Posted January 1999
In its facilitating role, the IWG promotes the compilation of data and information provided by all the sections of FAO at Headquarters and elsewhere and , in turn, disseminates information on matters of relevance to the Convention and to desertification in general. It has also been instrumental in organizing the representation of FAO at CCD meetings and supporting such meetings with technical papers and other technical information. Examples are the meetings in 1997 in Bangkok, 1997 and 1998 in Beijing, and 1998 in Rome, Teheran, Bangkok, Antigua and Dakar.
Other institutional arrangements outside FAO include a MOU between FAO and the Ministry of the Environment of the Italian Republic with the objective of co-ordinating their activities aimed at combating desertification, including information, research, education and promotion of sustainable development. In addition, the parties will identify activities to combat desertification in those countries included in Annex IV of the UN CCD.
FAO has also developed a MOU with UNEP to be part of and to lead the Latin America Sub-regional Office within the Consortium of Partners approved by the COP1 for the survey and evaluation of existing networks, institutions, agencies and other bodies. This office will circulate a questionnaire to collect descriptive information on networks relevant to CCD and publish the results in a database. It will enquire about information needs and develop criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of institutions and networks in contributing to implementation of CCD and will also develop methods for updating the survey and for in-depth surveys.
The members of the IWG played a co-ordinating role in bringing together the technical ideas and defining the strategy as a necessary background to achieving the Memorandum of Co-operation (MOC) recently signed between FAO and the Executive Secretariat of the CCD, after a process of negotiation and development of an agreed work programme following a meeting in June 1998.
Several meetings of the IWG discussed and developed the integrated series of proposals for co-operative activities with the Executive Secretariat and CST of CCD, to be submitted for external funding, that formed the basis for the programme of work in the subsequent MOC (1998). The members also contributed inputs to the agreements with other institutions mentioned above.
It is the intention that the IWG will play a facilitating role in the monitoring of progress and success of National Action Plans developed under the aegis of the CCD. The main activity in this field has been monitoring and reporting on the Mali National Action Plan experience, mentioned below in descriptions of the field programme.
Much of FAO's work is directly concerned with technical assistance to Member Countries and organizations, across the whole range of themes covered by its mandate. This involves advice at all levels; technical assessments of development proposals; formulation, technical backstopping and monitoring of projects; education and training at all levels and the organization of training workshops and seminars.
Many of FAO's activities are specifically aimed at understanding and controlling degradation of the environment and can be applied to combating desertification. The following account summarizes some recent activities with special significance for the CCD. Within FAO, the activities are carried out by staff organized by subject matter (forestry, irrigation, nutrition, etc.). They are grouped here according to cross-sectorial categories of activities which show the integration of the different topics in the desertification process.
A number of technical guidelines and reports have already been produced by the various FAO technical services and are available from FAO distribution and sales section. They cover all subjects such as soil conservation, irrigation, pasture and livestock management, forest conservation, sand dune fixation, etc. More than 100 of these publications are now accessible on the CD ROM distributed at COP 2.
In addition, as part of the contribution to the CCD, some specific publications of immediate value to the implementation of the CCD were produced such as:
As a contribution to the CCD, FAO is proposing to play a facilitating role by offering its data bases and expertise in both natural sciences and in sustainable development. To give a start, FAO initiated the compilation of a desertification related data base from existing data sets. This data base is to be put on the Internet and would include variables on socio-economic conditions (poverty, education and health services); population density in agricultural land; agricultural intensity (irrigation, livestock, machinery); climate (droughts occurrence); ecosystem fragility and status (aridity, soil constraints); deforestation, existing land degradation, fuelwood consumption, status of NEAP/NAP implementation and CCD ratification.
FAO participated also to the preparation of the general recommendations from the CST and the ad hoc working group on benchmarks and indicators (finalized in Geneva in September 1998) which emphasised the need to implement adequate, well defined, information systems, with clear maintenance and monitoring responsibilities, at national levels.
Finally, FAO is investigating the feasibility of building up a global information system and support toolbox on desertification and drought, which would include synthesis of key information collected at subnational level. The systems would have to be implemented in partnership with technical agencies and other competent institutions. They would make the most cost-effective use of existing data, remote sensing technology and existing software.
Some of the principal awareness publications related to desertification are as follows: the position paper "Sustainable development of drylands and combating desertification" (1993) which details FAO's experience and policies; "Land, food and people" describing potential population supporting capacities; "Protect and produce" describing soil erosion and conservation; "How good the earth" describing the land resources; and "Cherish the earth" outlining the modern approach to land management.
In 1998, some 104 FAO on-going field projects have a direct relationship to the assessment and control of desertification. They cover a very wide range of activities such as erosion control, improvement of water, forest and pasture management, local rural development through extension and participative approach programmes, assistance for the implementation of national information systems and statistics, formulation of investment projects. Emphasis is on the African continent (50% of the projects), but work is in progress world-wide.
Some regional or inter-regional projects and support to national action plans, networks and information system development are financed from the Regular Programme budget, sometimes with donor support, and do not appear in a list of field projects which are financed as part of the field programme with outside funds.
The FAO Investment Centre (partially funded by the World Bank) has formulated numerous investment projects for international and regional banks (more than 40 in the last ten years), with elements of desertification control mainly within agricultural development programmes. The emphasis has been on soil conservation, dune stabilization and forestry and agroforestry, but some include livestock management and desertification control. Most are in sub-Saharan Africa, but there are some in Asia, Latin America, the Near East and some inter-regional projects.
The underlying theme of much of FAO's field programme is to strengthen countries' capacities for the sustainable management of natural resources and the fight against desertification. Short accounts of activities are given below by region, including those directly in support of CCD.
Land and water management and sand dune stabilisation comprise a whole range of projects, notably: integrating watershed management, rehabilitation of degraded land, soil conservation, agro-ecological studies, and natural resource assessment. Of special note are the regional "Dune stabilisation and afforestation" project which covered eight countries having serious sand-encroachment caused by harsh climate and misguided use of natural resources. The project "Lutte contre l'ensablement des palmeraies dans le Sud Marocain" was implemented to define the most efficient and adaptable strategy to fight against dune-movement and desertification affecting southern Morocco.
Integrated management of rangelands and other natural resources. FAO and UNEP developed the international Co-operative Programme on the Ecological Management of Arid and Semi-Arid Rangelands (EMASAR), a demonstration programme that supported the training of technicians and development of water-use techniques and agriculture-range-livestock systems. Among the projects implemented were the Regional Rangeland Management Project, which is the combined effort of six governments to protect their pastoral heritage, the Regional Arid Lands Pasture Development Project, covering four North African countries which assisted production of seed and planting material for regeneration and two national projects in Tunisia the design of plans for natural resources and for co-ordination of everyone concerned with water and soil conservation.
Management of wood resources and reforestation has included numerous FAO field projects implementing the management and use of existing wood resources, the creation of new wood resources and products by individual or communal reforestation, the promotion of trees in rural lifestyles, the use of trees in agroforestry and in combating wind and water erosion and the introduction of energy substitutes. Some examples of such projects are Forestry Development in Sudan, Restocking of Gum Belt for Desertification Control in Darfur State, Advisory Assistance in Agricultural Development, for integrating trees in cropland; Forestry and Range Development and Strengthening Forest and Range Management, for enhancement of forest and rangeland productivity. The list is not exhaustive, but illustrates some of many FAO activities in desertification control.
FAO has also made a direct technical contribution to several CCD meetings and workshops that have been organized, for example, in Marrakech on information systems and in Tunis on energy.
To better illustrate, three examples can be given. Special programmes for food production have begun in Senegal and Ethiopia. In Senegal some selected small low cost projects are carried out through steady participation of local agricultural communities. The development objective is to preserve and enhance local water resources in areas of scarcity. Specific objectives include implementation of water resources management techniques appropriate to ecological, social and economic local conditions and conservation management of natural resources and ecosystems. The Ethiopian project supports a new pilot irrigation component through demonstrations of improved irrigation technologies in areas vulnerable to droughts and crop failures, but having a good potential for increased cropping intensity through water-harvesting techniques.
The "Gestion des Terroirs et Aménagement des R(neraies du Cayor, Senegal" project aims at improving integrated land management and traditional irrigation techniques and promoting increased participation of local communities to protect the r(neraies. The main development objective is to strengthen the Forestry Service capability to stop desertification and enhance food security through active involvement of local populations and using local knowledge. In line with governmental policy, the project pursues three immediate objectives: the restoration of natural resources, production increase and the involvement of rural communities. It assists self-help by rural communities and will provide functional literacy and training courses on different production, irrigation and financial management techniques, addressing mostly women's associations.
The project for Land Cover Mapping of Eastern Africa based on satellite sensing, as part of the AFRICOVER programme, aims to strengthen the capabilities of 12 East African and Riparian Nile countries for sound planning of natural resources for sustainable management, by producing reliable 1:250 000 scale land cover maps and strengthening the national capacities for operational applications of remote sensing and information technology for land planning, in particular in drylands.
Activities directly in support of the CCD began with the Mali Government's establishment of the institutional structure to implement the NEAP-NAP process under an Inter-ministerial Committee. The pioneer project to apply the recommended environmental protection and desertification control planning process to combat desertification in Mali was assisted by FAO's TCP (project TCP/MLI/6615) beginning in 1996 in partnership with Germany which provided very generous contributions and helped to organize other donors. This partnership was important because the project was ambitious and proved costly. The project benefited from integration of the activities of several government departments breaking away from traditional sectorial divisions. The local land users and all social groups were involved from the beginning in a series of local and regional workshops and with the subsequent elaboration and testing of the plans. The project was valuable experience which is documented in the three volume report and programme, reviewed and approved at a National Forum in May 1998. Implementation of the Plan of Action developed over two years has been delayed because of reservations by some donors because restructuring the Department of Forestry seems to be a step backward towards the former separation of subject matter departments, whereas the success of the Plan is attributed to the good co-ordination previously achieved.
Similar work in assisting other countries in Africa to elaborate and implement NAPs has been begun in many countries and has produced some new NAPs (Uganda, Mozambique, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal, Ghana).
FAO also participated in and provided technical support to international meetings organized by the Executive Secretariat, mainly for the implementation of regional networks and Action Plans in Africa (meeting on information systems in Nairobi, in Bamako on agroforestry and soil conservation, Addis Ababa on rangelands, Abidjan on watershed management).
The FAO Regional Office carries out a range of activities which are of interest or direct use in combating desertification. Those mainly concerned with natural resources management include assistance in assessment and planning, soil management and fertilisers, farming systems development, water development and management, and conservation and reclamation. Some indications of specific activities are outlined below.
The Assessment of Human-Induced Soil Degradation in South and Southeast Asia, the result of collaborative efforts of the Asian Network on Problem Soils, FAO, UNEP and ISRIC, was published by ISRIC in 1997. It covers 17 countries and presents the current status of human-induced soil degradation. Since 1991, FAO has worked with 11 Asian countries to advance agroforestry development, with many aspects relating to combating desertification. A Regional Workshop on Land Vulnerability Assessment for Food Security in Asia Using Land Resources Information Systems, in co-operation with the Asian Network on Problem Soils, was held in 1997 (report in press). A report on issues and strategies relating to sustainable agricultural resource management was prepared for the Review on Food Security Issues and Challenges in Asia and the Pacific Region (RAS/95/01T). Assistance was provided in the utilization of an AEZ database for agricultural development in Bangladesh and in land use planning at catchment level in China.
In 1995 FAO, in co-operation with ASOCON, published "Conservation of Lands in Asia and the Pacific (CLASP) - a framework for action". Regional follow-up was organized by ASOCON in Malaysia in 1996 and Vietnam in 1997. Assistance was provided to Thailand in organizing a workshop to develop a soil and water conservation inventory and database. Technical support was provided to the FARM Programme in soil management and conservation in Nepal, Philippines and Vietnam. In China, a project to introduce management techniques for the improvement of salt-affected soils was concluded, while a project focusing on integrated desert control and sustainable agriculture continued. Country activity proposals were prepared for Asian Member Countries of the inter-regional network on the management of salt-affected soils and soils irrigated with saline water.
In the South Pacific island countries, a project was prepared to assess the magnitude of land degradation and its effects on the people and food security and an inventory of land resource information systems was compiled. Information was provided on a new approach towards planning for sustainable use of land resources, consistent with priorities for implementing integrated approaches to resource management within the framework of National Environment Management Strategies. Assistance was provided to some countries on integrated land resources planning and management. The Framework for Action on the Conservation of Lands in Asia and the Pacific was widely distributed to senior policy makers.
Activities in direct support of the CCD include the activities in Iran such as the Report of the Interagency Mission on Desertification to the Islamic Republic of Iran (October 16-28 1997) prepared by FAO which gives an overview and assessment of all the activities related to the CCD in Iran. During October 1998, the workshop on capacity building for implementation of the UN CCD took place in Teheran with the participation of various countries including India, China, some CIS countries and FAO which presented policies on use of national institutions and experts in a TCDC framework. From 12 to 15 October 1998 the International Workshop on New Technology to Combat Desertification took place in Teheran, in collaboration with the UN University and with technical papers from FAO. In China the UNDP project to identify the root causes of desertification in China (SPPD CPR/97/002) is in progress with FAO participation, and provides a background to the formulation of the National Action Plan that is being developed with some assistance.
The main FAO activities in direct support of the CCD over the past two years include support for a seminar for Chilean journalists in Jahuel, Chile (June 1997). The Regional Course on Desertification and Sustainable Development, Santiago and La Serena, Chile, in 1997, received contributions from the Inter-American Development Bank, IFAD, UNDP, UNEP and FAO. The course was addressed to leaders and technicians working in programmes to combat desertification and 30 Government and NGO officers from 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean participated. Lecturers from the University of Chile and other Chilean institutions, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and FAO presented the various subject matters. The course included several field trips to observe ways of combating desertification applied in Chile. A technical publication on the Latin American experience with rain water harvesting is being prepared.
In Bolivia, the National Action Programme to combat Desertification was completed (emphasizing desertification on the high Altiplano) and the assistance of the CCD and other partners will be needed to ensure its implementation. In Brazil, the National Action Plan is being prepared.
An International Workshop on Management of Water Quality and Pollution Control in Chile and Peru, in October 1998, studied problems of water quality and insufficient drainage causing land degradation in irrigated land and methods of prevention and rehabilitation. The workshop, organized by FAO with the collaboration of the University of Tarapaca and several agencies in Chile and Peru, was attended by more than 40 experts from 15 countries plus 20 specialists on a part-time basis.
A survey and compilation of the institutions and networks related to the CCD is being made with UNEP. Officers from the FAO Regional Office provided technical support to regional meetings on the Convention to Combat Desertification organized by the Secretariat, CCD, in Buenos Aires, Mexico; Havana, Antigua and Recife, Brazil.
While the above considerations indicate the value and the benefits to be derived from the existing databases and technological expertise, proof can only be demonstrated by action on the ground that shows the recommended changes effectively controlling or reversing desertification. So far, the work has gone into collecting the basic data and the knowledge of which practices work, and in which conditions, but this knowledge is still not sufficiently integrated and systematic on the subject of desertification. Application of this knowledge to make a direct reduction in the extent of land affected, the severity of degradation, and the number of people suffering, is still too limited. The time is ripe for a concerted effort to apply existing knowledge to the local problems over very extensive areas and thus make a notable reversal of the progress of desertification. This will only be possible with a partnership between the countries which need the action and those agencies which can assist with expertise and finance in accordance with the terms of the Convention. Such a concerted effort would have to be based on a clear identification of not only technical but also, and in some cases above all, direct and indirect institutional and political obstacles which make difficult the fight against desertification.