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Bonn 2012: UNCCD calls for agriculture to be central to Rio+20

By Tierney Smith
RTCC in Bonn

Agriculture and a focus on land and soil should be central to both this year’s UNFCCC climate talks and the Earth Summit in June.

Home to around a third of the population, drylands account for 44% of cultivated land systems and 50% of its livestock – and yet poor land management and agricultural practices continue to be a major cause of desertification worldwide.

Speaking to RTCC, Sergio Zelaya from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) said he was pleased to see real work taking place at the conference on agriculture.

This year in Bonn sees agriculture considered and dealt with in an organised way within the UN climate process.

It is the first time the conference has dealt with “climate-safe” agriculture as a stand-alone item.

Under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), meeting at the conference, countries were asked to submit and discuss their proposals on agriculture with the aim of adopting a decision on agriculture by COP18 this December.

“We [the UNCCD] think that the nexus between food security, water and energy should be completed,” Zelaya said. “And in the terms of food security and water, the issue of agriculture comes as a primary element.

“So we think now they are doing the right thing by including this other dimension.”

RTCC Video: Sergio Zelaya talks to RTCC’s Ed King about the importance of agriculture when it comes to tackling climate change and his hopes for its central role in the Rio+20 negotiations…

As the talks on agriculture get underway the African Group have made similar calls as the UNCCD, emphasising the need for a greater focus on support for farmer in poor countries already having to adapt to climate change impacts.

Seyni Nafo, Spokesperson of the African Group said: “Agriculture is the lifeline and mainstay of livelihoods for three out of four Africans, and therefore adaptation to climate change in this critical sector is not an option but a necessity.

“African farmers and pastoralists are already seeing changes in the timing of rains, in the severity of rains, in temperatures, and in the progressive drying of their soils.”

He said the discussions in Bonn should focus on what the international community must do now to assist African farmers and that discussions on enhancing ‘synergies’ between adaptation and mitigation offset efforts are dangerous.

Even a warming of 1.5°C would put serious pressure of food production in Africa.

An area approximately half the size of England is lost every year to land degradation (© Beeno Neeleman/UNCCD Photo Contest)

The UNCCD are calling for the target of zero net land degradation. For this, Zelaya says a three tiered approach is needed. Desertification needs to be stopped and focus also needs to be placed on reversing desertification and restoring land.

“According to studies made just a couple of years ago 75 billion tonnes of soil are lost to land degradation worldwide,” he said.

“If you translate that into hectares you will find that perhaps an area half the size of England is every year subject to additional land degradation.

“So the issue is increasing, it is caused by human induced activity and we have to also find some human induced solutions.”

Ahead of the Rio+20 Earth Summit conference this June, Zelaya says he expects there to be a Sustainable Development Goal which will focus on land and soil.

Writing for RTCC last month, Luc Gnacadja, share similar sentiments when he called for countries to pledge ambitious action on desertification at the conference.

He called for a correction of the image of desertification as “an unstoppable monster slowly consuming the world’s fertile lands, plants, livestock and people.”

Practical solution to desertification already exist, says the UNCCD, and are being successfully employed, and Rio+20 offers the chance for the policy makers now to back these projects.

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