Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific



He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

Delivered at the

International Conference to Combat Desertification

Beijing, China, 22-24 January 2008

Mr Chairperson,
His Excellency, Minister Jia Zhibang, Minister of State Forestry Administration,
Mr Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of UN,
Mr Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification,
Distinguished Participants and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I address this very important conference to Combat Desertification on behalf of Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO. As you may know, the primary objective of FAO is to ensure humanity’s freedom from hunger. Unfortunately, in a world of affluence today, there are still 852 million people threatened by food insecurity, many of them living in the world’s drylands. It is clear to all of us, that food security, as well as poverty alleviation, can not be achieved if land degradation is allowed to continue the way it currently is. Therefore, the combat against desertification is clearly a priority to FAO. Accordingly, we have been systematically promoting Sustainable Land Management (SLM) as the response that enables necessary increases in productivity while ensuring the sustainability of natural resources.

Mr Chairperson, Mr Executive Secretary, colleagues and participants,

Ten years have past since entering into force of the UNCCD. We, as a partner of the Convention, would like to briefly take stock of achievements and challenges, in particular from the FAO point of view.

At the national level, we wish to acknowledge the numerous UNCCD national action programmes (NAPs) which were prepared and negotiated worldwide, including many in the Asian region and that the process involved a large range of stakeholders down to the local level. FAO actively participated in several of these NAPs, which often successfully managed to raise the environmental agenda within agriculture and rural development policies and programmes. Indeed, lots remain to be done, in particular for funding and operationalization of field programmes, strengthening of decentralised capacities, and policy reforms. Obviously, these need increased commitment and enhanced coordination between technical and planning ministries. FAO hopes that large and well funded agriculture sectoral programmes and investment frameworks, supported by governments, development banks and partners, will take on board the issues raised by the NAPs to facilitate mainstreaming policies and upscaling the proposed field activities. Such a process should be greatly facilitated by the new GEF umbrella programmes underway such as TerrAfrica, Menarid, and CACILM, in which FAO is already actively participating and contributing technically, through its corporate knowledge management programme.

At the field level, many interesting projects were launched in a range of ecosystems. It appears that the best results were obtained when local populations were fully empowered in the decision making process, and when land users received significant in-kind and financial incentives leading to quick and clear benefits. These benefits included, for example, increased yields within the first years of implementing changes, or a reduction in labour costs or other inputs such as fertilizers, chemicals and water bills. Although, there is no universal model that will guarantee success, it was observed that some best practices to combat desertification were those related to improved crop management through conservation agriculture and no tillage techniques, crop rotations and intercropping, integrated pest management, supplemented with agro forestry and afforestation schemes. In rangeland areas, pasture improvement is essential to combat desertification through planned grazing processes, enclosures for recovery, or enrichment planting. Finally, in drylands and in the context of climate change, improved water management will become more and more important. This will require major support for the implementation of water harvesting and micro irrigation investments at watershed level.

At the international level, the UNCCD managed to raise the profile of the combat of desertification through a number of fora and events, including during this Conference. However, the UNCCD has not yet reached the success of its sister Convention, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. FAO would iterate again that the UNCCD evolves progressively towards a broader Land Convention that would have the same importance as the Climate Convention. Let us not forget that land and climate are the two main components of the threatened Earth ecosystem that sustains humanity.

Mr Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen,

In response to the General Assembly’s call for greater synergy among the UN system, and within the framework of “delivering as one”, FAO is ready to continue its support to the UNCCD Convention at all levels: nationally, regionally and globally. In particular, we will strengthen our participation to related Inter-Agency Committees and contribute to policy advice, capacity building and knowledge development. Specifically, we will continue to work closely with stakeholders through several knowledge bases and information systems implemented within the LADA programme on desertification assessment and within the TerrAfrica partnership.

Mr Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen,

The future and the dynamism of the UNCCD depends very much on assured strong political commitments from governments and development partner agencies, and on shared responsibilities of various stakeholders working on respective comparative advantages. FAO stands ready to respond to the new challenges ahead, and to play a leading role in areas/themes of its competence, such as: knowledge management, investment preparation and monitoring, capacity building, and technical advice on land and water, crop, forestry, and livestock resource management.

FAO has a clear policy and priority of supporting the UNCCD process and I wish to renew our offer to truly work together with you all in delivering coherent and effective programmes to our clients—the member states and its people.

I take pleasure in thanking the Chinese Government for their great hospitality and especially for their solid leadership in combating desertification.

I thank you and wish us all success in this decisive Conference.