25 September 2013

Namibia: China to Assist in Combating Land Degradation and Desertification

Windhoek — The Chinese government has shown interest in assisting Namibia in dealing with land degradation and desertification issues Minister of Environment and Tourism, Uahekua Herunga, who is also the COP11 president, revealed yesterday.

Those issues are high on the agenda at the 11th Conference of Parties (COP11) to the United Nations Convection to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) underway in Windhoek. "Namibia would like to see issues of desertification, land degradation and drought mitigation pushed high on the agenda and integrated into the post-2015 sustainable development goals framework. China has shown interest in assisting Namibia during its two years of the COP presidency. I met with the Chinese ambassador to Namibia, Xin Shunkang. We agreed to have a meeting immediately after the conference ends (on Friday).

And then they will see how they will assist Namibia in combating land degradation and desertification," Herunga revealed without elaborating on the kind of assistance China might offer. Outgoing UNCCD Executive Secretary, Luc Gnacadja, highlighted that China had strategically motioned that degraded land should be restored and emphasized that they have succeeded in that regard. "The Chinese government has a comprehensive policy to deal with land degradation and desertification. The private sector has been heavily involved in ensuring that degraded land is restored," Gnacadja explained. China is also a member state of the 195 countries under the COP.

In China alone, between 1957 and 1990, the area of arable land was reduced by an area equal to all the crop land in Denmark, France, Germany and The Netherlands combined, mainly because of land degradation. That is why the Chinese government decided to become pioneers in combating desertification. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), during previous decades of concentrated work, innovative sand control techniques were developed and significant research results accumulated in China.

Such examples include fixation techniques for mobile sand dunes along the Baotou-Lanzhou Railway, aero-seeding over shifting sand dunes, narrow strip planting, straw checkerboard networks, windbreaks and shelterbelts of grass, shrubs and trees for farmland protection and agro-forestry ecosystems. The UN agency further indicates that integrated management plans for erosion control, which include hills, watersheds, vests and roads have been developed to mitigate land degradation. Moreover, by 1988 plantations established mainly for desertification control covered ten million hectares (ha).

Forest coverage in northern China rose to 12 percent from 7 percent in the 1970s, with 10 percent of the desertified land under control, according to a FAO report. "The sheltering effect of these plantations helped open up 1.3 million ha of new farmland; 11 million ha of desert-affected farmland and 9 million ha of desertified or degraded grazing land were protected; grain production increased 10 to 20 percent and grass fodder production increased 20 percent," according to the FAO report. During the same period degraded forests and grasslands were closed to harvesting or grazing to enable natural rehabilitation to occur.

Over 8 million ha of fuelwood plantations were established to meet the daily needs of 5 million local households, while windmills and solar energy were also used as fuel supplements. "The result was rapid development of the economy and improved environmental conditions. Erosion was reduced over a 570 000 square km area. Within four years of initiating the National Programme for Combating Desertification, 2 445 million ha had been controlled, including 401 000 ha covered with artificial plantations, 271 000 ha afforested by aero-seeding and 1.47 million ha protected for natural rehabilitation. Also, 100 000 ha of seriously desertified land had been converted into farmland," the FAO report stressed. The two-week long conference ends on Friday.

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