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Communities worldwide unite for Her Land, Her Rights 

From women's soccer game in Chad to a solo marathon across the barren Aral Sea, and from tree planting to children's gardening competitions, this year's Desertification and Drought Day was marked with boundless creativity and impactful actions around the globe.  Across continents, people everywhere found engaging ways to unite their communities and support “Her Land. Her Rights”. Close to 50 countries—from Argentina to Azerbaijan and from France to Fiji—reported dozens of events to mark this year's Day. Below are just a few that piqued our interest:  A football match between N'Djaména's two leading women's teams in Chad – as one of the nation’s Indigenous leaders Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim reminds us, “Without women, there cannot be a winning team in the fight against desertification”  The village of Nawailevu in Bua Province of Fiji invited visitors to share the first harvest from a model farm created on a former bauxite mining site to cultivate fruit, greens and root vegetables with the inclusion of agroforestry. Highlighting women’s land privileges as the foundation of household harmony and national development, the event also invited schoolkids attending the field day to take part in the Fiji Backyard Gardening Competition  The screening of the film about pioneers of cross-country sand skiing from France who embarked on a sporting epic to test solutions to drought resilience and climate adaptation by learning from the peoples of the desert  A native tree planting in the remote desert village of Gomawali in Rajastan, India, where women of the community take the lead in land restoration as part of the Familial Forestry Initiative launched by our Land for Life Award laureate Shyam Sunder Jyani  A village-wide dialogue in Kitui County, Kenya that included a survey on the participation of women in sustainable land management and resource conservation under various land tenure systems, a display of water-harvesting technologies, an inventory of drought-tolerant crop varieties and community donations of water-harvesting devices, drought resilient plants and farm animals  A female farmers' expo at the City Park in In Skopje, North Macedonia, that featured female heroes working in sustainable agriculture and showcased their products, with discussions on sustainable farming methods and distribution of free seeds and seedlings.  A social media challenge #thislandismyland launched by the Ministry of Agriculture in Saint Lucia, inviting the public to identify different landscapes and soil types in their communities, showing the ones most affected by the effects of desertification. Content creators who received the most likes were asked to Interview farmers and landowners and explain the negative impacts of desertification on their livelihoods  A lone runner from Uzbekistan who made a 42-mile trek across the dried-up bottom of the Aral Sea to attract the attention to the environmental problems of the region and inspire everyone to take on an active role in addressing them  UNCCD Land Heroes have also been actively reaching out to their local and global communities: Musa Ibrahim participated in the Nigerian national dialogue on desertification while Patricia Kombo actively promoted #HerLand campaign on her social media channels, and Kehkashan Basu took to the UN General Assembly stage together with other LandSHEroes, issuing an urgent call to action to advance women’s land rights.  Every action and every voice counts! Visit our website to discover events that took place around the world this Desertification and Drought Day and get creative planning the next one together with youр community!

Communities worldwide unite for Her Land, Her Rights 
10th Nevsky International Ecological Congress: Message from Ibrahim Thiaw

Excellencies, dear Friends,   It is a pleasure for me to address you today from the headquarters of the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.  Let me begin by expressing my recognition to the Russian Federation for hosting this event. The Nevsky Congress is a clear testimony of the paramount importance of the environmental agenda.   No corner of the globe is immune from the devastating consequences of climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and drought.   Sea levels are rising, oceans are acidifying, the Arctic is melting, forests are burning, weather extremes are intensifying.   Droughts hit everywhere and with more intensity.   Rising temperatures are fuelling environmental degradation and economic deterioration.  Therefore, the theme of today´s meeting “Ecology: a right, not a privilege” couldn’t be more relevant.   We cannot afford to take today´ situation for granted.   Resolute and concerted actions are needed for the sake of present and future generations;   for their right to a decent life and environment.   However, all rights go hand in hand with responsibilities.   And our collective responsibility is to think about our Planet and to take care of the land which belongs to us all.  Without urgent action on how we use and steward our land, we cannot aspire to sustainable development for all.   Land generates the food we eat. Land produces the fibre necessary to our clothing. The water we drink is coming from terrestrial ecosystems.   The quality of the air we breathe also partly depends on the health of our land.   Therefore, I would like to call upon all the participants here today to think about land restoration as a powerful and cost-effective sustainable development tool.   Investing in large-scale land restoration to build resilience to drought, combat soil erosion, and loss of agricultural production is a win-win solution for everybody:   for the environment, for the climate, for the economy, and for the livelihoods of local communities.   Sustainable agriculture and nature-based solutions are a smart way to increase food production, stabilize climate, create employment, and wealth and prosperity.   These challenges are of importance to all.   Ladies and gentlemen,  Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.   2024 is also the year of COP16 of the Convention, which will be hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.   The UN Convention to Combat Desertification is the only legally binding global treaty set up to address land degradation and the effects of drought.   Next year’s Nevsky International Congress may therefore be a good platform to discuss these issues. Sharing and enhancing knowledge on drought resilience, sustainable land management and restoration is key to improving land and livelihoods.   UNCCD stands ready to provide it’s support.   I wish you a successful and fruitful meeting and a productive discussion.  Spasíbo. Thank you very much for your attention!

10th Nevsky International Ecological Congress: Message from Ibrahim Thiaw
Tobacco-free farms: a healthier future for people and land 

Tobacco growing not only harms human health, but the health of our land as well, undermining the future of our food. While today a record 349 million people are facing acute food insecurity, tobacco is grown in over 124 countries, taking up 3.2 million hectares of fertile land that could be used to grow food. The World No Tobacco Day on 31 May under the slogan “Grow food, not tobacco” encourages governments to end tobacco-growing subsidies and use the savings to support farmers who make a switch to more sustainable crops that improve food security and nutrition.    While we are aware of the health impact of tobacco, which kills more than 8 million people annually around the globe, we tend to think less about the destructive effect of tobacco cultivation for the environment. To meet the demand for land needed for tobacco cultivation, 200,000 hectares of forests are destroyed each year. For every 15 boxes of cigarettes sold, a tree is chopped down.  Tobacco causes other forms of land degradation, such as soil erosion, because it is usually planted as a monocrop, leaving topsoil poorly protected from wind and water, reducing soil fertility and disrupting water cycles. Tobacco crops also require large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that pollute the soil and pose a serious hazard for farmers and their families.  Recognizing that there is no sustainable future in tobacco, farmers in Kenya and Zambia are making a shift to growing high-yield and nutritious food crops such as high-iron beans with the support of the Tobacco-Free Farms Initiative launched by World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Capital Development Fund and the UNCCD, supported by the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and in collaboration with the national ministries of health and agriculture.  Creating a supportive crop production and marketing ecosystem means mapping value chain options for nutrient-dense alternative food crops and supporting sourcing of inputs, training in good agricultural practices, enabling access to microfinance opportunities and credit, and improving post-harvest processing systems. Tobacco-Free Farms Initiative has been active in Migori County, Kenya for the last four growing seasons, successfully supporting over 1,400 farmers switching from tobacco to food crops and is currently being scaled to three new tobacco growing counties in Kenya (Meru, Busia, Bungoma) and one tobacco growing province in Zambia (Eastern Province).  By the end of 2024, the project expects:  At least 4000 farmers in Kenya (across four counties) and 1000 farmers in Zambia (across one province) will have converted from tobacco growing to alternative crops   At least 25 per cent increase in acres of land attributed to alternative crops in target counties/provinces  At least 200 per cent increase in annual income of 80 per cent of farmers who switch from tobacco growing to alternative crops  One of the key outcomes of the project is increased return-on-investment for farmers who shift from tobacco to alternative crops. Farmers supported by the initiative to grow high-iron beans are earning at least three times as much as they were growing tobacco in one season. What is good for the farmers is also good for the land. The Tobacco-Free Farms Initiative supports the 2030 agenda on poverty reduction, human health, reduced inequality and economic growth while tackling climate change and combating environmental degradation to secure land resources that feed the growing world population. 

Tobacco-free farms: a healthier future for people and land 
17th Meeting of UNCCD Science-Policy Interface: Opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw

  Dear SPI Co-chairs, Members, Observers, and Early Career Fellows of the SPI, Dear Colleagues, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all of you who have ventured from near and far to join us at the UN Campus in Bonn, and to some that have joined online. It is not only the distances involved. It is your time. Your effort. Your commitment. I cannot begin to tell you how much that means to this Convention.  But I can assure you that every minute of your time and effort makes a difference. And the need could not be greater. Among other things, you are all working on an analysis of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report contributions on climate change adaptation and mitigation with respect to UNCCD priorities. From this you will know that the IPCC concluded that:  “…the pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are simply insufficient. This is why the choices made in the next few years will play a critical role in deciding our future and that of generations to come. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future. If land is part of the climate change solution – and the past work of the SPI and the IPCC make it very clear it must be – we therefore need to provide our Parties the policy options necessary to make it so. And indeed, these should be policy options that are firmly grounded in science. The urgency I am trying to convey does not stop with your IPCC AR6 analysis. Both of your scientific assessment objectives address critical bottlenecks. The first is guidance on pursuing Sustainable Land Use Systems. This will help our Parties optimize what they do where, with the aim of navigating the trade-offs among competing demands for land and achieving multiple benefits. The second is understanding aridity trends, projections and impacts. This will help Parties plan for a future where even more land and even more people may well be impacted by desertification and drought. Responding to the COP mandate for the SPI will require more urgency among all of you. With such tight timelines for delivering the work programme for the biennium 2022 to 2024, it may well require doing things differently. Doing things differently does not come easy for anyone, particularly after years of experience. Which is why I am so encouraged to see new and younger faces among the more senior scientists in the room! It’s going to be a two-way beneficial process – they will learn so much from the rest of you. And you, the experienced scientists will also benefit from new perspectives and fresh ideas. Bear in mind the IPCC focused on ensuring a liveable planet. Those of us closer to my age will not experience the worst of the projections. But all of us have children or other relatives who most certainly will. Which is why the perspectives of the younger generations must figure into our calculus and actions. It is also why I thought you might like to know the views of Ijad Madisch, one of Germany’s most innovative and influential young scientists on “the need to move fast and break things”. You may know him as the founder and CEO of ResearchGate, a tool many of you use to track scientific output and impact, or to network with other scientists. Two things you may not know: First, he is a Syrian refugee who has lived what far too many more will experience in the coming years. And, secondly, after a telephone request from then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he joined the 10-member Digital Council of the Cabinet of Germany. At 38 years of age. Part of the reason Chancellor Merkel chose him was an Op Ed he wrote for the Scientific American calling for a revolution in scientific transparency and accessibility he dubbed the “Science in Real Time; For a Move Fast, Break Things and Talk about It Mentality”. You will be here for the next three intense days. Debating, drafting and redrafting. With your sleeves rolled up, I urge you to move fast, break things and talk about it.  I urge you to make things happen in your work with a sense of urgency that will ultimately influence policy makers to take bold, necessary and evidence-based action. To get there on such tight timelines, you may wish to consider Ijad’s suggestion that you find a way to share your results, methods, questions, failures and everything in between as early as you can. Perhaps through some form of preprint that can lead to greater insights before things are finalized. As Ijad argues, whether or not it is right early on in the process is not the issue. Rather, failures are discoveries in disguise. Looking at everything that hasn’t worked will inevitably eventually lead to something that does. And maybe something far more relevant to policy makers since the feedback you may receive will become part of the results you obtain. In the domain of high tech start-ups, they say “Fail, and fail fast”. Failure is not a risk to be avoided. It is the basis for disruptive progress that could move your work from confirmational science to something that helps drive much needed change in the world. But this will only happen if you consider this work as a vital part of the solution, working with the same sense of urgency that the IPCC has requested of all of us. With this, I thank you again for stepping up to help us all bridge science and policy. And I wish you a disruptive but productive week! Thank you

17th Meeting of UNCCD Science-Policy Interface: Opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
Southern Africa eyes Great Green Wall-inspired initiative

All 16 countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have committed to accelerating multi-sectoral transformation through a regional initiative inspired by the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, or SADC Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI).  The SADC Initiative aims to create productive landscapes in the Southern Africa region that contribute to regional socially inclusive economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. Together with countries and key partners the goal is to initiate multisectoral partnerships and to acquire pledges of an indicative US$ 27 billion by 2025. In a leap forward in the implementation of the SADC GGWI, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), its Global Mechanism and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), in collaboration with the SADC Secretariat, the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Commonwealth Secretariat brought together more than 50 key regional and international partners in Cape Town, South Africa in March 2023. The partners worked together to identify concrete next steps and recommendations to mobilize financing and coordinate action on the ground. Building on the momentum, the World Bank together with the SADC Secretariat, the UNCCD, the AUC, AUDA-NEPAD and the Commonwealth Secretariat convened the SADC Ministers of Finance on 12 April 2023, during the World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington DC. The SADC Ministers of Finance welcomed the progress made to date on the SADC GGWI and highlighted the importance of the initiative to address the challenges facing the region. They also stressed the need for an economic analysis of the cost of inaction and ‘business as usual’.  Covering a total land area of 10 million km2, Southern Africa faces immediate effects of desertification, land degradation and drought, as well as challenges driven by climate change, biodiversity loss, and unsustainable development practices in agriculture, energy and infrastructure sectors. In his welcome remarks, Floribert Ngaruko, World Bank Group Executive Director Africa Group 1, said the Spring Meetings were identified as a critical gathering to engage and discuss the SADC Great Green Wall Initiative, noting it demonstrates Member States’ commitments toward deeper regional integration as articulated by the SADC Treaty, SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2020-2030 and other regional policies and strategies. “Our collective efforts should help us achieve a green and resilient future for the SADC region,” stated H.E. Elias M. Magosi, SADC Executive Secretary. He further reiterated the need for capacity building for resource mobilization, as well as for the implementation of the Initiative across the 16 SADC nations. Resource mobilization is key for the success of the SADC GGWI. The financing and development partners expressed their commitment to leverage opportunities and to work together to mobilize financing for the region, in line with the SADC GGWI Strategy.  “The Great Green Wall is an initiative that brings different actors together and we are excited about the multisectoral nature of this initiative. This initiative is part of a broader economic and development plan – if we restore land but are not able to reap the benefits of that healthy and restored land due to lack of access to renewable energy and infrastructure, hindering access to markets and livelihoods, then we are only halfway there with our vision,” said Louise Baker, Managing Director of the UNCCD Global Mechanism. With support from countries and partners in the region, the scale and impact of the SADC GGWI is expected to grow exponentially in the next two years. While there is much work ahead, the message from the countries and the partners is clear: the political support is already there – embedded in existing structures and frameworks of the SADC – what is needed is better coordination and collaboration across sectors and actors. 

Southern Africa eyes Great Green Wall-inspired initiative
Statement by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw at the non-statutory meeting of the Great Green Wall

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to this non-statutory meeting of the Great Green Wall. And thank you for joining.  Friends,  The Great Green Wall is arguably one of the most inspiring Land Restoration Program in the world. By its ambition, its size, its institutional set up with a dedicated  Heads of State Summit, Ministerial Conference and Agencies (national and regional). It is politically endorsed by the continental body and is therefore institutionally hooked to the African Union. The political support it has makes it unique and inspiring. Even more inspiring when one thinks that in the Sahara and the Sahel, we have one of the harshest ecological conditions, coupled with a very challenging socio-political and security situation. This makes it even more compelling. A new departure was given in 2021, at the One Planet Summit in Paris, with USD 19 Billion pledged by donors and technical support offered by Partners. This meeting will be an opportunity for us to get some updates as to what has worked; and what has not; what needs to be fixed? Both Governments, Donor Agencies and Partners? It is refreshing to know that much progress has already been made, while we still have a long way to go to achieve our ambitions. We will hear more in a short while from different speakers. It is equally encouraging to see, despite all the constructive criticism, that the Great GreenWall is inspiring action in other parts of Africa, and elsewhere in the world. The Southern Africa region (SADC) is busy preparing a similar program The Middle East Green Initiative (which also covers parts of Africa) has already received its first funding of USD 2.5 B from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia An Eastern Africa corridor may be developed soon Other similar initiatives under the umbrella of the African Union’s NEPAD are also ongoing such as the AFR100, which we salute It seems the movement of large-scale land restoration is unstoppable, as these provide multiple benefits and respond to various Sustainable Development Goals. Before I go any further, let me recognize few leaders that are in the room and give them the floor for their opening remarks and their blessings: To officially open the meeting, please welcome the Nigerian rotating Presidency of the Great GreenWall. We have the honor of welcoming Minister Mohammed H. Abdullahi, Chair of the Council of Ministers of the Great GreenWall. We are also honored to have with us Her Excellency Ms. Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy, and Agriculture of the AU Commission Ms. Inger Andersen J’aimerai maintenant partager avec vous quelques avis et recommandations générales qui découlent de nos observations et de nos interactions avec tous les acteurs au cours de deux dernières années. Ces commentaires n’altèrent en rien l’authenticité et la pertinence du programme de la Grande Muraille Verte, bien au contraire. 1.   Financement : sur les USD 19 milliards annoncés il y a deux ans lors du One Planet Summit à Paris, 80% des fonds sont déjà programmés, répartis en 150 projets dans le pipeline. 4 milliards restent encore à programmer. Nous notons cependant un déphasage entre les attentes des acteurs nationaux de la Grande Muraille Verte et cette première liste de projets. En effet, la majorité de ces projets étaient déjà planifiés avant le One Planet Summit; par ailleurs, certains de ces projets ne sont pas situés dans les zones d’intervention prioritaires de la Grande Muraille Verte. Ce déphasage peut être corrigé s’il y a une meilleure coordination au niveau national par les ministères chargés de l’ordonnancement. C’est à cet effet que nous saluons la présence parmi nous de ministres de l’Economie. Nous saluons aussi la mise en place dans beaucoup de pays, de coalitions nationales, qui sont des structures intersectorielles de coordination. La coordination doit idéalement se faire depuis l’amont, c’est-à-dire la planification, et doit bien entendu se poursuivre au moment de la mise en œuvre. Par ailleurs, plusieurs agences nationales de la Grande Muraille Verte expriment leur volonté d’être mieux impliqués dans la mise en œuvre des projets portant le label de la Grande Muraille Verte afin de jouer leur rôle de coordination et de suivi, afin d’être en mesure de rendre compte à leurs autorités nationales. Il serait intéressant d’avoir des opinions sur ces questions et surtout de clarifier, dans chaque pays, les procédures de planification et d’exécution des projets. Les structures gouvernementales officielles, adéquatement recalibrés, doivent être aux commandes. 2.  Renforcement des institutions : Tout en saluant encore une fois la volonté politique à haut niveau, nous recommandons fortement que les institutions de mise en œuvre et de suivi de la Grande Muraille Verte soient revues et renforcés. Dans la plupart des pays, les structures nationales de la Grande Muraille Verte -tout comme l’Agence régionale- manquent de personnels suffisant en qualification et en nombre, pour pleinement jouer leur rôle de planification, de développement, de suivi-évaluation et de coordination d’un programme d’une telle ampleur et d’une telle complexité. Nous encourageons les gouvernements et l’Agence panafricaine à exécuter la décision, prise en 2021, du Conseil des Ministres de la Grande Muraille Verte. La décision commandite un audit institutionnel de la Grande Muraille Verte, pour adapter les anciennes structures (régionale et nationales) à la nouvelle configuration post-One Planet Summit. Nous encourageons également les partenaires techniques et financiers à accompagner ce processus de renforcement institutionnel, condition essentielle pour la réussite de cet ambitieux programme. 3.  Prochaines étapes : La préparation de la prochaine phase de la Grande Muraille Verte doit démarrer incessamment, pour assurer une continuité après 2025. Le budget total estimé de la Grande Muraille Verte à 2030 était de 33 milliards de dollars. Pour atteindre cet objectif, il serait judicieux de : (i) tirer des leçons de la phase actuelle (ii) procéder à la préparation de la prochaine phase et développer des projets bankables. Un tel exercice nécessite un effort conséquent dans chaque pays, mais aussi au niveau régional. Merci  

Statement by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw at the non-statutory meeting of the Great Green Wall