Desertification has its greatest impact in Africa. Two thirds of the continent is desert or drylands. There are extensive agricultural drylands, almost three quarters of which are already degraded to some degree. The region is afflicted by frequent and severe droughts. Many African countries are landlocked, have widespread poverty, need external assistance, and depend heavily on natural resources for subsistence. They have difficult socio-economic conditions, insufficient institutional and legal frameworks, incomplete infrastructure, and weak scientific, technical, and educational capacities. These difficult circumstances explain why African countries have put so much effort into convincing the international community of the need for a “Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa”.
Africa‘s desertification is strongly linked to poverty, migration, and food security. In many African countries, combating desertification and promoting development are virtually one and the same due to the social and economic importance of natural resources and agriculture. When people live in poverty, they have little choice but to over-exploit the land. When the land eventually becomes uneconomic to farm, these people are often forced into internal and cross-border migrations, which in turn can further strain the environment and cause social and political tensions and conflicts. (The link with migration was important to the international community‘ s recognition of desertification as a truly global problem, like climate change or biodiversity loss.) Food security can ultimately be put at risk when people already living on the edge face severe droughts and other calamities.
The Regional Implementation Annex for Africa outlines a strategy for action. This Annex is the most detailed and thorough of the regional annexes to the Convention. Its proposals for National Action Programmes benefited from early attention when Parties adopted a Resolution on urgent measures for Africa which entered into force in June 1994, some two and a half years before the Convention itself.
National Action Programmes strongly emphasize awareness-raising. Most African countries have organized national awareness-raising seminars in order to launch the process of formulation of their National Action Programmes (NAPs). The seminars gather together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss the Convention and its philosophy and how to apply it to national circumstances. In some countries, local-level seminars have also been held to bring the message even closer to the actors in the field.
Implementation of NAPs can be successful only if consultations are continuous. By August 2005, 30 African countries finalized, validated and adopted their National Action Programmes. These countries are Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The majority of the remaining 23 countries have launched the NAP elaboration process, with the objective to finalize them by the end of 2005 as requested by the COP. The preparation of NAPs is a dynamic ongoing process and the status of each country is subject to change over time. In order to be successfully implemented, the NAPs need to be integrated into other national strategies for sustainable development, such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy and consultative processes need to be launched, aiming at the setting up of partnership agreements. The participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and of the scientific community is particularly important and their valuable contribution to the process has been widely recognized.
Four Subregional Action Programmes (SRAPs) have also been finalized. The existing subregional organizations in four subregions of Africa entrusted with coordinating these programmes are the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) for northern Africa, the Permanent Inter- State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) for the west, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for the east, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for the south. The elaboration of the fifth SRAP for Central Africa, coordinated by the Conférence des Forêts de l’Afrique Centrale (COMIFAC) is well advanced. While community- based organizations are very important actors in the process of formulating NAPs, such specialized intergovernmental organizations feature as main partners in designing SRAPs. When possible, these programmes seek synergies with other regional objectives. For example, a project for connecting subregional organizations to each other and to their respective member States via electronic systems will contribute to the strengthening of the regional communications network.
A Regional Action Programme (RAP) is also being developed. A Regional Coordination Unit (RCU) hosted by the African Development Bank in Tunis has been operational since early 2000, its main purpose is to support the implementation of the RAP. Further to the recommendations of the 1997 Pan African Conference on the Implementation of the UNCCD, seven thematic workshops were organized in 1998-1999 to look into prospects for establishing Thematic Programme Networks (TPNs) in order to promote the integrated management of international river, lake, and hydrogeological basins (TPN 1); agroforestry and soil conservation (TPN 2); rangelands use and fodder crops (TPN 3); ecological monitoring, natural resources mapping, remote sensing, and early warning systems (TPN 4); new and renewable energy sources and technologies (TPN 5); sustainable agricultural farming systems (TPN 6). The TPNs are coordinated by a focal point representing an African institution specialized in the respective thematic area. By now, all TPNs have been launched and priority activities are under implementation.
African countries have moved from planning to action, but the real work still lies ahead. To succeed, affected countries must ensure that combating desertification is given top priority and that NAPs are effectively linked to poverty reduction and investment strategies. They must actively promote an enabling environment by adopting appropriate legal, political, economic, financial, and social measures. For instance, they may need to change their rules on land use and ownership, further decentralize government administration and strengthen political rights at the local level. Meanwhile, external partners will have to prove themselves fully committed to the principles of the Convention by entering into productive partnerships with affected countries. Greater efforts, including capacity-building and financial support, are also needed to enable NGOs and civil society to remain active throughout the implementation stage.
Relevant parts of the Convention: Annex I: Regional Implementation Annex for Africa