Land degradation is one of the key triggers of migration in Central Asia, confirms a new study released by UNCCD this month. In the region where drought and desertification cause annual losses of about USD 6 billion, the number of people who migrate each year in search of work amounts to 2.5–4.3 million, or 10-15% of the economically active population.
The findings of the study became the focus of an online discussion hosted by the convention, inviting authors and contributors from Central Asia, representatives of partner organizations and over 100 virtual attendees who could contribute to the discussion via an online chat.
Remarking on the timeliness of the new study, the UNCCD Chief of Global Policy Advocacy and Regional Cooperation Unit Miriam Medel García emphasized that the project has been requested by the countries of Central Asia – Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – to aid in the implementation of the Convention and to demonstrate how measures addressing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) can support more positive and organized migration flows. Expressing sincere appreciation for the support of the Russian Federation in financing the study, Ms. Medel remarked that its conclusions and policy recommendations, while specifically targeted in Central Asia, are also applicable to any country seeking to overcome the challenges of DLDD by creating safely nets for vulnerable rural populations through land-based green growth and sustainable value chains.
Welcoming the study, the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Vladimir Uskov remarked on the key role of UNCCD as the leading international mechanism for addressing DLDD – the issue that affects the entire region and needs to be addressed at the regional level. He noted that the study helps better understand the complex relationships between many factors that contribute to land degradation, climate change and migration in Central Asia. He expressed hope that the study will also contribute to the work of the interregional group launched at UNCCD COP14 to facilitate the implementation of the Convention, and confirmed the willingness of the Russian Federation to further contribute support and scientific expertise.
In their detailed presentations, the authors of the study called attention to land degradation as a “quiet” planetary crisis, whose effects are devastating and wide-spread. Using latest land degradation assessment tools authored by the UNCCD, they identified the main hot spots of land and water crises in the region. As climate change manifests itself through more frequent and prolonged droughts, combined with anthropogenic pressures, the resulting decrease in land productivity and loss of income leads to migration in search of livelihood. The study highlights that while the economies of both the source and receiving countries rely on migrant workers, the income of migrants remains highly vulnerable, as became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, money earned by migrants does not support future security – 98% of what migrants earn is spent on everyday expenses, with almost nothing into savings or investments, not to mention the practices of sustainable land use.
Both representatives of the Central Asian countries and international organizations – IOM, FAO, UNDP and CAREC – that provided extensive inputs into the study, also stressed the need for further scientific collaboration for knowledge sharing on sustainable land management.
The new study reveals that the widespread adoption of effective land use approaches that already exist across the region depends on creating financing opportunities for farmers and improving knowledge-sharing. Long-term investments are needed to fundamentally improve the state of agricultural land and to make agricultural work more attractive, particularly to youth, through development and implementation of sustainable land use models and land-based climate adaptation technologies that require advanced skills and higher levels of education.
To ensure that the results of the study have a real impact, helping improve living standards and productivity in the agricultural sector while regulating migration, the authors proposed further research, where sustainable land management practices in the region would be assessed using a variety of efficiency indicators, such as the size of the restored land area, water and energy efficiency, social satisfaction, gender equity and improved living standards. The authors believe that the main criterion of resilience and effectiveness of each model of sustainable land use, especially under the conditions of climate change, should be the potential to achieve land degradation neutrality.