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Chapter 12 of Agenda 21: analysis and comments



Programme Area A

Strengthening the knowledge base and developing information and monitoring systems for regions prone to desertification and drought, including the economic and social aspects of these ecosystems.

The "basis for action" in this programme area states: "Adequate worldwide systematic observation systems are helpful for the development and implementation of effective anti-desertification programmes.... An integrated and coordinated information and systematic observation system based on appropriate technology and embracing global, regional, national and local levels is essential for understanding the dynamics of desertification and drought processes."

FAO endorses this statement because assessments of the state and evolution of desertification have revealed gaps in the knowledge of the geographical extent of the processes and their evolution. FAO, therefore, considers that strengthening the activities of the international community end governments is necessary without delaying the implementation of concrete action at national and local levels. In most countries, there is enough knowledge concerning the spread of desertification and its mechanisms to operate effectively.

Consequently, FAO believes that improvements should address data acquisition systems as well as analysis and communication methods and the final products, and that it is necessary to strengthen the effectiveness of regional and national centres in responding to genuine user needs.

In this respect, it is useful to consider the basis for action, objectives and actions mentioned in Programme Area D, Chapter 11 of Agenda 21, devoted to forests, which covers:

"Establishing and/or strengthening capacities for the planning, assessment and systematic observations of forests."

The disappearance of forest trees is often one of the most visible consequences of desertification, as well as being one of the determining and exacerbating factors. At the same time, desertification is an evolutionary and complex process. It is the result of several factors, having implications for all areas, including human behaviour, and brings about chain reactions affecting all elements of the ecosystem. Thus, FAO considers that research should be carried out to clarify this complexity and identify its mechanisms.

FAO believes that these information needs are greatest and most urgent at the national and local levels. FAO supports the strengthening and creation of national centres for the study and observation of terrestrial resources such as remote sensing and ecological monitoring centres; these will be able to monitor rainfall and land degradation continuously, and transmit information in map or database format by using remote sensing and GIS technology.

FAO will also support the establishment at subregional and, particularly, national levels of geographic information systems. These systems can coherently standardize, integrate and disseminate the main physical and economic indicators of interest to the managers and decision-makers responsible for sustainable agricultural development.

Programme Area B

Combating land degradation through, inter alia, intensified soil conservation, afforestation and reforestation activities.

The "basis for action" of this programme area includes the statement "In combating desertification on rangeland, rainfed cropland and irrigated land, preventive measures should be launched in areas which are not yet affected or are only slightly affected by desertification; corrective measures should be implemented to sustain the productivity of moderately decertified land; and rehabilitative measures should be taken to recover severely or very severely decertified drylands."

FAO considers that these actions are, in fact, indispensable to maintaining and restoring soil productivity. For sustainable development, it is necessary to conserve water and land and to use technologies that do not threaten the sustainability of natural resources. Unfortunately, efforts to halt land degradation have so far had limited success, especially in developing countries. Land degradation is serious, because low productivity coincides in many countries with a rapid population increase, and hence an increased demand for food, fibre and fuel.

For FAO, combating land degradation should not be limited to technical action. The fight against land degradation can only be successful if development policies are revised and long-term land-use strategies are adopted with strong political support and adequate financial resources.

In this context, it is appropriate to consider the principles, objectives and actions mentioned in Programme Area E, Chapter 14 of Agenda 21, which deals with land conservation and rehabilitation.

The presence of trees is often an essential factor in maintaining soil structure and fertility as well as offering protection from wind and water erosion. Once again it is advisable to consider the "basis for action", objectives and actions stated in the various programme areas of Chapter 11 of Agenda 21 on trees and forests, particularly Programme Area A on sustaining the multiple roles and functions of all types of forests, forest lands and woodlands, and Programme Area B on enhancing the protection, sustainable management and conservation of all forests, and the greening of degraded areas, through forest rehabilitation, afforestation, reforestation and other rehabilitative processes.

The territorial approach (the living area of a rural community being identified - but not exclusively - with a village's land) is necessary for the actual implementation of actions for land and water conservation, rehabilitation and sustainable management of rangeland and reforestation. This geographic, social and economic framework is effectively the best adapted to lead the global action needed on the ground - and not the sectorial activities that have so often been doomed to failure - implying the full participation of local people, both at the project identification and at the implementation phases. However, it is important to note that certain measures for correcting land degradation require equipment, materials and efforts beyond the financial and physical resources of local people. In such cases, the decentralized technical services of the administration and other relevant bodies should be able to intervene to help the local populations.

Programme Area C

Developing and strengthening integrated development programmes for the eradication of poverty and promotion of alternative livelihood systems in areas prone to desertification.

The "basis for action" of this programme area states: "In areas prone to desertification and drought, current livelihood and resource-use systems are not able to maintain living standards.... Poverty is a major factor in accelerating the rate of degradation and desertification. "

FAO considers that this observation - which is applicable to many developing countries - is essential for orienting activities efficiently. The survival mechanisms of the populations living in increasing numbers in zones with hazardous climatic conditions lead to overexploitation of natural resources (soil, water, vegetation) and a deterioration in living conditions. The consequences are therefore extremely serious and often dramatic for the poorest people in developing countries.

For FAO, desertification control can only be successful if the social, economic, cultural and political development policies adopted aim principally at solving problems brought about by poverty in the areas of food supply, accommodation, employment, income, health, education and population pressure. In this respect, it is relevant to bear in mind the "basis for action", objectives and activities mentioned in the numerous Programme Areas of Chapter 14 of Agenda 21, including:

C. Improving farm production and farming systems through diversification of farm and non-farm employment and infrastructure development.

D. Land-resource planning, information and education for agriculture.

F. Water for sustainable food production and sustainable rural development.

G. Conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources for food and sustainable agriculture.

H. Conservation and sustainable utilization of animal genetic resources for sustainable agriculture.

J. Sustainable plant nutrition to increase food production.

K. Rural energy transition to enhance productivity.

Similarly, it is necessary to take into account the "basis for action", objectives and action mentioned in Programme Area C, Chapter 11 of Agenda 21, concerning "promoting efficient utilization and assessment to recover the full valuation of the goods and services provided by forests, forest lands and woodlands".

The development and strengthening of an integrated approach to rural development should therefore be translated into strategic elements aimed at:

FAO believes that only a strong political commitment will allow the application of these strategic elements and the implementation of the far-reaching changes and adjustments necessary to place rural people in a judicial, legislative, social and economic context conducive to the implementation of their own development initiatives on a sustainable basis. This political commitment itself must rely on a favourable international environment based on improved international economic relations and improved relations between nations, conducive to increasing and maintaining farmers' incomes, and thus creating incentives for substantial investments in arid zones threatened or affected by desertification.

Programme Area D

Developing comprehensive anti-desertification programmes and integrating them into national development plans and national environmental planning.

The "basis for action" for this programme area states: "The social systems interacting with land resources make the problem much more complex, requiring an integrated approach to the planning and management of land resources. Action plans to combat desertification and drought should include management aspects of the environment and development, thus conforming with the approach of integrating national development plans and national environmental action plans."

FAO considers that this statement is fundamental to the success of any activity. By analysing the underlying causes of desertification it is possible to state that human activities, major reasons for degradation of vulnerable land, are induced by two distinct categories of factors: those resulting from poverty and lack of resources (human, technological, institutional and financial), and those arising from "modern" development that is insufficiently sensitive to the impact of its technologies on land sustainability.

FAO considers, therefore, that it is within the framework of an integrated and sustainable rural development policy that desertification can best be combated. This necessitates a review of agricultural development policies and planning, as suggested in Programme Area A, Chapter 14 of Agenda 21, on promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development, and on agricultural policy review, planning and integrated programmes in the light of the multifunctional aspect of agriculture, particularly with regard to food security and sustainable development.

The integration of anti-desertification programmes should therefore be implemented at the national level in the framework of policy formulation and strategic planning for integrated and sustainable rural development.

FAO believes that the required strengthening of institutional capacities should take account of this integration and aim at strengthening existing structures and institutions in the rural sector (agriculture, forestry, animal production, etc.) rather than supporting the establishment of new institutions and structures.

These structures and institutions should be coordinated at the national level through a single, integrated and sustainable rural development plan. To facilitate dialogue and collaboration with people at the local level, it may be advisable in many instances to install generalist development workers, relying on the various specialized technical services that are decentralized to the administrative areas.

Programme Area E

Developing comprehensive drought preparedness and drought-relief schemes, including self-help arrangements, for drought-prone areas and designing programmes to cope with environmental refugees.

The "basis for action" states that: "Early-warning systems to forecast drought will make possible the implementation of drought-preparedness schemes. Integrated packages at the farm and watershed level, such as alternative cropping strategies, soil and water conservation and promotion of water harvesting techniques, could enhance the capacity of land to cope with drought and provide basic necessities, thereby minimizing the number of environmental refugees and the need for emergency drought relief."

FAO endorses this double response to famine. Desertification and drought are responsible for the loss of many human lives and for dire economic consequences in countries directly affected. Emergency action, which is a duty of assistance and of national and international solidarity, cannot be improvised; it should be designed not just to be immediately effective, but also not to jeopardize long-term self-subsistence efforts by the populations affected. Such efforts should be encouraged and supported so that production systems are less exposed to climatic hazards and are more diversified and productive.

For FAO, food security is one of the basic objectives of sustainable rural and agricultural development policy, especially in the arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid zones.

The need to solve urgent problems should not obscure the need to implement a whole series of measures to guarantee medium- and long-term food security for rural and urban people in these zones. These measures do not affect agricultural and livestock production alone, but also affect other food-producing sectors such as fisheries and aquaculture, or sources of monetary income such as the artisanal industries and on-site processing of agricultural, animal and forestry products for manufacturing marketable goods (flour, oil, butter, cheese, fruit, charcoal, etc.).

The access to land, or at least to the availability of agricultural land, should also be encouraged. Guaranteeing long-term use or ownership actually enhances short- and long-term food security, as it may alter the producer's approach to managing the lands being worked and encourage the combating of land degradation.

Programme Area F

Encouraging and promoting popular participation and environmental education, focusing on desertification control and management of the effects of drought.

The "basis for action" for this programme area states: "But it is necessary to go beyond the theoretical idea of popular participation and to focus on obtaining actual active popular involvement, rooted in the concept of partnership. This implies the sharing of responsibilities and the mutual involvement of all parties. In this context, this programme area should be considered an essential supporting component of all desertification control and drought-related activities."

FAO believes that this basis for action is vitally important because the desertification problem centres around the rural population, either as protagonists or victims. Desertification control and development activities aim at implementing technical proposals to help prevent or correct environmental degradation and increase and diversify production. The term "proposal" suggests that they are subject to popular approval: first, during programme formulation, in which the people will need to take part; and, second, during implementation, where their agreement will be demonstrated by the people themselves using the suggested techniques. The people are a partner whose actions will determine the success or failure of the work.

For FAO, the main guiding principle in sustainable development and combating desertification is the promotion of voluntary and responsible popular participation through measures that are:

In this context, it is useful to review the basis for action, objectives and activities of Programme Area B. Chapter 14 of Agenda 21, on ensuring people's participation and promoting human resource development for sustainable agriculture.

FAO believes that the aim of popular organization should be to structure and widen its potential for community development.

To achieve this goal, the people should ensure that there is:

FAO considers that differing social and cultural situations require each rural organization to be built upon the community's established socio-cultural base. This does not exclude introducing new elements to satisfy evolving needs.

The main task of governments is to give power to the people in charge of such organizations so that they can represent their organization as full partners of those wishing to assist them.

There is an obvious functional and political connection between the voluntary and responsible participation of the population in combating desertification and the national institutions that are responsible for regulation and encouragement. The concrete result of this impetus is assistance services to development as they are the implementational arm of institutions and the main support of the people. These institutions should be decentralized and devolved to work in partnership with the people.

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