A quarterly newsletter about achieving a land-degradation neutral world


 

IN FOCUS

Editorial

Interview


Land and soil in climate change adaptation
Ecosystems can play a major role in climate change adaptation. Within the collective response to climate change, sustainable land management policies and practices have many fundamental benefits. Yet the touch points between climate change and land are still under-utilised. More…


From the Executive Secretary
The close link between sustainable land management and climate change adaptation is overlooked too often. If people are serious about adapting to climate change, they have to focus on land. More…


No more silo thinking
After her first two months in office, the newly appointed UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut talks about her strategy for combating DLDD and her vision for the UNCCD. More…


Science

Good practice


The pristine steppe of Western Siberia: a powder keg?
Western Siberia in Russia is one of the most important carbon sinks worldwide. But changes in land use may turn this mire ecosystem into a major source of CO2 emissions. Here, carbon storage and agricultural expansion have become competing land use options. More…


Bravo for Mexico!
UNCCD honoured the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry with the Land for Life Award 2013 for its remarkable success in promoting sustainable land management practices in the Amanalco-Valle de Bravo basin in central Mexico . More…

MESSAGE FROM THE EXECUTIVE SECRETARY

Building success stories, large and small

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Dear readers,

On 1 October, I took up my new role as Executive Secretary of the UNCCD. It’s an exciting but challenging time to join the UNCCD, for the problems of desertification, land degradation and drought are intensifying globally. These are issues which have concerned me on a very profound level for many years. I believe they are some of the most serious threats to sustainable development – for all the world’s people, but especially for those living in the vulnerable drylands.

I am already very familiar with the UNCCD from the outside. In fact, I negotiated the establishment of the Convention in Rio in 1992 and, as Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility, I was responsible for a key financing mechanism for the UNCCD. Now, I have been given the opportunity to contribute to advancing the Convention from the inside as well. I am looking forward to taking on this challenge together with you, the Parties, the stakeholders and partners of the Convention, and the Secretariat.

In this issue of UNCCD News, we are setting our sights on 2014 and next year’s World Day to Combat Desertification, which is dedicated to the relationship between sustainable land management and climate change adaptation. I believe that this close link is overlooked too often. When we talk about climate change in Africa, what are we talking about, if not land degradation? Mitigation is not an issue in most African countries, for their carbon emissions are relatively low. So if people are serious about their commitment to mitigate and adapt to climate change, they have to focus on land. This is something I want to promote during my time in office. The “In Focus” story offers some important insights, showing why and how land should form part of ecosystem-based adaptation approaches.

When we talk about climate change in Africa, what are we talking about, if not land degradation?


We also look back at the 2013 Land for Life Awards and profile one of the three winners, the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry. The Council’s work is an impressive example of how technically simple and cost-efficient projects can make a difference – to farmers, who are increasing their yields thanks to sustainable land management practices, to a valley whose ecosystem is at risk, and to people far away in Mexico City, who depend on the valley’s resources for their drinking water supply.

These are the kinds of project that inspire hope. I look forward to working with you all and to building more success stories, large and small, in sustainable land management around the world in the years ahead.


Monique Barbut
Executive Secretary


IN FOCUS

Land and soil in climate change adaptation

Time has run out. Our window of opportunity for a mitigation-only response to climate change has closed. For many, Typhoon Haiyan, which swept over the Philippines in November 2013, was a clear signal that the world is facing more frequent and more severe climate change-induced natural disasters. But what does this have to do with land?

First, in the world’s drylands, desertification – already a serious challenge – is exacerbated by climate change. Drylands are expected to face more severe and longer periods of drought and floods, which will wash away soil and intensify land degradation. This in turn will increase greenhouse gas emissions and worsen climate change – a vicious cycle which has intensified over many decades. Communities whose livelihoods are affected by these developments have only one choice: to adapt to their changing environment as a matter of urgency.

Adaptation has featured more prominently on the international climate agenda since the 2011 Climate Change Conference in Cancún. The contribution of ecosystems to climate change adaptation, however, is still not fully recognised and is therefore under-utilised. This is the second touch point between climate change and land.

“Mainstreaming sustainable land management policies and practices within the collective response to climate change has many fundamental benefits,” says Sergio Zelaya-Bonilla, Coordinator, Policy Advocacy on Global Issues and Platforms, at the UNCCD Secretariat. That’s why UNCCD is dedicating the 2014 World Day to Combat Desertification to ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). “We seek to send out a clear message to the international community: Land belongs to the future, let's climate proof it!” Sergio Zelaya explains.

“Land belongs to the future, let's climate proof it!”


Linking sustainable development issues with adaptation dramatically increases the positive impact on the welfare of the world’s poor and helps to improve the condition of vulnerable ecosystems. Rather than applying new technologies, EbA builds on existing sustainable land management practices and focuses on natural solutions. EbA approaches can be applied in many different areas – agriculture, forestry, water resources management, and nature conservation, for example. In every case, the guiding principle is that the scheme should utilise the land and the associated biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of a strategy to support communities’ adaptation to, and preparedness for, the impacts of climate change.

An EbA approach in agriculture, for example, might involve planting crop varieties that are more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change such as higher temperatures, droughts and pests. In forestry, it could mean managing natural and secondary forests and low forest-covered areas on hillsides and plains to prevent erosion, landslides and topsoil loss. And in nature conservation, it might involve rehabilitating wetlands to act as natural floodplains to protect farmland – an approach which has numerous co-benefits in terms of ecosystem services, compared with an engineering-based solution.

“EbA is a first response, not a last resort,” says Debra Roberts from the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department (EPCPD) in eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa. As she makes clear, “It contrasts with the interventionist and reactive nature of many existing adaptation proposals and plans for dealing with the threat of an unpredictable climate.”

“Ecosystem-based adaptation is a first response, not a last resort.”


The benefits of sustainable land management in EbA

Agriculture, land and water feature prominently in EbA: they contribute to food security, water availability, renewable energy sources and the conservation of significant agricultural biodiversity, and create more resilient agro-ecosystems. They are able to increase soil carbon stocks and help to preserve habitats and genetic resources, thus reversing land degradation in soil, water and vegetation.

Without adaptation in farming, climate change may well have a devastating impact on crop yields. And here, it is essential to start – quite literally – on the ground. “Soils are the forgotten ecosystem service,” says Maurizio Guadagni, a rural development specialist at the World Bank. He sees soil as the key to food security and biodiversity conservation and to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Soils are one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. Plants “fix” the carbon, which is then directly absorbed by the soil as the plants decay. Maurizio wants soils to be at the heart of “climate-smart agriculture” – farming techniques that increase productivity, build resilience to climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Improved soils can capture carbon to slow climate change, and hold water to improve agriculture’s adaptability to the extremes of climate change,” he says.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), climate-smart agriculture has three main pillars:

  • · sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes (food security);
  • · adapting and building resilience to climate change (adaptation); and
  • · reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation), where possible.

The options for EbA solutions in agriculture are almost endless. They include efficient irrigation systems that make sparing use of water resources, new crop varieties that are more resistant to drought or temperature extremes and to diseases or pests caused by changing climate patterns, crop and livestock diversification, and conservation agriculture, which combines zero tillage and the retention of crop residues to improve soil structure and soil moisture conservation while reducing the consumption of fuel and other costly inputs.

Above all, there are significant economic gains to be derived from EbA: It does not rely on new and expensive technologies, so it keeps costs low. EbA also offers many co-benefits, such as water, soil and biodiversity conservation, in a “multi-win” scenario. And it can contribute to the other key pillar of climate action, namely mitigation, by reducing emissions from ecosystem degradation and loss and supporting carbon sequestration.

EbA does not rely on new and expensive technologies.


The constraints

However, many stakeholders lack a full understanding of EbA, its implementation and benefits. This was a key problem identified by participants at the UNFCCC technical workshop on ecosystem-based approaches for adaptation to climate change, which took place in spring 2013. But a lack of resources and poor coordination seem to be an even bigger barrier. Actors from different sectors often have difficulties aligning their agendas and implementing a broader multidisciplinary approach. This can obstruct efforts to mainstream EbA in national adaptation, biodiversity and sustainable development policies.


EbA in the international climate change debate

in_focus6The December 2010 UNFCCC Cancun Agreements called for all Parties to enhance action on adaptation under the Cancun Adaptation Framework, including building resilience of socioeconomic and ecological systems through sustainable management of natural resources.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognised that land management activities that are designed to take into account projected changes in climate, along with those that reduce non-climatic pressures on biodiversity, can make people less vulnerable to climatic extremes.

Agriculture was a heavily debated topic at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties in Warsaw, Poland, in November. One of the advocates of a stronger role for agriculture in climate change mitigation and adaptation was Bruce Campbell, Director of the Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). His message was clear: if we are to find a solution to climate change, we need to talk agriculture.


The way forward

Sustainable land management (SLM), with policies aimed at on-the-ground benefits addressing the close linkage within SLM practices, has a key role to play in EbA wherever the impacts of climate change are increasingly undermining the resilience of communities and individuals who depend on the land for their livelihoods.

Ecosystem-based adaptation strategies are potentially more cost-effective than other hard engineering adaptation options, yet they are often overlooked. A paradigm shift is needed so that sustainably managed and resilient ecosystems and the services they provide help to reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate change impacts. Agroforestry and sustainable livestock management must also come into play.

Sustainably managed ecosystems reduce the vulnerability to climate change impacts.


The international community should focus more strongly on the role of land and soil in climate change and promote mitigation through soil carbon sequestration. Developing countries and their partners should be encouraged to become more fully engaged in climate change adaptation action. This means building local capacities, developing more sophisticated monitoring methodologies, and making it more of a priority to address land-related concerns.

And now’s the time to act: “Either we take the measures needed to enhance resilience and enable land-dependent communities to adapt, or we prepare for the political consequences of our inaction. The choice is ours and 2014 is the year we are calling on every stakeholder to play their part,” says UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut.

Within its focus on EbA, the UNCCD’s land-based approach is prioritising soil health through SLM, thus ensuring that soils are no longer the forgotten component of ecosystems but take their rightful place in an overall strategy for sustainable development and the climate process.


World Day to Combat Desertification:
‘Land Belongs to the Future, Let’s Climate Proof It’

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UNCCD is dedicating World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) 2014 to ecosystem-based adaptation. The 2014 WDCD campaign will kick off on African Environment Day/Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March. If you are planning to host a WDCD-related event, please send the details – date, venue and planned activity – to arce@unccd.int. The information will be posted on the WDCD website as part of a global country-by-country infographic. Since 1994, World Day to Combat Desertification has been celebrated around the globe every year on 17 June.


Links

INTERVIEW

No more silo thinking

In September, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Monique Barbut as the new Executive Secretary of the UNCCD. After her first two months in office, Ms Barbut talked to UNCCD News editor Susanne Reiff about her strategy for combating DLDD and her vision for the UNCCD.

Ms Barbut, what motivated you to take on the position of Executive Secretary to the UNCCD?

Although I am mostly known for my work in the environmental field, I have dedicated my professional career to development. Even in my last two positions with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), I always dealt with issues from a development rather than from an environmental perspective. For me, combating land degradation is at the heart of development efforts and that’s why I am here today.

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Where do you see the UNCCD today?

Land degradation, desertification and drought have not attracted the same attention as climate change and biodiversity. Many actors in the environmental sector, such as negotiation groups, find it difficult to grasp land degradation as being one of “their” issues, and actors who are more closely attached to land are not powerful enough to make it into the news headlines. In GEF, I pushed very hard for DLDD to be treated like the other two Rio Convention topics. I found that donor countries are much more reluctant to accept the urgency of combating land degradation. So my aim is to advocate strongly for land degradation to be recognised as an issue that is relevant to everyone, not only the South.


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How do you see the relationship between land and other environmental and development issues?

The three Rio Convention issues – land, climate and biodiversity – urgently need to be associated more closely. It’s not possible to tackle climate change, especially in Africa, if you don’t address land. It is not possible to focus on restoring ecosystems without considering land and soil. I could go further and say that sustainable land management is central to social and economic development in many countries. It is central to poverty alleviation and food security. How will we be able to feed nine billion people in future, if today’s rate of land degradation is not halted?

What are the implications of this insight?

Intellectually, people understand the need to associate the three issues of land, biodiversity and climate change. The problem is that, nationally and internationally, we are used to thinking and acting in “silos”. For example, the person or unit responsible for agricultural policy in a ministry or international agency does not deal with climate change adaptation or migration. It is this lack of joined-up thinking that prevents us from bringing about change on a larger scale. And this is the case both at the policy and the project implementation level.

However, in my experience, this can be overcome if there is the clear political will at the highest level. A good example is the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative. I was only able to make this project happen because I had the commitment of eleven heads of state behind me, who were prepared to push this project every single day.

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Is a lack of funding a major concern?

What I have in mind does not cost more than what is being spent today. It is not a question of money and I am not asking for billions of dollars. The types of project we need are neither difficult nor costly to implement. Again, our greatest challenge is to open up systems that have operated according to “silo logic” for years.

The implications of land degradation for security are also on your agenda, is that right?

Yes, I strongly believe that land is an issue that directly relates to national and international security. Just look at the problems Mali and Nigeria are facing and you’ll know what I am talking about. If a country fails to clarify land rights in a pro-poor manner, migration, increased poverty and instability will be the consequences. I am convinced that this fact will make people take more notice of what we are saying. Our task now is to provide the information that decision-makers need to integrate land issues into their security strategies.

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I would like to reiterate that there is more to security than political security. My understanding of security follows the human security approach and also includes water security, for example. There are many different connections between land and security, and that’s why I have this issue on my agenda.

“There is more to security than political security.”


What about internal issues such as reporting in the UNCCD?

Of course, reporting plays an important role for our Convention, especially because it is the obligation Parties have. It is essential for the Secretariat to ensure that countries report how they are affected by desertification, land degradation and drought and the progress they have made to meet these challenges.

For me, reporting has one main goal: Only if we get a global picture of the state of DLDD from affected countries will we be able to learn and improve our efforts. India is a very good example. It has made major progress on the sustainable management of land. So when India reports on its progress, the Secretariat can utilise this experience and share it with other Parties.

Reporting in the UNCCD should not be overly complicated. In the very short term, I want us to be equipped with tools that the Parties can easily understand. The Secretariat has observed over the past few years that countries have reported less and less. If we ask the Parties for better reporting, we will have to build their capacities in this area.

Which implementation approach do you think can deliver the best results?

On the one hand, we need large-scale programmes like the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative. I would like to invite the major funding institutions to support more programmes of this type. For example, let’s revive the Central Asian Countries Initiative for Land Management (CACIM). Let’s build programmes large enough to deal with all the aspects we talked about in an integrated manner. Only the big countries like China are able to implement such large-scale programmes, so the other option is for countries to join forces to address these challenges via a regional approach. This kind of exchange also acts as a motivating force and is cost-effective.

On the other hand, I see small projects that are linked to a larger programme such as the Great Green Wall bringing a lot of hope.

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Can you give an example?

In Senegal, one of the 11 countries participating in the Great Green Wall Initiative, we developed the concept of eco-villages built around the basic need for energy. We built an energy centre in the village which provides energy from renewable sources such as solar panels and wind. A private company distributes lamps, mobile phones, solar ovens and hydraulic pumps to the people, who can recharge this equipment at the energy centre. In return, people were asked to build the water reservoir, which is fed with the hydraulic pump. Because they now have access to water and a solar oven, women no longer have to fetch water or collect wood for cooking. We asked the women to plant a certain number of trees and the fruit can now be sold. At the end of the day, the project cost USD 25,000. This is the Great Green Wall! It’s not complicated or costly.

Ms Barbut, thank you for talking to UNCCD News.


SCIENCE

The pristine steppe of Western Siberia:
a powder keg?

Endless peatlands, forests and steppe soils storing almost one quarter of all terrestrial carbon fixed since the last ice age make Western Siberia in Russia one of the most important carbon sinks worldwide. But changes in land use may turn this mostly unspoiled mire ecosystem into a major source of CO2 emissions. Here, carbon storage and agricultural expansion have become competing land use options.

The trigger for this situation can be found further south in the steppe regions of Kazakhstan and Southern Siberia. Here, climate change is causing increasing aridity, thus reducing yields. “As a consequence, the Western Siberian corn belt is shifting further north into the forest steppe and the pre-taiga which, today, are still characterised by organic soils, swamps, forests and grassland,” says Dr Johannes Kamp, a landscape ecologist from Münster University in Germany and coordinator of the “Sustainable land management and adaptation strategies to climate change for the Western Siberian corn belt” research project (SASCHA). The project is developing strategies for sustainable agriculture in order to protect both the productivity of agricultural land and the region’s natural resources – soil, water and biodiversity.

The climate in the southern part of Tyumen oblast (an administrative region of Russia) is perfect for intensive farming. It is particularly suitable for growing summer wheat: the Western Siberian corn belt is a major supplier. South-Western Siberia also offers great potential for bioenergy production.

However, current faming methods are inefficient and have been degrading land and soil. The numbers speak for themselves: While average yields in Western Europe amount to approximately seven tonnes per hectare, the figure for farmers in Western Siberia is just two tonnes per hectare, according to experts from the SASCHA project. So there is an urgent need for farmers to improve tillage, crop rotation, organic fertilisation and the use of manure in their farming systems in order to increase output to a level that will meet future food demand. A change in agricultural practices would ease the pressure on land and minimise the need to create new farmland in areas with high greenhouse gas emissions potential.


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It is still unclear how much CO2 and methane might be released into the atmosphere if arable land is extended further north into carbon sequestering areas. Clearly, though, action is needed to protect the natural steppe environment and prevent its conversion to farmland. But at present, there are no policies and strategies in place in Western Siberia to steer and mitigate these radical land use changes. Conservation strategies are therefore urgently required.


Research project

SASCHA is organised in eight closely linked subprojects focusing on

  • 1. central coordination, internal and external communication and work flow,
  • 2. analysis and monitoring of land cover and current land use change,
  • 3. hydrology, including modelling of water and matter balances
    under global change,
  • 4. quantification of greenhouse gas fluxes,
  • 5. sustainable agricultural management and strategies for adaptation
    to climate change,
  • 6. carbon stocks and biodiversity in non-arable ecosystems,
  • 7. landscape planning, and
  • 8. institutions, property rights, governance structures
    and implementation capacities.


A broad perspective with a clear focus

The interdisciplinary project, which receives 3.8 million euros in funding from the German Government, takes a broad approach, allowing scientists to model many different impacts of predicted land use changes. Launched in 2011, SASCHA began by gathering basic data to predict greenhouse gas emissions, quality of water systems, soil and land fertility and biodiversity for various climate and land use scenarios. The next step is to define priority areas for different land use types and intensities under multiple scenarios of climate change at the landscape level. To that end, long-term trials are being conducted on different tillage methods, new crop variants, and organic fertilisation. Finally, by 2016, the project results will be translated into an operational planning framework, which will be implemented in close cooperation with all stakeholders.

The collection of data, not available previously, is particularly important. Using earth observation, SASCHA scientists have developed a land use classification system for the region so that in future, their spatial models will show how farming could change and crop yields could develop on the basis of a sustainable land management approach. While there is potential to increase efficiency in areas which have already been cultivated intensively, SASCHA researchers suggest alternative concepts, such as organic farming, as the right pathway towards economic success for smaller farms.

Some of the suggestions are quite simple, such as sowing rows closer together in order to increase yields. In extensive field trials, Insa Kühling from Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences in Germany is investigating whether sowing seed directly onto the soil without tilling the land can increase yields. Her colleague Professor Dieter Trautz is experimenting with soya and wants to analyse the effects of soya integrated into a crop cycle in rotation with rapeseed, maize and wheat. “Soya is a legume, so it fixes nitrogen. This makes it very attractive for farming,” he says.


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Bringing in policy

For Professor Norbert Hölzel, who heads the SASCHA project, it is vital to build trust and establish structures for communication with the local administration, political institutions and the private sector. He sees this as a prerequisite for implementing the project successfully and ensuring that the research findings reach the decision-makers. That’s why the project focuses not only on the science but also on the socioeconomic aspects of land use change, he explains.

It seems that the German researchers and their Russian partners from Tyumen State University are pushing at an open door. The Tyumen region is keen to lead the way in organic farming. “The Governor and Parliament see organic farming as the future for agriculture,” says Natalia Stupak. Her research in a SASCHA subproject analyses the institutional and political conditions affecting land use in Tyumen oblast.

The research project is pushing at an open door.


Benefits for other continental steppe regions

The research project will help to harmonise the conflicting interests of carbon sequestration and increasing agricultural production. The idea behind the concept is as simple as it is appealing. Each ecosystem should be able to continue to perform its ecosystem functions: The steppes sequester carbon, while the Western Siberian corn belt will continue to provide food by changing agricultural practices. It’s an approach which Professor Hölzel firmly believes can act as a role model for other continental steppe regions as well – in China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

GOOD PRACTICE

Bravo for Mexico!

The Amanalco-Valle de Bravo basin in central Mexico is a magnificent landscape of hills, forests, fields and waterfalls. It seems idyllic – but the land and forests are under severe stress, creating complex challenges for thousands of families. The Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry (Consejo Civil Mexicano para la Silvicultura Sostenible – CCMSS) has set itself the task of halting the large-scale land and forest degradation in the basin – and was honoured with the UNCCD’s Land for Life Award 2013 for its remarkable success in promoting sustainable land management practices here.

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For the people of Valle de Bravo, the fear that their land could be washed away is an ever-present reality. A worrying 22 per cent of the basin’s surface area has a level of erosion of more than 50 tonnes per hectare per year, causing sedimentation of water bodies, soil loss and reduced productivity. Bad land management practices have also contributed to a decline in soil quality. Sergio Madrid, CCMSS’s Executive Director, reports that in the past, the farmers in the valley harvested around three tonnes of maize per hectare. Today, it is as little as 300 kg. How can they sustain their livelihoods if this negative trend cannot be stopped? The impacts are felt further afield as well: the basin supplies water to millions of people in the metropolitan region of Mexico City, which is in permanent water crisis.


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CCMSS has set itself an ambitious goal: to revitalise the watershed and improve its ecological functions. Its mission statement includes a long list of activities with a focus on sustainable land management, strengthening governance, developing a scheme for Payment for Environmental Services (PES), and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

But why is the land degrading? One reason is that farmers had replaced traditional agricultural practices with techniques with greater environmental impact. This resulted in the use of excessive quantities of nutrient-rich fertilisers. The farmers now know that this was the wrong approach. Population pressure, increased demand for water and uncontrolled development have also taken their toll in recent decades, turning the watershed into an ecosystem at risk.

The farmers now know that the watershed turned into an ecosystem at risk.


CCMSS takes a broad approach to tackle the challenges. It focuses on the valley’s natural resources – soil, water and biodiversity – in productive sectors such as agriculture, livestock husbandry and forestry.

For CCMSS, the local communities and ejidos are the key to success. They have long been marginalised, but own more than 50 per cent of forest land in the Amanalco-Valle de Bravo basin. These collective entities are mainly rural and livelihoods are based on the use and management of natural resources.

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With help from CCMSS, the people belonging to the ejidos have taken the valley’s future into their own hands. Juana Faustino Zarate, who participates in a local agro-ecological group, explains that they have stopped using chemical fertilisers. “Today, we produce our own compost,” she says. Together with Angel Sanchez Miguel, CCMSS’s Land Management Officer, the group found out that the nutrients from cow bones stimulate microbial action in the soil.

Sustainable land management

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CCMSS has invested around USD 500,000 in sustainable farming practices and the regeneration of farmland. Capacity building plays a major role here. With help from CCMSS, farmers like Carlos Marcos Mota have developed work plans for their plots to improve soil quality. For Carlos and the other farmers from his village, the effort is paying off. Sustainable land management practices offer real benefits, raising the level of humidity in the soil and increasing germination and productivity. As a result, many poor farming families have diversified their production and increased their yields by up to 50 per cent, thus improving their food security and their standards of living. Currently, CCMSS supports 122 peasant families with 200 hectares of agricultural land. And news of the benefits is travelling fast: each year, more and more farming families want to join the scheme.


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Sustainable forest management

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Local communities are taking the fate of the forest into their own hands as well. CCMSS’s sustainable forestry programme involves 11 local communities which manage around 10,000 hectares of forest. The challenges to the forest in the Amanalco Valley are numerous and diverse – and so is CCMSS’s response. It has invested around USD 400,000 in the restoration of degraded forest lands. As one of the measures, it has built 785 cubic metres of rock dams to reduce the velocity of water in gullies. “We fenced several forest areas that were threatened by livestock, and have afforested highly degraded areas,” a CCMSS spokesperson explains. The people managing the forest can see for themselves how simple technicalmeasures produce major results. For example, they see the positive effects on the soil’s quality when they remove timber from the forest in a sustainable way.

Local communities are taking the fate of the forest into their own hands.

Fernando Canto Carbajal, Director of the community timber mill, explains that the forest is regulated by the Union of Commons. “The members of the Union agreed to manage the forest together,” he says. People in the valley have always had a very close connection with the forest and understand and appreciate the ecosystem services that it has to offer. Teresa Soto Cipriano, a farmer from the village of San Bartolo, is proud of her traditional knowledge: she is familiar with all the medicinal herbs found in the forest.

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES)

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Together with the communities, CCMSS designed a payment scheme with two components. It includes payments to individual farmers as a reward for appropriate management of their agricultural parcels, and payments for good management practices in ejidos’ communal areas such as forests, grasslands, canyons, roads and streams. The pilot scheme, which is administered with public and private resources, thus recognises community land use planning on a larger scale as well as conservation plans on single parcels.

This approach has already paid off. Today, the quality of hydrological and environmental services has clearly improved. People also appreciate the PES because it valorises traditional knowledge and provides economic incentives for people to remain in their rural communities, thus reducing rural-urban drift.

The PES scheme has already attracted interest from local government institutions, which are analysing ways of implementing the mechanism at a larger scale.

Policy advice

For CCMSS, local capacity building and policy advice go hand in hand. The organisation has influenced numerous forest policies, either through advice to government institutions or through civil society campaigns. CCMSS’s advice was taken into account in the preparation of the General Law of Forest Development and the climate change bill published earlier this year. CCMSS has been a member of the National Forest Council (Consejo Nacional Forestal – CONAF) since 1996.

Sergio Madrid passes on the honour of receiving a Land for Life Award to the people living in the valley: “The rural communities are quietly making great efforts to sustainably manage landscapes, safeguarding humanity’s bio-cultural heritage. CCMSS’s work has prospered thanks to the Mexican communities’ determination, wisdom and knowledge and the efforts they are making to collectively steward natural resources, demonstrating the success of their organisational strategies.”


The communities have demonstrated determination, wisdom and knowledge.

 

Land for Life Award 2013

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This year’s Land for Life Award went to three outstanding organisations that have made a significant and innovative contribution to sustainable land management. The first prize, worth USD 40,000, went to the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) from India. Two second prizes, each worth USD 30,000, went to World Vision Australia for its work in West Africa and the Consejo Civil Mexicano para la Silvicultura Sostenible (CCMSS) from Mexico.

The annual Land for Life Award was launched in 2012 to recognise excellence and innovation in sustainable land management. Applications for the 2014 Land for Life Award should be submitted to the UNCCD Secretariat by 15 March 2014.


 

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

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Photo credits: Contents: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe; UNCCD; FAO/Giulio Napolitano; SASCHA; CCMSS; Message: UNCCD; In Focus: EU/ECHO Arlynn Aquino; UN Photo/Logan Abassi; UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe; UN Climate Change; Biodiversity International/M. Beltran; Interview: UNCCD; FAO/Giulio Napolitano, oldman1945/fotolia.com; UN Photo/Marco Dormino; UN Photo/Phil Behan; Science: 5x SASCHA; Good practice: 7x CCMSS; UNCCD.