South Africa marks the World Day to combat desertification

16 June 2016


Tomorrow, 17 June 2016, South Africa joins nations around the world in celebrating the World Day to Combat Desertification under the theme “Inclusive cooperation for achieving Land Degradation Neutrality”. The slogan for the Day, “Protect Earth. Restore Land. Engage People” addresses the importance of comprehensive participation and cooperation in working towards achieving land degradation neutrality.

This day was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, to mark the adoption of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa as an international Multilateral Environmental Agreement in 1994.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is the key global policy instrument to address land degradation and poverty in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid parts of the world. The objective of this Convention is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification particularly in Africa through effective action at all levels. South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in September 1997.

This year’s theme is a key for making Land Degradation Neutrality a fundamental solution for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. Goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls on nations to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation, as well as halt biodiversity loss.

Target 15.3 states that “By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world”. In addition the twelfth session of the conference of parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification reached a consensus by linking the implementation of the Convention with the Sustainable Development Goals and endorsed the land degradation neutrality target.

The objective of land degradation neutrality is to maintain the amount of healthy and productive land resources over time and in line with national sustainable development priorities through Sustainable Land Management practices and ecosystem restoration that enhances the resilience of land resources and communities that directly depend on them while avoiding further degradation. The land degradation neutrality target responds to the immediate challenge of how South Africa can sustainably intensify production of food, improve water quality and quantity, enhance resilience to climate change and meet future demands without further degradation of our finite land resource base.

The key principle of land degradation neutrality is that people at grassroots level whose everyday decisions and actions affect the condition of land and water resources have to be involved in the designing and implementing measures to halt and reverse land degradation.

It is this context that the World Day to Combat Desertification provides a unique occasion to remind all people that desertification can be effectively tackled, that solutions are possible, and that key tools to this aim lay in strengthened community participation and collaboration at all levels.

Land is a vital resource for producing food and other ecosystem goods and services including conserving biodiversity, regulating hydrological regimes, soil nutrients cycling, and storing carbon, among others. Indeed, the most significant natural capital asset is productive land and fertile soils. For those communities that rely heavily on land as their main source, especially the rural poor, human well‐being and sustainable livelihoods are completely dependent upon and intricately linked to the health and productivity of the land.

“The challenges of land degradation, desertification and drought negatively affect the very land needed for food production, water resources, livelihoods and the wellbeing of our people.  The loss of livelihoods especially in rural areas is undesirable and it is for this reason that government has invested in rural development, with specific emphasis on the improvement of rural economies and in particular prioritising women and the youth,” said the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa.

Desertification, land degradation and drought are intricately linked to food and water insecurity, poverty, urbanization, climate change, and biodiversity loss.

Desertification, land degradation and drought is therefore amongst the most critical sustainable development challenges globally as 24 billion tons of fertile top soil are lost every year with far reaching implications for poor and marginalised populations who depend on land for livelihood.

“Land degradation has the potential to undermine government efforts of poverty eradication, fighting unemployment and enhancement of economic opportunities especially in rural areas. Along with biodiversity loss and climate change, issues of land degradation have been recognized internationally as threats to humanity,” said the Minister.

The Minister appealed to all South Africans to rise to the challenge of ensuring the land is protected.

“If we do not rise to this challenge, we will not achieve our commitments for climate change adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity conservation, forest and the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals targets; we will not effectively alleviate rural poverty and hunger nor ensure long‐term food security nor build resilience to drought and water stress,” said the Minister.

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