The United Nations’ top body on land and desertification has called on countries to make a full global commitment to drought preparedness and resilience in all global regions. This, as the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) concludes today (Friday, 20 May).
Under the theme of “Land, Life, Legacy: From scarcity to prosperity” member states are finalising critical negotiations that started on 9 May in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. Drought, land degradation and land rights restoration, gender equality and youth empowerment were among the top items on the conference agenda.
The UNCCD Global Land Outlook report says the current approach to land management is putting half the world’s economic output – 44 trillion US dollar – at risk. At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is projecting an increase in both frequency and severity of drought in all regions of the world.
UNCCD’s Drought in Numbers 2022 report, released to mark Drought Day at COP15, found that droughts represented 15% of natural disasters between 1970 to 2019. Yet it took the largest human toll: approximately 650 000 deaths and equalling 124 billion US dollar in global economic losses.
Declining crop productivity is among the warnings against failure to adapt to the future risks of warming as a result of climate change and land degradation. The body has called for “sustainable and efficient agricultural management techniques that grow more food on less land and with less water” in the latest report, as well as the implementation of integrated drought action plans and sustainable finance to improve drought resilience at the local level.
Saving the soil (#SaveSoilAtCOP15) has been a major campaign for civil society and human and environmental rights groups.
Agricultural land needs fixing
Renowned spiritual guru Jagadish “Jaggi” Vasudev, better known as Sadhguru, rallied countries to agree to a 3 to 6% increase in organic content on soil to stop desertification of the world’s lands.
“70% of land is ploughed and 4.2% is paved… The real fixing that we need is on agricultural land. Keep the soil alive. The UNCCD COP15 needs to end with implementable action,” he said. Sadguru travelled 30 000 km on a solo motorcycle journey as part of his call for farmers to restore lands with organic matter. The UNCCD estimates that by 2050, 80% of land will be degraded if urgent steps are not taken.
“The most important thing is to recognise soil as a living entity and keep it alive. More than 85% of the nations on the planet still look at soil as an inert substance. This approach must change immediately if we want to save soil,” he said during his address.
Solutions for land restoration are a top priority for scientists and policy makers sharing knowledge, science and influence on the side lines of the negotiations. Lead scientist at the UNCCD Barren Joseph said that COP15 brought scientists and leading experts in various fields together to share innovative solutions and expert knowledge on restoration and drought preparedness.
“We are not going to be able to adapt unless we’ve got good, inclusive, responsible governance supporting the people on the ground,” he explained in a broadcast.
COP15 is expected to begin a process that will finalise technical guidelines for land degradation neutrality that considers food security. Land degradation neutrality is the term referring to a point where land is used sustainably. Several decisions by UNCCD’s 196 member states must be issued on Friday, 20 May at the conclusion of COP15.
“Practicable and sustainable solutions exist to contribute to land degradation neutrality while increasing productivity. The Food and Agriculture Organization believes in a world where natural resources are used in a sustainable way to meet food security and nutritious needs,” Maria Helena Semedo, FAO’s deputy director-general said at the opening.
Strengthening women’s rights, equal access to land and other resources offers greater potential to increase food security, improve livelihoods and reduce poverty. These were among the remarks by panellists at side events addressing issues of land tenure and gender equity.
Acknowledge, address gender gaps
Tech businesswoman Patricia Zoundi called for the facilitation of access to agricultural inputs, finance, training and technologies that address the specific needs of smallholder farmers, particularly women.
“In developing countries where land degradation is more pronounced, women often have the role of providing food and water. Given their substantial role in agriculture and food production, women are disproportionately affected when land is degraded and becomes scarce,” said Abdulla Shahid, president of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
“Adding to the problem is the issue of land ownership. While no systematic global data exists, preliminary estimates suggest that women account for less than 20% of the world’s landholders,” he added.
“We must acknowledge that when women do not legally own their land, or where customs and practices prevent their ownership of land, they are not recognised as farmers or ‘value-chain’ actors.”
Desertification and land degradation affect around three billion people worldwide, the UN Convention said.
“Most countries and communities now recognise the urgent need to transform land governance and restore land-based natural capital to create meaningful jobs, reduce emissions, and restore harmony with nature,” the organisation said.
“Whether in managed or natural ecosystems, these activities can only be sustained by targeted government policies and budget outlays, considerable shifts in consumer demand and corporate investment, and more inclusive and responsible governance – all of which must come together to support regenerative land and water management practices on the ground.
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