29 August 2013

Southern Africa: Region to Host Conference on Desertification

Namibia will host a major international conference in September to discuss land degradation and desertification.

The 11th Conference of Parties (COP11) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will take place from 16-27 September in Windhoek, Namibia.

To be held under the theme "A Stronger UNCCD for a Land-Degradation Neutral World," the conference will assess progress made in the implementation of the convention's 10-Year Strategy (2008-2018) and develop a way forward for the next five years.

Delegates will discuss measures to reduce land degradation and slow rapid desertification as well as alleviating the challenges of people living in dry lands through solutions that restore soil productivity.

In the 10-Year Strategy, governments committed to scaling up national, regional and global processes to reduce land degradation and slow down desertification.

Among other issues, the UNCCD parties agreed to report regularly on national efforts to contain land degradation and desertification as well as set up a Global Environment Facility by 2018 to mobilize funds for programmes and projects under the convention.

In addition, COP11 sessions will reflect on financing, knowledge brokering and the UNCCD vision after Rio+20 outcome on land degradation, desertification and drought, considered one of the successes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012.

According to the Rio+20 Outcome Document, governments underline the economic and social significance of good land management, including soil.

World leaders agreed to strive for a land degradation neutral world and reaffirmed their commitment to take coordinated action nationally, regionally and internationally to monitor land degradation and restore degraded lands in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas.

The conference has much significance for southern Africa where land is an essential resource, covering a total area of almost 10 million square kilometres, of which less than 25 percent is arable.

The region's arable and domesticated land is used for agriculture, forestry, wetlands and wildlife conservation and human settlements.

Crop production is the most dominant land use. However, due to factors such as low soil fertility and erratic rainfall patterns, an estimated five percent of southern Africa is under permanent cropland.

Grazing lands, covering 45 percent of the region's total land, and woodlands are diminishing due to land pressures resulting from population growth, land tenure and ownership regimes, and limited use of technologies suitable for intensive production.

Soil erosion is the most widespread form of land degradation, accounting for a substantial amount of the region's degradation.

Land degradation caused by erosion is expected to continue due to population pressure, skewed land tenure systems, and increasing demand for land.

Communal grazing is the norm over most of rural southern Africa and accounts for more than 50 percent of land degradation in the region due to overgrazing from cattle, sheep and goats, some of which are bred and grazed in unsuitable areas.

Land degradation comes with a huge opportunity cost for society. The hectares of land lost annually in the region and globally have the potential to produce several millions of tonnes of grain-food that would minimize growing food insecurity and alleviate hunger.

The decision to have the conference held in Namibia was made at the 11th session of the UNCCD's review committee convention held in Bonn, Germany in April this year.

Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism, Uahekua Herunga said the review meeting had given Namibia and the rest of southern Africa the opportunity to present its capacity to host COP11 and to give a brief overview of what the region has to offer.

"I find it extremely fitting for Namibia, itself facing the threats of desertification, to host this conference, as this further solidifies our commitment to addressing the threats and challenges of land degradation," Herunga said.

Namibia will assume the UNCCD chair during the conference, enabling it to drive the global process towards COP12 to be held in 2015.

The two-year term as president is expected to offer southern Africa a unique opportunity to drive the global agenda on issues of desertification, land degradation and drought.

The conference is expected to attract up to 3,000 delegates, including heads of state and government, cabinet ministers and environmental experts from the 195 parties to the UNCCD.

All 15 SADC Member States are parties to the UNCCD as they have all signed and ratified the convention.

Established in 1994, the UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.

This will be the second major United Nations conference to be hosted by SADC in as many months following the 20th Ordinary Session of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) jointly hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe in August. SADC Today

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