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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 78a - Thursday, 15 October 2009
It’s time for drylands! Towards a “One UN” approach
By Hossein Fadaei, UN Environment Management Group, and Jessica Jones, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre
UN-REDD Programme: Engagement of Indigenous Peoples and Civil Society
© Jonathan Smith
Full Article

What should the UN system be doing to support drylands and their populations? This was the question on everyone’s mind at a recent event organised by the Environmental Management Group (EMG) with support from the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Following a call from the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the General Assembly, drylands were identified as a priority issue that requires a joint effort by the whole UN system. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the 10-year strategic plan and framework to enhance its implementation serves as a platform that the UN system can rally around to guide its efforts. While the UNCCD Secretariat has a critical role in supporting the Convention itself, a forthcoming report shows that several UN agencies, including a number of regional bodies, can and should play important roles in delivering on the UNCCD’s strategic objectives.

The EMG’s mandate [] is to engage the collective capacity of the whole UN and develop coherent management responses to issues that warrant a “One UN” approach. In 2009 and 2010, the EMG will bring together an action report guiding UN-wide support through a compelling new vision for drylands development and sustainable land management. The ongoing report preparation process is an opportunity for UN agencies, technical experts, national focal points, and affected communities to exchange views and set priorities. An open side event on 30 September 2009 in the margins of the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, served to catalyze and connect key UN and technical experts as well as national stakeholders.

The lunchtime side event, opened by UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja, allowed for presentations and a rich open discussion.  Preliminary remarks were provided by UNDP Drylands Development Centre Director Philip Dobie, and Bakary Kante, the Director of UNEP’s Division of Environmental Law and Conventions. Hossein Fadaei from the EMG Secretariat introduced the rationale for the EMG to produce a drylands report.

A recent “blueprint for action” on drylands was presented by Dr. Jonathan Davies of IUCN on behalf of a team of authors led by Dr. Michael Mortimore. This ground-breaking work [] puts forward a new paradigm for dryland people, ecosystems and development. Drylands Opportunities was jointly published by the UNDP Drylands Development Centre, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) with support from the Global Drylands Imperative, a collaboration of organisations involved in drylands development.

On behalf of Namibia’s Country Pilot Partnership for Integrated Sustainable Land Management [], Ms Birga Ndombo’s presentation demonstrated impressive on-the-ground benefits of investing in dryland development.  Dryland investment is a scenario often called for, yet it remains misunderstood by entrepreneurs. The Namibian programme’s experience to date has emphasised the important role of public and private investment partnerships, appropriate markets, skills and capacity, and schemes for empowering women. In just one year,  community-level, innovative grant programs have generated benefits reaching more than 2,000 individuals, and this is expected to grow and multiply through promising community-led enterprises such as cactus, honey, and jam cooperatives.

During the side event at COP9, Dr Matt Walpole, Head of the Ecosystem Assessment Programme at UNEP-WCMC, put forward the report development process and a working outline structure for the drylands report.

With a wealth and diversity of experience in the room, discussants highlighted a few key themes for the EMG report:

Ready for innovation
The UN system is ready for a compelling and widely-shared vision on drylands. Through the EMG drylands report and other avenues, stakeholders want to see a renewed, revitalised common agenda for drylands that can be enacted through practical steps. Much has already been learned about drylands that should be taken into account and built upon. A brighter, bolder action plan is now required.

Niche for the EMG report
Poverty alleviation and food security are two of the most important rationales for the current prioritisation of drylands on the global agenda. The EMG drylands report should focus on rural poverty as the driving force for land degradation. It should look at the cause and effect linkages to pave the way and prioritise the required investments. The report should include a public and private guide to investments, emphasising the role of various UN agencies and building from the Dryland Opportunities work. This is the niche where the EMG report can make a significant contribution.

Bright spots, not hot spots
In this instance, a focus on drylands development and sustainable land management will yield additional benefits to the classical approach of combating desertification, land degradation and drought. While climate change is a major issue for drylands, carbon markets will yield new opportunities for dryland populations and should be highlighted, as should a method for “climate-proofing” investments in drylands, which is currently under development.

Drylands are not islands
Drylands require a flexible approach to the definition of their boundaries that highlights the importance of inter-relationships, mobility and migration, rural-urban linkages, and trading patterns at several levels. Drylands are not stand-alone ecosystems but interact with many other ecosystems and drivers. The tightrope balance required by the EMG report is to highlight drylands themselves without losing sight of the important issues surrounding drylands, which can be of great influence to them.

Diversity is strength
Earlier drylands initiatives have tended to focus on the Sahel and the Sahara at the expense of other major global drylands regions. The report should ensure appropriate attention to other global drylands regions and illustrate the immense variety among them. The incredible diversity of drylands is one important factor in their resilience and adaptive capacity, and should be fully recognized and culturally appreciated, if not celebrated.

Collaboration at multiple scales
While the EMG report should focus on UN agencies’ role in achieving the UNCCD Strategy’s vision and objectives, the UN does not operate in isolation and is only one of many players in drylands development. Many important successes have been demonstrated at the local level, but these need broad support in order to be scaled-up and scaled-out.  Regional, national and local partners from the public, private and civil spheres must also be given consideration. The challenge will be to identify the strengths of the various partners in drylands development, and to isolate those actions that are best suited to the UN system.

Follow-up is urgent and critical
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) indicated that among all ecosystems, dryland populations suffer from the poorest economic conditions. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline of 2015 is fast approaching and, without making a significant improvement in the lives of drylands populations, the MDGs will not be reached. The strength of the EMG drylands report itself will be measured by how it is carried through to implementation. An important consideration is how benefits can reach gender and age groups. The real work is to be done by the UN agencies involved at the ground level, with a consequent positive impact on the well-being of drylands populations.

The EMG drylands report is being prepared through a consultation process benefiting from expertise and contributions from the UN system, supported by UNEP-WCMC. The report development process is open to inputs from a diversity of sources. Your views on the role of the UN system and its agencies in drylands, as well as technical inputs on the subject, are welcome. Contact the authors to receive more information on the draft report and consultative drafting process. The full set of presentations delivered at the UNCCD side event are available from Proceedings will be added to that page shortly.
Side event during UNCCD COP 9 on “Revitalizing Drylands: Benefits from Coordinated Action.” L-R: Hossein Fadaei, Environment Management Group (EMG); Philip Dobie, UNDP; Stephen Twomlow, UNEP; Bakary Kante, UNEP; and Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD.
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