The Quiet Crisis: Lost Foodlands Cover Area Larger Than Canada and China Combined – Two Billion People Affected

12 Million Hectares Lost Every Year to Desertification

Dealing with desertification has a long history of failure.

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct 13, 2011 (IPS)

Degradation of land is the world’s quiet crisis, undercutting food production, increasing water scarcity, impoverishing hundreds of millions of people and affecting two billion overall. Nearly 20 million square kilometres of the earth’s arable lands – an area twice the size of Canada – have already been degraded.

Each year, 12 million hectares of land, where 20 million tons of grain could have been grown, are lost to desertification. Unless this trend is reversed soon, feeding the world’s growing population will be impossible, experts say. However, the global community has failed for over two decades to address this serious challenge.

Now, delegates from 193 countries are meeting in South Korea under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to review progress on a ten-year plan to reverse the ongoing decline in the quality and quantity of land in food-producing regions.

During the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) under the UNCCD, delegates will also consider creating a scientific body like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to serve as the global authority on desertification and land degradation.

“The UNCCD will take bold steps towards delivering critical services to the two billion people that face negative impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought,” Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the UNCCD, told delegates during the opening session of COP 10 that began Oct. 10 and concludes Oct. 21.

Land degradation is mainly the consequence of poor land management in conjunction with changes in rainfall. Erosion and degradation most often result from ploughing fields, removing crop residues after harvest and overgrazing. It is akin to tire wear on cars – a gradual, less noticeable process with potentially catastrophic consequences if ignored for too long.

“People do not notice land degradation until there is a crisis,” said Pier Paolo Roggero, a scientist at University of Sassari in Italy. Continue reading

Gov’ts Fail to Invest in Hungriest, Poorest Regions Creating Crisis After Crisis

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct 21, 2011 (IPS)

For millennia, people have coped with drought in the Horn of Africa, comprised mainly of drylands. Yet today, more than 13 million people there are starving because of political instability, poor government policies and failure to invest in the world’s poorest people, say experts here in Changwon.

2.5 billion dollars in humanitarian aid is needed to cope with a devastating hunger crisis in parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Two billion people, half of whom are extremely impoverished, live in drylands around the world, according to Anne Juepner of the Drylands Development Centre at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Nairobi.

“Drylands are not wastelands, as is often thought. More than half of the world’s cattle, sheep, goats and most of its grains are grown in drylands,” Juepner told IPS in an interview outside of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) in Changwon.

Juepner is here to launch UNDP’s “The Forgotten Billion”, a report to call attention to the fact that despite its productivity, drylands that comprise one third of the world’s land mass are also home to world’s poorest and most at-risk people. Continue reading