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Miss Universe and Drylands Expert Tag Together, Calling for Greater Efforts to Secure Healthy Soils and Combat Desertification

​22 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Drylands Ambassadors of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) called for greater efforts to secure healthy soils and combat desertification during the press conference on 21 June. The reigning 2011 Miss Universe Leila Lopes and Executive Board Member of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Dr. Dennis Garrity called Rio+20 to agree on a goal to halt land degradation and to scale up the successful community projects to combat desertification.

“I came to Rio+20 to share the inspiring stories of people, who fight against land degradation, and to create awareness about this important environmental issue. Every minute we are losing 23 hectares of land due to desertification and drought. Land degradation affects 1.5 billion people globally”, said Miss Lopes, who returned from her first field mission since her appointment as UNCCD Drylands Ambassador in 2011. “I want all of us to agree that we will become a society free of land degradation. We need to start using our land in a sustainable way and rehabilitate more land than is being degraded.”

During her mission, Miss Lopes visited a community in the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará together with its Governor Mr. Cid Gomez. The Ceará community showcased its efforts to mitigate the effects of drought, including insurance schemes for farmers, construction of water reservoirs to dam water during the rains and early drought warning systems. Ceará, where about 1.2 million people depend on land for their income, is experiencing its second worst drought since 1948.
Miss Universe also visited a community school in Ceará and discussed with women and children the local approaches to control soil erosion, environmental education programmes and alternatives to slash-and-burn techniques that clear land while enhancing soil biodiversity. Miss Lopes and Dr. Garrity redeemed the carbon credits for their travel to Rio+20, which will be used to support activities of local communities in Brazil. 
Leila Lopes, who was born in Angola, gained worldwide exposure after being crowned Miss Universe 2011 in São Paulo, Brazil. Prior to that, Miss Lopes worked with poor children and the elderly, as well as helped educate the Angolan community about HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Garrity, ICRAF Director between 2001 and 2011, previously worked as regional coordinator of Southeast Asia Programme. He led systems improvement research in the humid tropics of the region to develop and evaluate agroforestry alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture, and conducted research on the development of conservation-oriented agroforestry systems for sloping uplands. 
For more information and interviews contact:
Ms. Wagaki Mwangi
Public Information and Media Officer
Notes to the Editors:
About the UNCCD
Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Established in 1994, UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment, development and the promotion of healthy soils. The Convention’s 195 signatory Parties work to alleviate poverty in the drylands, maintain and restore the land’s productivity, and mitigate the effects of drought.
About the UNCCD Drylands Ambassadors
The Drylands Ambassador programme raises awareness among decision makers and the public at large about the importance of combating desertification, land degradation and mitigating the effect of drought. Drylands Ambassadors also help reach target groups such as youth, children and women. Read more about the UNCCD Drylands Ambassadors here.


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