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Greening up against drought in Turkana

Turkana in northern Kenya is one of the driest regions of the East African nation. This 77,000 square kilometre county receives an average of just 200mm of rain annually, compared to a national average of 680mm. And with three consecutive rain seasons failing since 2020, many residents are now faced with food scarcity, one of the painful effects of an ongoing  drought.  According to Peter Eripete, Turkana County’s Head of Public Service, the effects of drought are hardest felt by the residents who are mainly pastoralists. Their reliance on livestock means that when their livestock die, their income levels fall drastically, affecting entire families’ food security.   In Kangirenga Village in Katilu, an administrative Ward in southern Turkana, we found Lokutan Amaler preparing her only meal for the day - boiled maize. Food has been hard to come by for Lokutan and her family. “I had nothing to eat. All my food storage containers are empty. If I had not received this maize from a well wisher, I would not have had anything to eat today” Lokutan explained as she stirred the boiling maize in a cooking pot over a three-stone fire.   Traditionally, the Turkana people have always been dependent on their livestock for sustenance. Whenever they need to buy foodstuffs or household supplies, they sell a goat or cow at the market and with the money received, make the necessary purchases. But with the shortage of rains leading to a lack of pasture, many cows, goats and even camels have died, leading to a loss of income for many across this vast county. To get out of the recurring cycle of lack of food whenever drought visits, a few people have now diversified their sources of sustenance.  Lokutan has planted green grams a short walk from her home. Her garden is part of  a 10-acre agriculture project initiated by Panafricaire. Eunice Eseison, who coordinates the farming project for Panafricaire says “Convincing the residents to take up farming was an uphill task. Though a few saw the sense it made, it took us very long to convince many that farming was something they could do profitably because it went against their culture”.   But with time, those who enrolled in the project including Lokutan have seen the benefits after finding an alternative source of food at every harvest, and income when the excess is sold in the local market.  While the work done by organizations like PanAfricaire to mitigate the effects of drought are commendable, food security still remains a concern in Turkana. Greater investments are needed to have more land under cultivation with improved farming practices that will increase productivity from the land. This will allow greater year-round harvests for Lokutan and other farmers, ensuring that they are always cushioned from the harmful effects of the drought. 

Greening up against drought in Turkana
The weather alone cannot explain droughts and floods

Communities all over the world have suffered some of the most brutal effects of drought and flooding this year. Flash floods in western Europe, eastern and central Asia and southern African. And catastrophic drought in Australia, southern Africa, southern Asia, much of Latin America, western North America and Siberia are cases in point. The impacts extend well beyond the individual events. For example, the rise in food insecurity in the southern African region and unprecedented wildfires in North America, Europe and Central Asia.   What is going on? This is much more than bad weather in some cases, and is increasingly so. The UNCCD organized an event at COP26, the Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow, United Kingdom, to focus attention on the land-water-climate nexus. The science and policy responses discussed make it clear that human decisions exacerbated by climate change are significantly – and arguably, catastrophically – amplifying the impact of drought and floods.  The discussion encouraged more strategic land use decisions. Decisions that ensure what we do where, and in particular, what we plant where, mitigatesthe impacts of both extremes, be it too much or too little rainfall. It also shed light on how important it is to have healthy soils. Soils that are replete with organic matter will obtain “more crop per drop”, and reduce the risks associated with drought and flooding.  Extreme events, including both droughts and floods are on the rise. With more land projected to be get drier and more and more people living in drylandsin the future, the discussions centered on the shift more than 60 countries are making from “reactive” response to droughts and floods to “proactive” planning and risk management designed to build resilience. Participants from Malawi, Pakistan, Honduras, Grenada and Burkina Faso provided concrete examples of policy alignment and cross-sectorial approaches to implementation. Here is a quick overview of the highlights. Read more:  Land and drought

The weather alone cannot explain droughts and floods
COP14 Bureau opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

Madam President, Dear Bureau members, It is, as ever, a pleasure to speak to you and work with you, regardless of the distance the pandemic has forced upon us. I hope that everyone is holding up during what has been a long and wearying period for us all. I commend your continued commitment to our Convention. Your dedication remains essential, as UNCCD is growing ever more and as land is part of the solution in these times of great turmoil. If we fulfill our mandate to protect, manage, and restore the land, the benefits will be immense towards building a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world. We will accelerate recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis. Reduce the risk of future pandemics. Slow climate change and protect biodiversity. Free millions of people from poverty and hunger. Help to create a world of peace, prosperity, and equity. Madam President, More than ever before, we need solidarity, hope but also tough political choices and innovative policy action to see this crisis through together.  Allow me to give a brief update of our activities so far before addressing today’s agenda. Regarding the Secretariat and Global Mechanism, I am pleased to report that our staff and families are doing well overall. In unison with the rest of the UN in Bonn, I have continued to take all precautionary measures that are intended to protect the safety, health, and well-being of UNCCD staff with regard to COVID19. This has been a top priority for me and the management team. I have been inspired by how our work has continued uninterrupted, enabling the Convention to continue to play an active global role. I am thankful to my staff for their enduring dedication. Our work in 2020 and 2021 is not, in any form, on hold.  We now have a strong Management Team which I am very proud of, with more women into leadership positions. I am proud that we achieved gender parity in just one year, with 54% women as senior leaders. Overall, women now represent 57% of the UNCCD labor force. Together with the management team, we have created a consensus around simplification, decentralization, and flexibility to be more nimble, efficient, and effective by adopting for the first time in the Secretariat’s history a Delegation of Authority policy. At global level, never has the need for land restoration been more crucial. In the midst of the pandemic, a window of hope and opportunity has opened for our Parties: a chance to recover better. The UNCCD Secretariat has focused its attention on key strategic partnerships. At our last Bureau meeting, I informed you about the G20 Global Initiative on Land. We are in advanced discussions with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the funding agreement and we will soon set up the Initiative Coordination Office. Italy which holds the G20 Presidency this year, is also very much interested in Sustainable Land Management. I would like to use this opportunity to thank G20 countries who are also members of the Bureau for their instrumental support. On January 11, at the One Planet Summit organized in Paris, the Africa’s Great Green Wall received a major boost from donors and partners. For the first time ever, there was a clear recognition that land restoration can have multiple positive impacts. To the ecology, to society, to the economy. Close to USD 17 billion have now been pledged. The UNCCD has been requested to provide technical support to provide enabling conditions for an accelerated implementation on the ground. Madam President, Covid-19 has not postponed the need for Parties to accelerate work towards fulfilling commitments they have already made. We understand the Indian Government is completing the process for the implementation of Prime Minister Modi’s vision shared at COP14 in New Delhi, to restore 26M ha of land by 2030. Furthermore, you may have noted the recent announcement by Prince Mohamed Ben Salman of Saudi Arabia about a national and a regional initiative to restore 240 M ha of degraded land across the Kingdom and the Middle East region. We are in contact with Saudi Arabia to better understand their plans and provide as much support as we can. The implementation of the Land Degradation Neutrality is ongoing in 104 out of the 127 countries that submitted their national commitments.  The Global Mechanism is developing a new business model to cope with the growing and complex demands from Parties. Madam President, Land restoration is clearly gaining momentum. Itis low-tech and a cheap solution to climate from the perspective of carbon sequestration. We will need to continue to make the case, and convince major players, notably from the private sector for a more sustainable production. Of particular importance are the producers of food, feed, and fiber. We also need to see major improvements on the consumption side. One imminent opportunity we have is the High-Level Dialogue at the UN General Assembly on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought which is scheduled to take place on 20 May. The President of the UN General Assembly is fully committed to working with all Members States, at the highest level, in order to make this event a success, with a lasting legacy. We need your full support to make this Dialogue a successful one. On 17 June, the world will celebrate the Desertification and Drought Day, with Costa Rica as the global host. The theme focuses on the contribution of Land Restoration to the Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery. I am very pleased with the positive response we have received so far both from the public and the private sectors. At our next Bureau meeting, I intend to inform you about great progress being made in improving the reporting tools, including through the establishment of a geo-spatial platform. There are also important development shaping up in other sectors, such as the Science Policy Interface as well as Capacity Building and Innovation. Our staff have been very busy and creative, despite the lockdown. But in the interest of time, I will have to come back to these on another occasion. Madame President, Covid-19 has revealed the world’s vulnerabilities, many of which intersect with the land crisis. At the same time, it has highlighted the importance of expertise and science, cooperation, information and solidarity. And it has also, in many cases, demonstrated that land is part of the solution and can help steer the recovery towards a safer, more sustainable, and inclusive path. We stand ready to continue supporting Parties, now and beyond COVID-19. This brings me to today’s agenda. We will discuss the date and place of COP15, a key decision for the Convention. You will also hear a report by the Chair of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC). I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome Mr. Andrew Bishop. Mr. Bishop is not new to the UNCCD process as he served as Guyana’s national focal point in the past. Finally, you will hear a report by the Chair of the Committee on Science and Technology (CST). Madame President, Parties had requested us to organize COP15 in Bonn, or another venue, in autumn of this year. Considering the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP15 in 2021 may no longer possible. The pandemic has disrupted our plans. You have in front of view, under agenda item II, a note on the status of preparations for COP15 to inform your decision on the best course of action for a successful COP, moving forward. The note includes options for rescheduling COP15. Rescheduling will ensure all Parties can focus on the issues to be discussed at this key conference and allow more time for the necessary preparations to take place, taking into account safety and security. We will continue to work with all of you and hope to be able to get your views and guidance on: The postponement of COP15 to 2022 The organization of an online process for Parties to decide on an interim budget for 2022 Your decision today will help us engage further our host country with regard the rescheduling of COP15 in 2022. This, of course, does not exclude the possibility of a third party expressing interest to preside or host COP15, regardless of your decision on the date of the COP. We know that many countries are already in the process of developing their Post-Pandemic recovery plans. It would be strategic for our Conference of the Parties to be held on time, to actively contribute to policy making and guide pro-land investments and policies. The Second Edition of the Global Land Outlook is designed to serve as a good reference in that respect. On CRIC19, while I will leave the details to our able Chair, let me just say how pleased I was with the outcomes. The meeting confirmed that the work we do under this Convention is essential to protecting, managing, and restoring healthy land. And that we can only fulfill the land’s full potential if we do it together. Thanks again to all of you, a total of 138 Parties, 9 UN agencies, 15 Intergovernmental Organizations, and 63 civil society organizations took part in the debates, over a course of five days. Regarding the report by the CST Chair, there are a lot of important activities and updates that the Chair will be presenting. It is always heartening to see collaboration, both internal and external. And this struck me as a key positive note of the report. As I said earlier, we must all seek to reach beyond the confines of our Convention to engage every ministry, business, investor, UN agency and process that impacts on the land. So, the CST coordination with the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is most welcome and much appreciated. Madame President, The Secretariat is very much looking forward to a successful and productive meeting. Thank you.

COP14 Bureau opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
Nations call for reversal of soil degradation

The Ministerial Global Forum on Food and Agriculture, hosted by Germany, concluded today with a call from 68 nations across the globe to prevent and reverse soil degradation. While 90 per cent of our food production depend on soil, which is also one of the earth’s most important carbon sinks, its quality is increasingly deteriorating, and fertile land is becoming more scarce. To stop this trend, countries must unite in their efforts to bring life back to degraded soils. Recognizing that land degradation and drought destroy the soil quality and threaten global food security, the communiqué issued at the closing of the Forum urges the countries to combat desertification and restore degraded land to achieve a land degradation-neutral world by 2030. The communiqué specifically notes the crucial role of land-restoration initiatives such as the Great Green Wall of Africa for political and social stability. UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, who moderated one of the Forum's sessions, expressed the convention's strong commitment to supporting countries in making the spirit of the communiqué a reality and shaping ambitious long-terms goals on soil restoration at the upcoming UNCCD COP15 in Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire, in May 2022.  "The decisions taken at our next Conference of the Parties will ramp up response actions of countries that have committed to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality for a sustainable and resilient future.​​​​​" — UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw While the global extent of land degradation is estimated at between 20-40 per cent of the total land area, restoring degraded land has been proven as an efficient and cost-effective solution to reverse degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss and to reduce the risk and intensity of disasters. Moreover, our food systems can be redesigned to ensure positive outcomes for nature and climate. Shifting from inefficient, resource-intensive production models to conservation and regenerative agriculture, agroforestry and other integrated systems, we can rebuild healthy and resilient food systems and restore degraded soils. Read more: Full communiqué UNCCD COP15 Sustainable food systems

Nations call for reversal of soil degradation