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Strategy for combating desertification (and drought)

Guiding principles
Strategic objectives and components
Operational implementation

Guiding principles

Human beings are at the heart of the desertification problem, either as actors or victims. The fight against desertification is a fight for survival. It is an integral part of the socio-economic development programmes of land resources and the inhabitants of concerned areas. The main goal is to enlist the people, government technical services and non-governmental organizations to promote the complete participation of the population. This approach (often termed global and participatory) is built on five main principles.

The principle of integration aims primarily at integrating the immediate, medium- and long-term needs of the population. The immediate needs are food, health, education and financial income while the medium- and long-term needs are generally less identifiable and more vaguely expressed, and include the defence, rehabilitation and management of available natural resources. Responses to these two types of needs are closely interdependent: satisfying immediate needs will be risky and provisional if land resources are not improved and rehabilitated; land and resource management will be hampered if immediate needs are unfulfilled. This integration principle also extends to the integration of techniques and actions to satisfy the above needs in a clear and coordinated manner, and to avoid any contradiction in implementation or its aftereffects. It also encompasses the integration of traditional experience open to modernization with recent experimental experience obtained under similar circumstances. Finally, it concerns the integration of human resources at all levels, with the double goal of popularizing techniques and promoting popular participation.

The consultation principle is based on people's participation, even more so than the integration principle. It is practiced at several levels:

The principle of planned spatial approach is fundamental to securing coherent action. To imagine regional and national development as an extension of local land management would be dangerous, for three main reasons.

The principle of decentralization of decision-making and modalities of action is essential to success. The global and participatory approach should be implemented within an organizational framework of integration, consultation, planning, management and action. This framework ensures essential analytical and conceptual functions, but more specifically training, coordination and implementation of methods and action. The basic organizational unit is the village or community. At the regional level, the global approach programme has two interdependent functions: a technical and management function and a consultative and decision-making function. These two decentralized functions should be linked to a national organization with the function of:

Lastly, the principle of duration and flexibility of assistance to activities is obvious in rural development and desertification control. The duration requirement means that governments and donors need to affirm their support on a long-term basis and implement it in financial phases that match national planning cycles if they exist. The flexibility requirement has two aspects:

When all is said and done, the global and participatory approach is only one step away from becoming a code of practice. Its primary goal is to promote popular participation. Its keywords are integration, consultation, spatial management, decentralization of adapted organization, and duration and flexibility of technical and financial assistance. Activities in numerous developing countries over the last 15 years have confirmed the validity of the approach, but how is it to be applied?

Strategic objectives and components

According to the definition of sustainable agricultural and rural development approved by the FAO Council in 1988:

"Sustainable development is the management and conservation of the resource base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development (in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors) conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable."

More specific to the strategic objective of combating desertification, the sustainable development of arid, semiarid and dry subhumid zones must confront three challenges:

Although the situations and degree of seriousness vary substantially between countries, it seems (according to data currently available) fortunate that land in the "seriously degraded" category is limited in area; it is essentially grazing land, for which the cause of degradation is unclear, raising the questions whether desertification is caused by human activity or whether loss of productivity and erosion are caused by climatic changes. Consequently, FAO considers that lands in the first two categories in the paragraph above, where the majority of people affected by desertification live, should be the subject of special attention and given priority. Actions to rehabilitate seriously degraded land should be limited to specific cases where the causes of land degradation have been clearly identified and rehabilitation and repair measures have been judged suitable, effective and sustainable.

As human activity is the reason for degradation in most cases, it is absolutely essential to question the general policies that allow and sometimes cause these actions. The fight against desertification is political as well as technological. In order to be effective, it is necessary to revise current development policies and incorporate the idea of sustainability, established at UNCED as a basic principle in future development activity.

The April 1991 FAO/Netherlands Conference on Agriculture and Environment (known as the "Den Bosch" Conference, since it was held in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands) took this position and concluded that rural sustainable development policies should aim at operating so that agricultural and rural sectors:

These objectives may be considered universal - they are in fact repeated in another form in Chapter 14 of Agenda 21 on sustainable agriculture - and are particularly applicable to territories and countries affected or threatened by drought and desertification.

To be implemented in practice, these objectives presuppose a strong political commitment in favour of translating them into a strategy, as well as concrete actions that will provide rural peoples with a judicial, legislative and socio-economic context conducive to developing their sustainable development initiatives along the principles of a global and participatory approach. This political commitment should itself be based on a favourable international context, which could be facilitated by the finalization of a world convention on desertification following adoption of the texts of UNCED.

Nationally, only a suitable general policy framework will enable rural people to articulate fully their initiatives and provide them with the elements of sustainability. The general political and economic situation should encourage equity and sustainable development by allowing individuals to express choices while giving them the chance to defend their interests. A demographic policy, as appropriate to each country, should aim at a viable growth rate and fix goals for an optimal number of inhabitants. A human settlements policy is also necessary in most countries in order to strike a fair balance between rural and urban populations. Production, processing and marketing, as well as arbitration between these sectors, should be managed equitably.

Internationally, it is necessary to ease the negative effects of debt and international trade arrangements on the capacity of developing countries' governments to lead their country to a sustainable balance. International collaboration is necessary in the management of shared resources and access to technology. International financial and technical assistance should he oriented towards sustainable development; aid distribution should not be determined by the immediate economic benefits for current generations.

There are two main strategic components of action for the sustainable development of arid areas and for combating desertification.

International components

National components

• governments should recognize that rural people play a vital role in food security and in preserving the renewable natural resource base. For most countries, this would mean allocating adequate financial resources, pricing policies, the decentralization of institutions, and the delegation of authority to rural people, particularly poor people and women;

• governments should facilitate access to education and training, technologies and suitable resources for farmers and pastoralists, particularly small-scale farmers and the very poor;

• in many countries, governments should implement the far-reaching changes and adjustments necessary to generate conditions of sustainability. In particular, the eradication of poverty should be a main component, with the aim of establishing sustainable development in densely populated rural areas and in marginal land inhabited by small-scale farmers and landless workers;

• demographic policies should be applied to increase the possibility of instituting long-term prospects of sustainable development in arid areas. According to circumstances, these policies should cover family planning and population migration from less favourable areas towards potentially more productive areas at lower risk;

• policies of equal land access and recognition of the rights of those living and managing it, both to protect and make the land productive, should be implemented to allow rural people to assume responsibility;

• policies for developing rural service centres should be undertaken so that rural people have available:

• land management and planning policies should be implemented so as to develop global outlines, incorporating vulnerability and risk as essential components of planning decisions;

• policies of agricultural diversification and development of different activities, sources of income and food, such as fisheries and aquaculture, apiculture and processing of forestry products, should be pursued thoroughly.

Operational implementation

The whole problem in implementation is the bringing about of real synergy between the aspirations and wishes of rural people and the decisions and commitments of the government and its administration. It is neither a question of giving all the authority and means to rural people nor of deciding and implementing everything for them. The global and participatory approach can only bear fruit if governments' political strategies follow the broad outlines of the previous paragraph. Similarly, the strategic components in combating desertification will only be effective locally if a global and participatory approach is adopted, facilitated and maintained in practice at the basic community level.

There is no immediate and ideal approach for every situation and constraint. Each country and each community should be able to find the best way to proceed in the suggested direction. By analysing the conditions of its emergence and its application in various examples, it can be seen that this approach can assume different forms - from the most pragmatic to the most stylized, from the most open to the most programmed; the form being determined by each situation and the people involved. The main objective of such a strategy is to promote coordination and consultation between partners through a progressive management protocol, respecting an underlying principle of popular participation. The strategy should be effected by a programme of consultation and coordination, management and programming, and promotion of popular participation. Each programme component should combine the contribution of all partners, who will need to assume their individual responsibilities fully.

The territorial approach (the living area of a rural community being identified - but not exclusively - with a village's land) is important in sustainable development and in combating desertification. It offers a geographical setting where the dynamic relationships between local desertification factors can be faced in a coordinated and programmed way. This framework may be split into micro-catchment or cropping areas, providing a small but nevertheless significant sample that could be used as a starting-point for work on a total-territory basis. Conversely, this framework may be expanded to incorporate the physical, particularly hydrographic, factors at work on the lands of several communities. The territorial approach also supplies a socio-economic setting, that of the community with knowledge and authority over its land. It is within this socio-economic setting, often steeped in cultural values, that the community can be organized and can defend and manage the rehabilitation of the productive natural resources of its land. This setting also makes it easier to understand the place and role of the community's various components, especially women and children, and to support their promotion and needs.

Having recognized that rural communities have the capacity to organize the sustainable management of their own territory, this should be supported, and neither denied nor diverted by development projects and services. Such assistance is needed to introduce and to help implement proposals appropriate to the technical capability of the local population. It is also needed to provide information and training in order to promote the community's capacity to conceive, organize, manage and decide its own activity. Finally, such assistance can supply material support when counteracting land degradation requires equipment, materials and efforts beyond the financial and physical means of the community. The decentralized and devolved technical services of the administration and other bodies concerned should thus be able to intervene to help local populations.

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