UN agency launches 50 million project to reverse land degradation in Africa

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a $50 million pioneering project that would determine the key causes of land degradation in Africa and draw up plans to stop and reverse the destruction.Backed by Governments and the Global Environmental Facility, the project also involves the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in identifying a number of key dry lands in nine African countries, including Zimbabwe, Senegal, Namibia and Kenya.The project aims to offset some of the worst impacts of global warming and develop alternative livelihoods, UNEP said, citing a pilot study in Mali that has shown that planting banks of trees for fodder, close to the city, cut pressure on nearby forests while boosting incomes. “The fodder ‘banks’ are producing 4.5 tons per hectare, giving an income of $630 a year in a country where the average annual wage is $270,” the agency said.The scheme would also seek to harmonize modern land management techniques with traditional ones, which local people and tribes developed for survival in harsh, low rainfall areas and which have allowed them to grow crops and graze livestock without sacrificing the fertility and stability of the land, UNEP said. The action plans for the scheme would serve as the blueprints for land recovery and wildlife conservation projects in similar kinds of desert margin areas elsewhere in Africa.Rising populations in Africa over the past few decades and the gradual erosion of traditional values and cultivation methods in favour of Western or Northern-style systems has intensified pressure on desert-fringed lands and their biodiversity, UNEP said.UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said that 66 per cent of Africa is classified as desert or dry lands, while 46 per cent is vulnerable to desertification and more than half considered at high or very high risk. “There is no silver bullet to solve these complex problems,” he said. “But we must solve them for the sake of the people living there and for the sake of the hauntingly beautiful landscapes that play their own role in the web of life.”

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