Algiers, 4 June 2012. African journalists at a three-day workshop held on 29-31 May 2012, in Algiers, Algeria, have decided to initiate a campaign to raise awareness, inform and educate land users, policy-makers and the public on the urgent need for sustainable land management.
They also decided to set up a regional network and take the lead in each of their countries to develop a specialized group of journalists on the subject and to get other journalists to work with them.
The actions follow a three-day regional workshop with experts from Africa, which also included a visit to eight rural sites in Algeria with meetings with farmers and herders. The workshop focused on why Africa must curb land degradation and how this could be done and still keep the current trend of economic growth and development.
“What struck me most,” said Fernand Tona, a journalist from Togo with Agence de Presse Africaine, “is the refusal of the view of aridity as a fatality. The field visit helped me see how people have refused this fatality, for example, the Harranne family that we visited is addressing the issue on the ground. I salute the local communities and now realize that it is the mobilization of people and of human resources that matters most.”
“This was an opportunity to see what an integrated strategy on rural renewal means, and how the idea of reforestation evolved,” said Ms. Nadia BenSellam, a Moroccan correspondent for the Al-Hayat newspaper.
“What I saw gave me a lot of hope. The practices I saw show that we can reach a zero-net land degradation target, but the condition is that we work, and that also depends on our work as journalists in sharing information with the population. I have worked in the agriculture sector, but not rural renewal and so I learned a lot,” said Ms. Fatma Hamouche, a producer with Algeria Television.
African governments are calling for a sustainable development goal on land that puts a cap on land degradation as a key outcome of the summit that will take place in Rio from 20-22 June.
The call, popularly referred to as going “land degradation neutral” and scientifically described as achieving a “zero-net land degradation,” proposes to end a trend where land degradation exceeds land restoration.
A zero-net land degradation can be achieved by avoiding degrading new areas and, for every hectare that is degraded in a given year, restoring an equal amount of already degraded land. Globally, more than 2 billion hectares of land can be restored through forest and landscape restoration.
Every year, about 12 million hectares of land are lost to desertification and drought alone; land that could produce 20 million tons of grain in the same period. Africa, where two of every three hectares of land are either desert or drylands, is one the regions most vulnerable to these effects.
Presenting the Workshop’s resolution on behalf of the 15 journalists drawn from 10 African countries, Mr. Didier Madafime, radio and television of Benin said, “it will be important, as a first step of following up the Alger workshop, to layout an annual work plan of activities. Each journalist here would serve as the focal point in his country in providing support to the work of the Convention (to Combat Desertification).”
Many journalists said the field visits and interactions with the local populations are a means to access and exchange information, but noted these are costly ventures for which they need support.
Madafime called on the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to facilitate capacity building of the journalists and to table a decision on this issue for consideration by UNCCD’s next Conference of the Parties.
Welcoming the recommendations, Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD Executive Secretary, stressed the importance of restoring degraded noting that “the desert is not advancing, but it is humans that are creating deserts. Can you imagine development without land or poverty reduction or food, water or energy security without land?” he posed.
Gnacadja urged journalists to report both on best and worst practices because lessons can be drawn from both. “What is the plan we have for the future we want for Rio+20?” he asked rhetorically. “My message is that we can achieve zero-net land degradation. It is possible. It is doable and it is measurable,” he responded.
Madafime presented the Workshop recommendations to Dr Rachid Benaissa, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Algeria. In his closing remarks, Benaissa said Algeria’s experience is the result of a long process paved with successes and failures, and the Integrated Rural Development Strategy was the outcome.
He said mobilizing the population is key and added that “there is a great need for human resource capacity that is interested and able to do the work… It is important to diffuse and share experiences… It is important to have professionals specialized in communication. The support needed is not simply technical or financial or administrative. It needs to be integrated.”
South-south cooperation, Benaissa said, is the key to enhancing capacity and the workshop was one example. He underlined the importance of journalists in raising awareness, explaining policy to the public and highlighting difficulties or problems with the implementation of policy.
The Algiers Regional Workshop on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought was jointly sponsored by the UNCCD and the Government of Algeria. Participants came from Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Chad, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Togo.
The workshop is part of a series of regional media workshops taking place to inform journalists on the need for and benefits of agreeing on a global sustainable development goal on land at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio later this month.
A similar workshop for the Asia region was held on 23-25 May in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, China. The participants at the Asia workshop also agreed to set up a tool to help them share information and communicate.
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