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South Africa joins the global community to celebrate World Day to Combat Desertification

17 June 2015


South Africa, through the Department of Environmental Affairs, celebrates the annual World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) today, Wednesday 17 June 2015. The WDCD forms part of the national Environment Month (June), with a focus on raising public awareness and encouraging active participation and partnerships among the various stakeholders whose programmes and activities focus on reversing biodiversity loss, ecosystem and land degradation as well as alleviating rural poverty.

This year’s WDCD is celebrated under the theme: “Attainment of food security for all through sustainable food systems,” announced by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Secretariat.  The theme has been used in combination with the slogan “No such thing as a free lunch.  Invest in healthy soils.”

Land is a vital natural capital for producing food and other ecosystem goods and services. It is even more so for the rural poor, especially women, who rely heavily on land as their most significant asset for the sustenance of their livelihoods and well‐being.

Desertification is land degradation in drylands that affects biological productivity as well as the livelihoods of millions of people. It is caused by human activities and is being exacerbated by poverty and the adverse impacts of climate change amongst many other aspects. Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought negatively affects water resources, drives deforestation, affects food security; and contributes to environmentally induced migrations.

Degradation of our land and ecosystems are an important form of land transformation that are among the world and indeed South Africa’s most critical environmental issues, intricately linked to food security, poverty, urbanization, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Given our historical background, South Africa has struggled with land degradation issues for a long time.

DLDD is affecting the health and the size of the land available for our use today. Soil formation takes many years but just one flood can sweep it all away. Hunger is prevalent in our areas where water retention is poor, and the land is highly vulnerable to natural and human destructions. Land for food production is scarce. Erosion is costing us more than 3 tons of fertile soil per year.

It is becoming increasingly clear that our ability to deliver on fundamental developmental priorities such as access to housing, water, sanitation, food security, energy, transport, education and public health services, at all administrative levels, is being persistently undermined by short, medium and long term impacts of desertification, land degradation and climate change. It is envisaged that land degradation over the next 25 years may reduce global food production by up to 12% resulting in an increase of, world food prices. Worth noting is that billions of people worldwide are affected by hunger and 80% of small farmers in rural areas are landless due to the impacts of DLDD in their areas.

Nations are losing their productive lands, sources of employment and the means to secure their economies. The price it would cost to fix a degrading land on a large scale, to minimize these outcomes, is a cost we are paying today through social and political unrest, conflict and forced migration. Land degradation corrodes the three pillars of sustainable development worldwide. Beyond food scarcity, DLDD can create unemployment, economic deterioration, social tension, involuntary migration and conflicts. There should therefore be a change in our land use practices through smart agriculture and adaptation to changing climate, especially in the dry fragile parts of our areas where food shortages are becoming more and more severe.

Our government is spending millions in “working for” Environmental Programmes to clear invasive species, restore and care for our degraded land and ecosystems. Let us act together on a global scale to make SLM to be part of the agenda and to enable the most vulnerable communities to withstand the worst DLDD-related stresses that may happen.

The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, had indicated that Desertification, land degradation and drought have devastating effects to our communities, on livelihoods and to the economy. I therefore call on national campaigns on raising awareness to have mechanisms and systems that will prevent future devastating impacts of DLDD. We need to stand together in addressing these challenges that impact on all of us in one way or the other, particularly the youth and women. We may not eliminate all the impacts of DLDD today but with healthy and productive land many tragedies can be prevented. DLDD is about changing the status of the land. Working together we can do more.

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Albi Modise
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