Bonn, Germany, 7 February 2011 – “Forests are critical to the eradication of poverty in the drylands. They are also the first step towards healing the drylands and protecting them from desertification and drought. In essence, ‘Forests Keep Drylands Working.’ This is our motto for this year.” Mr Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, made these remarks from from Bonn, Germany, this morning as he announced the theme and slogan, and unveiled the logo, for the observance of the World Day to Combat Desertification to be held on 17 June 2011.
“The international community knows about temperate and tropical forests. This being the International Year of Forests, we want to introduce the public to the best-kept forest secret of all time – the forests of the drylands. Such forests cover 18% of the land in arid zones, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO),” Mr Gnacadja said.
“Known variously as arid lands forests, tropical dry forests and the low forest cover countries, the trees in drylands sustain the land and have come to mean the difference between living in abject poverty and a sustainable livelihood,” he stated. “We are particularly inspired by the testimony of the farmers in Africa’s Sahel region on the importance they have come to attach to dryland forests and their own existence,” he added.
The peasant farmers in southern Niger recall that in the 1980s, they had to plant their crops three or four times each planting season because the plants were buried by wind-blown sand. Today, they typically plant only once because the forests now protect the seed, according to a 2009 paper by researchers working with the International Food and Policy Research Institute. Moreover, the trees they plant produce, at least, a six-month supply of fodder for on-farm livestock, as well as firewood, fruit and medicinal products for home consumption or cash sales. These results have inspired the farmers in this region to forest over 5 million hectares – an area about the size of Costa Rica or Slovakia – on their own initiative.
Mr Gnacadja noted that the rest of the world is also enjoying the spill-over benefits from the achievement of these barefoot foresters. “Their forests absorb the excess carbon in the air and are important biodiversity sanctuaries; and the peasants are strengthening their own capacity to adapt to climate change. This is truly remarkable,” he said.
It is no wonder that the Global Forests Resources Assessment of 2010 published by the FAO claims that “the protective functions of forests are more important in the arid zones than elsewhere.” By providing ecosystem goods such as fodder, fuel, wood for construction, medicines and herbs, forests meet the primary needs of some of the world’s poorest populations. Trees also stabilize the soil, which prevents soil erosion and helps to conserve water. In short, dry forests are a buffer against drought and desertification and a safety net for the poor.
The United Nations designated 2011 as the International Year of Forests with an emphasis on forests that serve people. “If each of us makes the commitment and ensures that just one tree is planted in a degraded part of the drylands and that the tree survives through the year, we could have well over two billion trees in the drylands by the end of the year. That is a tree for every inhabitant of the drylands. So then, let us go forth and forest the drylands to keep them working for present and future generations,” Mr. Gnacadja urged.
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