About walking away from desertification talks (Google / The Chronicle Herald)

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GLOBAL VOICES: Walking away from desertification talks accomplishes nothing


Nora Busienei closed her eyes and smiled as she remembered years past when her small farmhouse burst at the seams with sacks of maize, beans, millet and pumpkins.

“I would stare at our harvest. I was so happy, so confident in my children’s future,” she said, before her smile faded. “That feels like another world now.”

Today her mud hut in Pimbiniet, Kenya, is full of nothing but choking smoke from the cook fire. On the day our team visited, Busienei’s three-year-old daughter, Chelangat, sat on her lap, playfully swinging her legs. Each kick sent up a cloud of dry dirt. Busienei’s once lush farm fields have been dry and dead for five years. The pot bubbling on the fire contains only tea—it’s all Busienei has left to feed her children.

This is what the consequences of desertification looks like, up close.

On March 25, Canada quietly served notice to the United Nations that it is quitting the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Our country walked away from the 190-nation group working to identify the causes of desertification and develop solutions. Many voices have since weighed in citing facts and figures, and the potential impact on Canada’s international reputation. However the voices absent from the debate are those of the estimated two billion people like Busienei watching their livelihoods dry up with the land.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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