which is the source of life and the basis for people’s livelihoods.

In this context, the SLM Business Forum was conceived to be a major platform for the business community in reversing and preventing desertification and land degradation. Its aim is to open doors for a global partnership involving land and environment-related companies from all over the world. As well as presenting a business perspective to policy-makers, the SLM Business Forum is looking at ways of establishing a methodological framework, involving the public and the private sectors, to address the problems of desertification and land degradation.

The business community is keen to break the public’s negative perception that corporations are the main cause of environmental problems. It wants to show that the business community can be a leader in environmental protection. The SLM Business Forum has a key role to play here, for example by supporting the dissemination of best practice.

Can you give some examples from your home country, the Republic of Korea, showing how the business community has successfully initiated campaigns on sustainable land and forest management?

In 1984, a joint venture between Yuhan Corporation from the Republic of Korea and Kimberly-Clark from the United States launched the company’s first reforestation campaign. This Keep Korea Green campaign was not only the first private-sector-led reforestation campaign in the region, but also the longest lasting programme. It is still active and receives a lot of public support. It all began with fund-raising for the reforestation of public land. A great many programmes and initiatives have been added over the last 28 years, such as Newly-Wed Tree Planting Days, Youth Green Camp, School Forest, Forest For Life, Forest for Peace, Forest for Friendship, the Northeast Asia Forest Forum, the Seoul Green Trust, the GreenWay Movement, and the Eco-Peace Leadership Center.

With these programmes, the Keep Korea Green campaign has planted nearly 50 million seedlings in the Republic of Korea, provided the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with another 50 million seedlings, in addition to building awareness and consensus on the urgent need for reforestation in South and North Korea. Millions of students, teachers, newly-weds, and opinion leaders have participated in the Keep Korea Green campaign, and due to its commitment to the environment, Yuhan-Kimberly has become one of the most respected companies in the Republic of Korea over the past 15 years.

Are there any specific industries that are particularly interested in zero net land degradation? Which major industries are not yet involved, and what are the reasons for this?

Target industries include energy, food, water, forestry, tourism, education, printing, media, mining, construction, insurance and medical. For instance, the active involvement of the food, energy and media industries in particular can make a significant difference, due to the severe impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) on food security, water and energy. These three areas should therefore be the focus of SLM business efforts.

How can the pursuit of zero net land degradation also become a business opportunity?

There is a growing need to engage the private sector in policy formulation, regulation and sustainable development. The green economy and green growth are keywords at present, with sustainable development now being mainstreamed in the business sector. And if “zero net land degradation” becomes a buzzword as well, the rapidly changing corporate world will find new ways of ensuring long-term business success by changing its behaviour to build a land degradation neutral world through sustainable development and sustainable land management practices. The market is changing and sustainable investment is now being demanded as a matter of course.

What is the aim of the Sustainable Land Management Business Forum?

The SLM Business Forum aims to become a global partnership of land-related business leaders and a platform for channelling the efforts of companies in combating DLDD. It will encourage stakeholders from the business community to reflect on their past conduct and its environmental impacts and consider how to exercise their corporate social responsibility. It will also offer opportunities for land-based businesses, such as agricultural and forestry companies, to pursue sustainable business development through SLM and share their expertise. And as well as promoting the exchange of experience and advising on ways of addressing land degradation and other land-related issues, the Forum will become a platform for dealing with new environmental challenges as they emerge.

The Forum will be setting achievable targets every year and will seek to mobilise the necessary funds. It will draw up its own guidelines and encourage its members to comply with them on a voluntary basis. Members are expected to disseminate their voluntary practices based on the guidelines, which will then become an international frame of reference on land issues. The Forum will take the lead in developing a global agenda on land.

The SLM Business Forum will take the lead in developing a global agenda on land.

The Forum also plans to promote cooperation in a wide range of fields. It will encourage government officials to integrate the business community&rquo;s ideas and techniques into decision-making by ensuring an enabling environment for its implementation and will invite academics and experts to share their specialist knowledge to promote environmentally sound and sustainable business growth.

In short, the Forum will play a crucial role in conserving land for life.

Which other partners, such as non-governmental organisations, universities, etc., would you like to bring on board, and why?

The first step is to identify investors and business associations which may be interested in getting involved in the UNCCD process. Drylands offer many business opportunities for various sectors, including renewable energies, tourism, and agriculture. One key element of successful cooperation with partners is to be clear about the objectives and areas of engagement. This must be the entry point for selecting appropriate partners, identifying specific activities and ensuring mutual benefit for all partners.

The SLM Business Forum was launched last year. What have been the milestones since then?

In October 2011, the Korean Government hosted the first SLM Business Forum and businesses had the opportunity to influence the SLM’s future direction and mission. One of the outcomes of the forum was the Gyeongnam Declaration signed by all founding companies in the SLM Business Forum. It contains 15 action points which focus on raising awareness, increasing cooperation and ensuring progress on efforts to reverse and prevent DLDD.

In June, 2012, I attended the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro as the Chair of the UNCCD SLM Business Forum. While I was there, I participated in the celebrations of World Day to Combat Desertification, organised by the UNCCD, and the Business Day at the Rio Conventions Pavilion and also attended other meetings in order to introduce the Forum and encourage the business sector to join this initiative.

What are your future plans for the SLM Business Forum? Are any activities planned for 2012/2013?

Sustainable land management is the conceptual framework for a land-degradation neutral world and should be the basis for any engagement by the business sector. The campaign to achieve zero net land degradation by 2030 comes under the auspices of SLM. In this context, the UNCCD Secretariat and the Business Forum will jointly organise a side event during the meetings of the UNCCD Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention in spring next year. The key theme of the event will be “achieving a land degradation neutral world”. It will be another chance to introduce the SLM Business Forum in Europe and encourage relevant business and industry entities to become members of the Forum.

We are also preparing a policy brief based on sound scientific knowledge for policy-makers and other stakeholders. The Business Forum will also help to set up a Panel on Land and Soil with the task of publishing policy briefs and publications on zero net land degradation.


GADE: Reverting negative trends of land degradation is possible

Deforestation, over-exploited soils and eroded surface cover: land degradation, with all its social and economic consequences, is a major threat in Argentina, where 75 per cent of the territory is arid or semi-arid. Yet north-west of Buenos Aires, a local NGO, Grupo Ambiental para el Desarrollo (GADE), is showing that it’s possible to regenerate soils, create jobs and improve the living conditions for local communities. The key to its success? A mix of strategies against desertification, climate change and biodiversity loss.

The start of this story reads like an environmental disaster. Between 60 and 70 per cent of Argentina’s forest heritage has been lost in the last hundred years – worsened over the past decade by the upsurge in soy cultivation. Vast areas of forest have been cleared to make way for soy, which is grown on half of Argentina’s farmland and is now its leading export crop. Intensive cultivation has led to severe land degradation in formerly forested areas, forcing thousands of small farmers – who once grew cotton, soybeans, fruit and vegetables – to abandon their land. Today, many of these farmers rely on social welfare programmes, lack schooling and are poorly skilled. They have no knowledge of forestation or sustainable land management, no strategies for combating desertification, and no access to the capital investment they need if they are to return to farming.

This is where GADE comes in. Established in 1999, this Argentinian NGO aims to educate and inform about environmental issues and implement sustainable development projects. It relies on innovative methods to raise environmental awareness – one of its projects utilises the visual arts to highlight environmental degradation, for example. But its forestry project in the village of Colonia El Simbolar in the province of Santiago del Estero, some 1,150 km north-west of Buenos Aires, breaks ground in a different way. Together with local communities, GADE has planted thousands of Algarrobo Blanco, a resilient native tree also known as the white carob tree or Prosopis alba, on degraded land and built the skills that farmers need to remain on or return to their land. GADE is implementing the project together with another civil society organisation, Fundación del Sur, with technical and financial support from the Italian Government, Argentina’s Secretariat of the Environment and Sustainable Development, various provincial authorities, and two universities.

A broad environmental approach

GADE is pursuing several environmental goals with this project. First, it promotes the recovery of degraded soils. As Juan Luis Mérega, Director of Fundación del Sur, explains, Prosopis alba improves the soil’s structure, texture and organic matter content during its growth phase, reducing surface salt and restoring the soil’s full productive potential. The project also protects biodiversity and restores the natural forest by replanting native tree species. And it helps to mitigate climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Soil salinity is a particular problem in the region and all options for the future use of the land have to take that into account. This makes the white carob tree the ideal choice. It tolerates drought, salt and sand while offering plenty of income generation opportunities for the producers participating in the project. It is an excellent source of high-quality timber and its fruit can be used to produce carob honey and high-quality flour for domestic and export markets. It is one of Argentina’s few fast-growing native species and the wood from pruning and thinning provides an income source during the growth stage.

Social, economic and environmental successes

The project has produced some impressive results: six years on, 3,000 hectares have been reforested, and nurseries have generated 1,750,000 white carob seedlings. Training has been provided for local producers, young people and the general public. All aspects of the project – nursery construction, preparing and planting seeds, pruning, irrigation and general maintenance – are carried out by local people, particularly women, who previously had no knowledge about nurseries. In all, 106 jobs have been created directly and indirectly. More than 95 per cent of the 89 producers involved in the project have managed to keep their farms going. And once thinning of the trees starts in the next year or so, the farmers can look forward to a further income source from the sale of timber.

Producers involved in the project have formed a Forestry Producers Association, and with government support, have set up a carpentry workshop, a carob flour factory and a wood handicraft factory. Sustainable land management practices are now well-established, and soil salinity has been cut by half on some plots.

It’s a long-term undertaking, and the project is set to run for another 15 years. As GADE’s president Sonia Ramírez explains: ”It’s very costly and takes time, but it’s possible to rehabilitate degraded land.”

“It’s costly and takes time, but it’s possible to rehabilitate degraded land.” Sonia Ramírez, GADE

A precedent for large-scale forestation

To avoid land degradation in the first place is certainly the best choice for the environment. However, the project shows that reverting negative trends of land degradation is possible, even in unfavourable settings such as the heavily salinated land in Santiago del Estero. It sets an important precedent for large-scale forestation with native species and for carbon sequestration, and is now a model of best practice for efforts to fight severe desertification in Latin America and the rest of the world. Thus, that experience becomes an inspiring example of synergy between the three dimensions of the Rio Conventions to protect biodiversity, to mitigate climate change and to combat desertification. GADE contributes to the vision of a land degradation neutral world and its success has now been recognised by the international community: it was a semi-finalist for the UNCCD Land for Life Award in 2012.

CARI: From remote villages to global forums

Can a small civil society organisation be a key player at the grassroots level AND in international forums? Yes, it can. A good example is the French non-governmental organisation CARI (Centre d’Actions et de Réalisations Internationales). While its director Patrice Burger makes contributions to international conferences, his colleagues carry out projects in remote villages like Aglaguel and in the Jorf oases in Morocco.

A concise agenda serves as the overarching frame for this broad approach and both areas of activity are equally important. Action in the field fuels the advocacy work and provides a sound foundation for the arguments for policy changes.

CARI works according to its slogan “Questioning, Mobilising and Acting”. It questions the unsustainable use of land as well as international policies. It mobilises local people by informing them about alternative ways to manage land, encourages other CSOs to join its efforts against desertification, land degradation and drought and acts as an agent for change locally, nationally and internationally.

CARI’s works according to its slogan “Questioning, Mobilising and Acting”

Founded in 1998, CARI concentrates its field work on the arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb countries. Its projects in Mali, Tunisia and Morocco follow the principles of “agroecology” as a vehicle for local development. “Agroecology is more than just a benchmark of agricultural techniques,” explains Michel Herrmann, one of the organic farmers from the south of France who are acting as trainers for CARI abroad. “It is a process aimed at balanced management of ecosystems, including human activities, and at maintaining or restoring the land’s fertility.” The agroecology approach also calls for resources to be available at low cost and for farmers to be as autonomous as possible by reducing external expenditure, thus striving for sustainable development and lifestyles.

Traditional farming techniques play a key role in this agroecology approach, because, according to CARI, these “simple and inexpensive methods are perfectly adapted to small producers.”

Oases, as living examples of sustainable development in arid and semi-arid regions, feature prominently in CARI’s work. CARI is engaged in protecting oases as a contribution to desertification control and poverty eradication. But it also focuses on access to water and water saving, another major problem in the African drylands.

For a fairly small CSO with only five permanent staff, a volunteer-based board of directors and short-term technical advisers to support small-scale organic farmers overseas, CARI achieves a great deal. To a large extent, this is due to CARI’s extensive networking with over 50 partner organisations. In France, for example, CARI is partnered with the Groupe de Travail Désertification (GTD). In Europe, it works with the European Networking Initiative on Desertification (eniD), in the Maghreb with Réseau Associatif de Développement Durable des Oasis (RADDO), internationally with DRYNET and DESIRE and, starting recently, with Réseau Sahel Désertification (RéSaD) in various Sahel countries. For CARI Director Patrice Burger, one advantage of networking is “greater efficiency of development action because it is building north-south capacities.” He is convinced that “we will be better heard and the legitimacy of our claims and contributions is higher if several CSOs speak with one voice. In a concerted effort, we represent more people.”

CARI and the UNCCD

CARI has a strong interest in the UNCCD because the Convention targets both environmental and development issues which also form the basis of the agroecology approach. For CARI President Gérard Garcia, this “is the only credible approach to reduce poverty in rural areas in the drylands.” In its recent publication Plaidoyer et lutte contre la désertification, CARI dedicates an entire chapter to its experience in the UNCCD process. It describes in detail its critical position on CSO participation in the implementation of the Convention and offers ideas for an improved dialogue between Parties to the UNCCD and civil society. But CARI also provides examples of action it has taken in the UNCCD arena, from position papers, side events and exhibitions at Conferences of the Parties (COPs) and other events like the recent World Water Forum in Marseille, to speeches at various levels, as well as seminars and workshops.

When CARI voices its critical positions, it does not mince words. At the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Desertification in September 2011, for example, CARI Director Patrice Burger spoke out: “If a rating agency existed that could assess how the international community is managing the fight against poverty and desertification, it would undoubtedly award a double-B instead of a triple-A to characterise the world’s bad long-term investments.”

This is all part of CARI’s role, however, and their different positions on topical issues do not spoil the relationship between the UNCCD and CARI. In the French newspaper Le Monde, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja, CARI Director Patrice Burger and Nicolas Hulot, President of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation for Nature and Mankind (Fondation Nicolas Hulot pour la Nature et l’Homme), published an article in which they restated their shared overarching vision: “All discourses about ending poverty in the world, about food security or the access to water and to energy will be in vain if we do not choose to preserve the only element at the heart of this three endeavours: land.”


Recently released

New video on PRAIS

A new video introduces PRAIS, the online reporting portal of the UNCCD. The 3 minute film provides a quick overview of the various PRAIS functions and of its significance for the UNCCD’s 10-Year Strategy. It is available in English, French and Spanish.

Download the video in English | en français | en español

Conserving Dryland Biodiversity

UNCCD together with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre of the United Natins Environment Programme (UNEP-WCMC) recently published the first comprehensive analysis of the plant and animal species as well as human populations of the world’s drylands.

The report shows how to conserve biodiversity, while at the same time protecting the land from degradation and improving the livelihoods of rural dryland communities.

Download the report as PDF

CSOs in the UNCCD process

Desertification Primer for CSOs

The Desertification Primer intends to guide the efforts of citizen groups and civil society organisations interested in promoting policies and practices that help stop the spread of desertification. The Primer was developed by the UNCCD together with The Global Citizens Initiative (TGCI) and EarthAction.

Download the primer as PDF

Lutte contre la désertification – Comment le plaidoyer renforce l’action

The CSO CARI published this 60-pages document to show why it is necessary to get engaged for the world’s drylands, to present a methodological framework and to highlight CARI’s experience in the UNCCD process.

Download the document as PDF (French)

Website: CSO Network to Combat Desertification

The CSO network was founded in April 2011 in the lead-up to UNCCD’s COP 10 in the Republic of Korea. The website reports of CSO activities at the COP.

Access the 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.

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: UNCCD/Peter Himsel, UNCCD, private, CARI, ICRISAT, UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, UNCCD, TEMA, 2x UNCCD, Oxfam International, lyzadanger/wikimedia commons, UNCCD, 2x private, Thor Jorgen Udvang/Dreamstime.com, Kim Palmer/wikimedia commons, 4x GADE, 2x CARI, Asdf_1/Dreamstime.com.