Inclusive co-operation for achieving land degradation neutrality


Photo credit: FLAUNA


South Africa is a dry land, and it is getting drier. Its beauty belies the serious issue of land degradation and desertification, worsened by what Minister Edna Molewa has called the most severe drought we have seen in 50 years.

It is, she says, “the result of the El Niño phenomenon, and has been exacerbated by rising global temperatures”.

The annual State of the Environment report produced by her Department of Environmental Affairs notes that globally, desertification affects 70% of all drylands, and that 73% of Africa’s agricultural drylands are degraded.

The United Nations Environment Programme Global Environment Outlook says large parts of South Africa are susceptible to desertification. By some estimates, this is as much as 91% of the country.

“The causes of land degradation vary, and include socio-economic, biophysical, climatic and land-use factors. Alien invasive plants also suck up scare water resources, adding to the challenge,” Molewa said, speaking on 29 April 2016 during an inter-ministerial site visit to Sterkspruit to witness a Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought programme.

South Africa will mark World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) and World Environment Day on 3 June. In South Africa, June is has been set aside as Environment Month.

The United Nations Environment Programme has set the theme for World Environment Day, held on 5 June as, “Go wild for life: zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade”. The theme for WDCD, held on 17 June, is “Inclusive co-operation for achieving land degradation neutrality”.

Both days are annual events established by the United Nations General Assembly to educate and raise awareness about environmental conservation, land degradation, desertification and drought.

“Although the causes may vary from region to region, the effects are equally devastating. Both degradation and desertification are the most critical environmental issues of our time,” Molewa said. “They are linked to food security, poverty, urbanisation, climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Her department is spearheading land remediation programmes such as Working for Land through which it is clearing alien invasive plants, rehabilitating land, and cleaning, maintaining and refurbishing towns, townships and rural areas.

“Working for Land is supplemented by other land-rehabilitation programmes, notably the Working for Water, Working for Wetlands, Working on Fire and Working for Ecosystems programmes… (In the last financial year) participants cleared 874 813 hectares of land of invasive alien plants, as well as waterweeds on 20 water bodies. They repaired 66 024 hectares of land, as well as 124 wetlands across the country, planted 5 180 560 trees and other plants, suppressed 2 295 wild fires (and additionally used fire to manage 123 158 hectares of land), among other achievements.”

There are 10 such projects countrywide with substantial investments; in Working for Land alone, the department has invested R108-million.

Land degradation neutrality
In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted a land degradation neutrality target that should be attained by 2030. A land degradation neutral world is one where the degradation of healthy and productive lands is prevented or avoided and where feasible, land that is already degraded is regenerated.

Read the full article: FLAUNA


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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