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Home Desertification Conference Programme


by Prof Paul Maro
SADC - Environment and Land Management Sector


The SADC Council of Ministers in 1981 entrusted the Kingdom of Lesotho with the responsibility of coordinating all activities relating to Soil and Water Conservation and Land Utilisation (SWCLU), and in 1985 the Government of Lesotho established the Sector Coordination Unit (CU) to implement this mandate.

The overall objective of the Sector, like its mandate, is long term and conforms to the SADC Treaty, i.e. "To achieve sustainable utilisation of natural resources and effective protection of the environment" (Article 5(g)). This objective will be achieved through sustained coordination of the development and implementation of programmes and projects of the sector.

The specific objectives of the Sector include:

  • to bring about a purposeful sharing of data, information, knowledge, and know-how relating to aims of the sector programme;
  • to facilitate rational sharing of training and other technical facilities among member states;
  • to assist member states to strengthen and build institutional capacity and expertise;
  • to assist in setting up and running joint field programmes where necessary or desirable;
  • to assist countries or groups of countries in formulating projects, particularly those requiring external funding;
  • to assist member states in preparing and evaluating impact assessment;
  • to develop policies, strategies and action programmes for sustainable, productive management of natural resources based on partnership between government and communities of resource users.

The first phase (1985 –1987) of the SWCLU sector programme of work established the network of Sectoral Contact Persons in member states and a number of actions learning projects. The second phase (1988 – 1991) focused on increased production, popular participation, water resources management, legal aspects of conservation, and research and monitoring. In 1990 the Council of Ministers assigned the overall mandate for environment management to SWCLU and approved (1991) the phase three sector programme of work which elaborated the environment management programme and emphasized institutional capacity building, sustainable land management and regional water resource management. The Sector, through the Coordination Unit working with member states, developed the Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems which the Council of Ministers approved in 1995 and is being ratified by member states.

In 1991 the Council of Ministers approved the change of name from SWCLU to SADC Environment and Land Management Sector (ELMS), thus reflecting not only the new environmental mandate of the sector but also SADC commitment to the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) process that culminated in the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro 1992) and Agenda 21.

SADC ELMS was designated to coordinate member states efforts to develop programmes to implement Agenda 21 and other international and regional conventions.

The paper briefly discusses SADC-ELMS role in the development of environmental management policies, strategies and action programmes, with particular reference to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD).


SADC commitment to environmental management and sustainable development is articulated in the SADC Treaty objectives, among which the following are the most relevant to this paper:

"……… to achieve development and economic growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa";

"……… to achieve sustainable utilisation of natural resources and effective protection of the environment";

"……… to promote self-sustaining development";

"………. to encourage the peoples of the region to take initiatives to develop economic, social and cultural ties and participate fully in the implementation of SADC programmes and projects".

To implement the environmental mandate, SADC-ELMS with member states developed the SADC Policy and Strategy for Environment and Sustainable Development: Towards Equity-Led Growth and Sustainable Development in Southern Africa, which was approved by the SADC Council of Ministers in 1996. The Policy and Strategy defines the policies and strategies guiding the implementation of Agenda 21 in all sectors in the SADC region, emphasizing equity and priority to the poor majority within the framework of economic growth, and intersectoral coordination in environmental management within the SADC programme. The overall goals for sustainable development in the SADC region include:

  • To accelerate economic growth with greater equity and self-reliance;
  • To improve health, income and living conditions of the poor majority;
  • To ensure equitable and sustainable use of the environment and natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

These three goals constitute one agenda for action, and none are achievable without the other two. The agenda needs to be anchored and reinforced by incorporating impact assessments as an integral part of the decision-making in environment, economic and equity aspects:

  • Assessing the likely environmental impacts of economic policies and activities;
  • Assessing the likely economic impacts of environmental policies and measures;
  • Assessing the likely equity impacts of both economic and environmental policies.

The integration in all key policy sectors of simultaneous economic, environmental and equity impact assessments (EIA3) will significantly improve the chances of making better decisions in support of sustainable development.

The Policy and Strategy document also proposes three functional goals:

  • To strengthen the analytical, decision-making, legal, institutional and technological capacities for achieving sustainable development in Southern Africa;
  • To increase public information, education and participation on environment and development issues in Southern Africa;
  • To expand regional integration and global cooperation on environmental and natural resources management for sustainable development.

The document then suggests priority issues, objectives and programme areas, and strategic priorities for action, which SADC-ELMS is following up, by formulating an initial set of implementable programmes and projects that are also cross-sectoral. The Policy and Strategy provides the basic policy and guideline and embodies the vision for the future that calls for an integrated, multi-sectoral approach to environmental management in the SADC region, greater participation by the NGO and private sectors, and in effect prescribes a new inter-sectoral coordination role for SADC-ELMS that promotes and encourages strong partnerships among all stakeholders.


During the Earth Summit the UN General Assembly was requested to establish an "Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to elaborate a Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification Particularly in Africa" (INCD).

This was established by UN General Assembly resolution 47/188 in 1992; and after several negotiating sessions the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) was adopted in June 1994 in Paris. Following the mandatory 50 ratifications the CCD entered into force at the end of 1996. All SADC member states have ratified the Convention.

The CCD calls for "long-term integrated strategies that focus simultaneously, in affected areas, on improved productivity of land, and the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources, leading to improved living conditions, in particular at the community level" (Article 2). This will be achieved through the preparation and implementation of sub-regional action programme (SRAP) in a participatory and consultative manner (Regional Implementation Annex for Africa, Articles 10,11). The responsibility for coordinating the preparation and implementation of the SRAP is assigned to the relevant inter-governmental organisation, in the case of Southern Africa, SADC-ELMS.

The CCD also calls for the elaboration and implementation of national action programmes (NAPs) as the main strategy to successfully combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought (RIAA, Articles 8,9). The sub-regional organisation is expected to assist member states with their NAPs by providing advise, guidelines and technical backstopping, including partnership building with government, NGO’s, local communities and international partners.

SADC-ELMS main mandate is to coordinate the development and implementation of programmes and projects in environmental management. This is well illustrated by the activities leading to the adoption of the CCD and subsequent development of sub-regional and national action programmes. The first sub-regional meeting was organised by ELMS in Francistown Botswana in 1993 to define issues and adopt a SADC strategy for negotiating in INCD sessions, and it also recommended that a SADC Case Study on Drought and Desertification be undertaken. The Case Study which highlighted a number of issues including management of transboundary range and grazing lands; management of transboundary forest resources; management of shared rivers, lakes and aquifers; energy demand and supply; regional early warning system; and research, training and technical cooperation, was approved by member states in Mbabane, Swaziland in June 1994. Following the adoption of the CCD in Paris in June 1994 SADC member states advised SADC-ELMS to elaborate a sub-regional action programme (SRAP) with priority issues for implementing the CCD and fostering strengthened partnerships in the sub-region. Two meetings were organised by SADC-ELMS to develop the priority programme areas for SRAP, one in Pretoria South Africa in 1995 and, another in Windhoek Namibia in 1996. In addition to identifying six SRAP priority programme areas, the meetings, which included other SADC sectors and representatives of cooperating partners, also prepared a preliminary list of stakeholders and their possible roles in the SRAP process, and suggested more effective networking to promote public awareness and education on the CCD.


Following the series of consultative meetings on SRAP elaboration, SADC-ELMS organised a SADC Sub-regional Forum in Maseru Lesotho in March 1997 to review, finalize and approve the SRAP document and agree on follow-up actions. The Forum recommended the SADC Sub-regional Action Programme to Combat Desertification for approval by the SADC Council of Ministers who approved it in 1997. Some of the main features of the SRAP include the priority programme areas and a lead institution for coordinating SRAP implementation with SADC-ELMS, and the need to establish a multi-disciplinary science and technology consultative committee (MSTCC) in accordance with the relevant articles of the Convention.

The SRAP priority programme areas are:

  1. Capacity building and institutional strengthening
  2. Strengthening of early warning systems
  3. Cooperation in the sustainable management of shared natural resources and ecosystems
  4. Information collection, management and exchange
  5. Development and transfer of appropriate technology to the community level
  6. Development of alternative sources of energy
  7. Socio-economic Issues

Given the cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary nature of the SRAP priority programmes, and consistent with the CCD principles and SADC policy on using existing institutions, the Forum recommended the selection of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) as the lead institution of priority programme area 1 on capacity building and institutional strengthening. As a lead institution, DRFN will on behalf of and in collaboration with SADC-ELMS coordinate and implement SRAP programmes and projects, more specifically: facilitate the building of the capacities of sub-regional, national and local institutions; establish a network of institutions for the training of trainers in various specialisations, skills and approaches to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought; and, lead the sub-region in the various aspects of research in desertification and drought. A memorandum of understanding will specify the roles of SADC-ELMS and DRFN in this partnership to combat desertification.

Following the SRAP approval, SADC-ELMS with member states have started to formulate implementable projects from the priority programme areas. Three such efforts might be mentioned, namely, a project proposal on support to national capacity building for community development; the establishment of the MSTCC; and, harmonizing regional early warning systems for combating desertification.

Sub-programme 1 under SRAP priority area 1 is on "Support to National Capacity Building for Community Development". The overall objective of this project is to initiate a process of coordinating sub-regional activities in the CCD, support member states in the development and implementation of national action programmes and encourage and facilitate exchange of knowledge among member states. The specific project purpose is to provide support in policy and methodology development and promote intensified training and capacity building contributing to sustainable resource management at community level.

The expected results of this capacity building project are:

Four sub-regional centres of excellence identified and strengthened to spearhead policy, methodology and technical development, and to enable coordination and sharing of experience among member states in the following areas:

  • Centre in Participatory Community Planning, Appropriate Technology and Indigenous Knowledge, selected as lead institution for SRAP priority programme area 5;
  • Centre in Rural Energy Development, selected as lead institution for SRAP priority programme area 6;
  • Centre in Environmental Law, selected as lead institution for SRAP priority programme area 3;
  • Centre in Range Management, with responsibilities for activities in SRAP priority programme area 3.
  1. Strengthened sub-regional competence in farming systems, land husbandry/land use planning, natural resource policy analysis and economics, and food security and early warning –all on-going programmes at centres of excellence- by adapting CCD aspects to the programmes.
  2. Development of sub-regional guidelines for community development support policy, strategy, training and technical development produced.
  3. Increased training capacity to train facilitators for participatory community development at national level.
  4. More appropriate and strengthened institutional structures at national, district and local level for community support.

The first phase of the project, to identify and assess institutions in order to select the centres of excellence, is developed and is expected to start in the last quarter of 1998.

SADC-ELMS in collaboration with the DRFN organised a sub-regional workshop in June 1998 in Swakopmund Namibia to plan and agree on the establishment and functions of the MSTCC and establish a roster of experts on the CCD for the SADC region. The meeting, attended by CCD national focal point from member states, other SADC sectors and cooperating partners established the MSTCC with the NAP focal point and a professional expert competent in any of the CCD areas to represent each country. It will be serviced by the DRFN as its secretariat. A programme of work for the first year for the MSTCC will be considered at first the MSTCC meeting in October 1998.

The MSTCC adds value to the formulation and implementation of the SRAP and NAPs, not only in research and information exchange but also in facilitating the development and application of technology to combating desertification and drought.

SRAP priority programme area 2 on strengthening of early warning systems can successfully be implemented with cross-sectoral and partnership arrangements among SADC sectors and various institutions. The SADC early warning system (EWS) uses national early warning units to collect meteorological and agronomic data which is sent to the regional early warning unit (REWU) in the SADC Food Security Sector in Harare for processing to forewarn member states about impending crop failures and food shortages, or possible surplus and prepare for appropriate action nationally and sub-regionally. SADC-ELMS has been implementing an environmental information systems (EIS) programme with a capacity building and training component based at the University of Botswana, and EIS database and networking component operating as a SADC Environmental Technical Unit (SETU) based in the Food Security Early Warning System in Harare to take advantage of the EWS network and infrastructure. The Zimbabwe Drought Monitoring Centre (DMC) works with the national meteorological department but has increasingly collaborated with the REWU and other institutions to make it desirable to extend its activities to benefit the whole sub-region.

Given this scenario of early warning and the imperative of integrating the SRAP activities into these on-going programmes, SADC-ELMS organized a workshop in April 1998 in Harare to bring together experts and the institutions involved, i.e. REWU, SETU, DMC and SATCC (sector dealing with transport, communications and meteorology) to harmonize their activities so that they can also early warn for desertification. The recommendations on how this partnership will work are being implemented.


The discussion thus far has covered programmes and activities to be implemented at the sub-regional level because of comparative advantage, economies of scale and value added compared to when they are done by a single member state or institution. However, SADC-ELMS also has the responsibility to assist member states in the elaboration of national action programmes and formulation of implementable NAP projects.

While member states and NGOs participated fully in all the consultative meetings leading to the development and adoption of the SRAP, there was also a call to assist member states in the formulation of their NAPs. SADC-ELMS in May 1997 organized a sub-regional workshop in Windhoek with NAP focal points, NGO’s and cooperating partners to agree on common guidelines for elaborating and implementing national action programmes to combat desertification. One of the outputs of the workshop, a booklet titled Combating Desertification in Southern Africa: The NAP Process, contained detailed recommendations on the methodology and process for preparing the NAP, the consultative process and participatory approaches, funding mechanism and resource management, and benchmarks and criteria for the NAP process. Member states are heeding these recommendations in the development of the NAPs.

From January to August 1998 SADC-ELMS undertook consultations in five member states with the objective of providing necessary advice and technical backstopping, discussing priority programme areas for NAP development, and assisting in the formulation of specific implementable NAP projects. The consultations also included discussions on resource mobilisation strategies including creation of the National Desertification Fund (NDF) and partnership arrangements for NAP development and implementation. These consultations on the NAP will continue until all member states are covered.

Since 1990 Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been involved in the implementation of the Kalahari-Namib Action Plan under SADC-ELMS. The Action Plan objectives are: to stop human induced land degradation and desertification; to improve the welfare of people in the affected areas and thus contribute to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty; and to achieve sustainable exploitation of natural resources in the Kalahari-Namib region. The approach is to identify local communities to serve as pilot areas to promote environmentally and socio-economically-sound management of natural resources. Using participatory methods the communities would design and implement such projects. The implementation of the Action Plan faced funding problems except in Namibia. Because the objectives and approach of the Action Plan are similar to those of the CCD SRAP and NAP processes the concerned member states requested a review and update of the Action Plan so that it can be integrated into the CCD process. SADC-ELMS undertook the review and recommended as follow-up that projects developed in the Action Plan pilot areas should be implemented as NAP projects, and developed a participatory monitoring project and a desertification information sharing system (DIS) project to be implemented as SRAP projects.


The objectives and approach of the Convention to Combat Desertification are in harmony with those of the SADC Treaty and the SADC Policy and Strategy for Environment and Sustainable Development; they all aim to eradicate poverty as the most effective way to achieve sustainable development. But programmes for environment and sustainable development have to be developed and implemented at various levels, global, regional and sub-regional, national and community level, for them to be effective. SADC-ELMS is mandated to coordinate the development and implementation of sub-regional and national programmes, and also deals with the global level especially in establishing partnerships for resource mobilisation for such projects.

The CCD requires that sub-regional action programmes to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought be elaborated and implemented. SADC-ELMS has played a critical role in the elaboration of the SRAP and NAPs, but this is only the beginning. The formulation of implementable projects from the seven SRAP priority programme areas and the identification of lead institutions and centres of excellence to participate in their implementation are challenges that call for greater efforts in resource mobilization and partnership arrangements at all levels. Increased and sustained cooperation and support from both member states and external cooperating partners is necessary to enable SADC-ELMS to continue to effectively coordinate the development and implementation of environmental management, and programmes to combat desertification.


  • SADC 1993, Declaration Treaty and Protocol of Southern Africa Development Community Gaborone (1995 reprint)
  • SADC 1996, SADC Policy and Strategy for Environment and Sustainable Development: Toward Equity-Led Growth and Development in Southern Africa. SADC-ELMS Maseru
  • SADC 1997, Sub-regional Action Programme to Combat Desertification in Southern Africa. SADC-ELMS Maseru
  • SADC 1997, Combating Desertification in Southern Africa: The NAP Process. SADC-ELMS Maseru
  • UNEP 1995, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa. Text with Annexes Geneva