4 March 2014, Maseru, Lesotho. “Too often in the past, we have exploited, ignored and come into conflict with the needs of our environment,” said Khotso Matla, Minister of Forestry and Land Reclamation of the Kingdom of Lesotho during the observance of African Environment Day/Wangari Maathai Day which was held yesterday. This year, Lesotho in Southern Africa hosted the Day which is celebrated across Africa. The host country for the continent-wide event is held on a rotational basis by the five sub-regions.
Matla concluded his remarks by saying that our challenges is “to find the political will, the vision and the common sense to get together for the radical changes that will be essential and are crucial if we really mean business. If we do not see the urgency for such changes, our independence, our sovereignty as Africans, and integrity will be in danger of becoming just hollow words.”
Attended by dignitaries and journalists from all regions of Africa, the observance event was highly symbolic. The event and addresses were delivered by the Fika-le-Mohala rock, the historic venue where King Moshoeshoe 1 (pronounced moo-shwe-shwe), Lesotho’s founding father, addressed his people on national matters, including the founding of the nation.
During the celebrations, the tree planting was held in memory of Nobel Peace Prize winner the late Wangari Maathai, a renowned environmental activist and crusader for tree planting in Africa. The African Union re-titled Africa Environment Day in her honor following her demise in 2011.
Addressing the Day’s theme, Combatting Desertification in Africa: Enhancing Agricultural Productivity and Food Security, Rhoda Tumusiime, Africa Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture said, “it is undeniable that agriculture cannot thrive in Africa if we do not pay due attention to the rational utilization of natural resources, including water and land.”
“As other regions of the world turn to Africa looking for the energy, water and food resources need to generate and power their economies, we must ensure that the continent’s abundant natural resources, are by priority, harnessed to catalyze our sustainable development,” Tumusiime added.
Lesotho, a country of 2 million people is land-locked, where only 8% of the land is highly productive. The rest is a mountainous plateau, of which nearly 70% are rangelands with thin and fragile soils whose productivity is threatened by overgrazing.
Leaders of various international organizations, underscored the critical nature of combating land degradation in Africa, marked the Day as the starting point of the global campaign towards the World Day to Combat Desertification to be held on 17 June.
Globally, over half of all agricultural land is moderately and severely degraded, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). And climate stresses account for 62.5% of all stresses on land degradation in Africa, according to the Natural Resources conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture.
National Reports submitted by Parties to the UNCCD show that all the countries in Africa claim they are affected by desertification.
In her address at the celebrations, Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, Head of UNEP’s Southern African Office, said “the world has witnessed an unprecedented sharp decline in terrestrial ecosystems services and functions during the last few decades. Forests and wetlands have been converted to agricultural land to feed a growing population, but at a cost that is not sustainable” by quoting a recent UNEP report. “We need to be more efficient, in the way we produce, consume and supply our land-based products,” she said.
Over 300 people, including local schools and communities in the Ha Masana area, where the historic natural rock is located, attended the celebrations and planted the trees. Some 2,000 tree seedlings were delivered for the event.
Africa Environment Day was established in 2002, by a decision of the African Union Summit to raise awareness about the benefits of the environment to the lives of the African people, and the threats possible by desertification and drought, among others.
About the UNCCD
Emerging from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment, development and the promotion of sustainable land management. The Convention’s 195 signatory Parties work to alleviate poverty in the drylands by promoting a specific global response to desertification, land gradation and drought. Each Party is expected to agree and deliver against explicit commitments according to the Convention.
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