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DESERTIFICATION

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Sustainable Land Management in Africa

By
Hon. G. Nkausu
Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of the
Republic of Zambia

May I start by expressing my profound gratitude to this honourable gathering for according me this rare opportunity to address you at this important gathering organised by the GLOBE (Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment) Southern Africa Network. The importance of understanding the relationship between environment and development cannot be over-emphasized.

Mr. Chairman, I understand the topic of discussion in this morning’s session is desertification and land management. After the discussion on air, soil and water management yesterday, it is indeed logical that we move to this critical issue of land. As you are aware, land remains an important source from the standpoint that the majority of the southern region’s population depends on it for their economic activity.

In addition land is the basis for every natural resource be it forest, wildlife, water and fisheries.

Thus, addressing the land issues should not only be restricted to the physical well being of it but also to the social, economic and political issues pertaining to land and development. Indeed, the physical health of the land in the region has been a major source of concern as it plays a critical role in sustainable development.

The recognition of the land being a major intervening factor in sustainable development was given a major impetus in Agenda 21, a Programme Document adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Land is also presented as a crucial issue in other plans of action adopted at important international conferences such as the World Food Summit, the Social Development Summit and the Beijing Conference on Women. Above all, our own regional organisation The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has placed land management at the centre of its Environment and Food Security Programme.

It is of particular concern to all governments and people of the SADC region to sustain the productivity of their land. More so that despite the SADC region having a variety of tropical and temperate zones, most of it consists of arid and semi-arid regions characterised by year to year variability of annual rainfall in the order of 20 -–30 percent. These areas are highly vulnerable to land degradation. This degradation is manifested in the general decline in soil fertility and soil structure, degradation of irrigated cropland and pastures and the associated diminution of the affected land’s biological potential to sustain agricultural and pastoral economies upon which the well-being of the local populations depend.

The full impact of land degradation and loss of productivity of the dryland ecosystems is difficult to quantify but the obvious negative impacts on the socio-economic conditions of the affected people in our countries may sometimes prove difficult to reverse. Desertification and drought are already threatening many areas in the subregion. The most affected areas in the subregion are those covering the south-western parts of Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the western and central parts of Botswana and Namibia and the north-western parts of South Africa. Although countries like Lesotho, Tanzania and Swaziland fall outside the region referred to as the Kalahari – Namib region, they also experience severe land degradation and suffer from frequent droughts. It is also common knowledge that there are mainly three factors that underlay this problem of drought and desertification, namely; (1) over-cultivation, (2) overgrazing and (3) deforestation. The importance of these factors differs from country to country. In Zambia for instance, deforestation plays a major role in land degradation.

It is estimated that Zambia loses about 0.55 of its deforested land every year. This rate is likely to accelerate with increased demands of forest resources caused by rapid expanding populations and the worsening state of the economy.

The underlying factors that lead to land degradation have not always been well understood by both practitioners in natural resources management and our politicians. Because of this, these factors warrant considerable more attention than they have hitherto received. It is by clearly understanding these factors that as legislators we can clearly articulate necessary changes in our laws that would help address the issues. The importance of putting in place legislation and policies that focus on improved environment management in general, and land management specifically, brings me to the issue of international agreements.

The "Convention to combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa" is an important international instrument to assist us in reversing environmental degradation. The convention represents issues of sustainable development, tailored into an innovate approach to addressing desertification and drought through, among other things, recognition of the inter-relatedness of the economic aspects of desertification. The importance of redirecting technology towards solving problems of desertification and improving the livelihood of the affected populations through their own involvement, are central to the bottom-up approach and particularly process of the convention.

Of particular importance in the implementation of the convention is the preparation of the National Action Plan (NAP) as the central strategy to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought. Thus, although the convention provides broad obligations for each implementing party, the NAP zeroes down to focussing on individual country needs. Despite marked differences that may arise from each country’s needs, the common denominators of the NAP consultative process could be:

  1. The identification of priority programmes, role and responsibilities of various stakeholders and the establishment of partnership arrangements;
  2. Institutional strengthening of the national focal point unit for supporting the NAP process, and;
  3. Capacity building for NGO’s and CBO’s at national level so that they can participate effectively in the NAP process.

It is clear from the above that the NAP process would not only need support of our governments but more important that of our stakeholders who, traditionally, have not been in the centre of development. These include the local communities, the interest groups such as the women and the youth.

As legislators, I can see our core role as being fourfold, namely:

  1. Mobilise the people we represent to effectively participate in the preparation of NAP’s and their implementation;
  2. Persuade our governments to integrate environmental concerns in the national social and economic development planning processes. This would include ensuring that adequate resources are allocated from our national budgets for the purpose of addressing environmental concerns;
  3. Be pro-active in terms of enacting laws and seek to address environmental concerns and their underlying causes such as poverty, lack of awareness and ineffective institutions;
  4. As persons, we individually inculcate interest in environmental issues and contribute to the achievement of sustainable management.

Let me end, Mr. Chairman, by thanking you once more for according me this opportunity to share with you my views on this important subject that affect the lives of our people. I would also like to reiterate my willingness to assist the network further extend its work in Zambia