Specials Environment
AGENDA 21 10 Land resources 11 Deforestation 12 Desertification 13 Mountains
14 SARD 15 Biodiversity Climate Energy

Progress Report
FAO, June 1997
Chapter 12:
Managing fragile ecosystems:
Combating desertification and drought

The challenge

Drylands cover about 30 percent of the world's terrestrial surface and are home to 900 million people. Defined as arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, they are among the world's most fragile ecosystems. Over centuries, their inhabitants - including some of the world's poorest populations - have developed complex food production systems to minimize the threat of recurring droughts and desertification.

Various factors contribute to widespread natural resource degradation in dry areas: climatic variation, inappropriate land use and agricultural practices, increasing population density, economic pressures and changes in land tenure patterns. For example, degradation of tree and shrub formations and overexploitation of forests are among the major causes of soil degradation in the dry tropics. FAO data indicates that the rate of deforestation in these areas is almost one percent a year.

Combating desertification and drought requires sustained efforts to understand and adapt the prescriptions of Chapter 12 and the Convention to Combat Desertification. Many current programmes focus on improving management and protection of existing forests, woodlands and ranges, and increasing vegetative cover outside of forests. Action programmes proposed under the Convention are expected to place greater emphasis on collecting information, providing effective training, people's participation and local-level empowerment.

Also needed are a sustained flow of resources for medium and long term land rehabilitation and restoration activities, and the dissemination of appropriate, socially acceptable technologies that ensure conservation, management and use of dryland resources while improving people's livelihoods.

Progress since UNCED

Desertification Convention

The Convention came into force in 1996 after ratification by more than 50 countries. Its aim is to "combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through effective action at all levels, supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements, in the framework of an integrated approach which is consistent with Agenda 21". Implementation has begun, with focus on Africa. Regional technical, programming and awareness meetings have been held, along with international consultations on partnership building, decentralization, national action programmes, benchmarks and indicators, and funding mechanisms. The first Conference of the Parties will be held in Rome in October 1997.

Integrated approach to dryland forest resources

Important links have been forged with Agenda 21's Chapter 11: Combating Deforestation. The Commission for Sustainable Development's Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) called for a report on experiences in afforestation and rehabilitation of forest ecosystems, especially in countries with fragile ecosystems affected by desertification and/or drought. An expert consultation on the topic, co-sponsored by Cape Verde, Portugal and Senegal, was held in Lisbon in June 1996. The meeting recognized IPF's role in dry forest ecosystems and made several proposals for action to the IPF and the CSD.

Food Security and dryland development

The Rome Declaration and a Plan of Action on Food Security, adopted by the 1996 World Food Summit, embody a number of measures aimed at sound conservation and management of natural resources, including control of degradation and desertification, in support of food production. FAO's Special Programme on Food Security in Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs), launched in 1994, also has close linkages with desertification control efforts.

Key issues

Future directions

Effective implementation of Chapter 12 and the Desertification Convention requires action in several areas. Priorities include reliable funding formula to provide meaningful support to overall dryland development and desertification control programmes, stronger coordination among donors and technical cooperation agencies in support of national efforts, training and effective use of national human resources, and intensified technical cooperation among developing countries. Other proposed measures:

The role of FAO

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has extensive knowledge and field experience in drylands. This places it as a key resource for exchange of technical information, national capacity building, planning and organizing of rehabilitation activities, natural resources management and agricultural development, and facilitating financial support from international or bilateral institutions.

FAO fully supported the International Convention to Combat Desertification, from its negotiation phase to early implementation, and supports national initiatives for the elaboration of national action programmes - in Mali, for example, it has helped build a partnership involving the Government, GTZ and other donors. The Mali programme, which gives national institutions and local communities the lead role, is part of the country's National Environmental Action Programme. With UNEP, FAO has helped prepare national action programmes in Latin America and is considering a similar exercise for Central Asia. It will assist the IGAD Secretariat in formulation of a sub-regional action programme within the framework of the Convention. FAO is collaborating with IFAD and the World Bank in the preparation of investment projects for natural resources management in drylands.

Institutional arrangements

Within FAO

The Sub-Group on Desertification of FAO's Inter-Departmental Working Group (IDWG) on Environment and Sustainable Development was closely involved in Convention preparation and negotiation, and helps develop responses to growing numbers of requests from developing countries for assistance.

Other Organizations of the UN System

FAO-IFAD. FAO and IFAD actively supported negotiation of the Desertification Convention and have extensive experience in sustainable use and conservation of drylands. The agencies have cooperated in support to NAPs, and workshops on approaches to local development and incentives to implementation of the Convention, and are developing closer collaboration in desertification control activities.

Inter-Governmental Organizations

FAO and CILSS-IGAD-SADCC. Through cooperation with these African sub-regional organizations, FAO helps address dryland management problems in their respective member countries. FAO supports the CILSS countries especially through its Special Programme on Food Security in LIFDCs and is involved in many national programmes for natural resources management. It is involved in the CILSS strategic review process, Sahel 21. FAO is committed to assist the IGAD Secretariat in the formulation of a subregional action programme within the framework of the Desertification Convention.

FAO contacts

Hosny El-Lakany
Director, Forest Resources Division
FAO Forestry Department
Tel: 00 39 6 522 5879
Fax: 00 39 6 522 5137
e-mail: Hosny.ElLakany@fao.org

Agenda 21 Progress: Introduction | 10 Land | 11 Deforestation | 12 Desertification | 13: Mountains | 14 SARD | 15 Biodiversity | Climate change | Energy

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