The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought highlights the problems faced by millions of people who live in dryland regions. This year, the focus of the day is on combating land degradation for sustainable agriculture.

Desertification has been called the greatest environmental challenge of our times. It is not the advance of deserts, though it can include the encroachment of sand dunes on land. Rather, it is persistent land degradation. Desertification is not always inevitable. Human factors, such as overgrazing and clear-cutting land, can be controlled by improving agricultural and grazing practices. Other factors, such as rising temperatures, can be predicted and dealt with proactively.

Dryland ecosystems are very vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and poor irrigation practices can all contribute to desertification. Sub-Saharan Africa, where 66 per cent of the land is either desert or dryland, is particularly at risk. Around 1.2 billion people in more than 110 countries are threatened by the problem.

IFAD has made land degradation and its causes a central part of its work, and has an ongoing commitment to address the issue in rural areas. About 70 per cent of IFAD’s rural poverty reduction programmes and projects are in ecologically fragile, marginal environments. All IFAD programmes and projects are screened for potential adverse effects on the environment, natural resources and local populations.

Women play a crucial role in combating desertification. IFAD supports initiatives that specifically target women’s participation in dryland management. An IFAD report, Gender and desertification: expanding roles for women to restore drylands acknowledges women’s skills in managing natural resources. It also recognizes the environmental knowledge women have acquired through their traditional role of being the providers of food, water and firewood.

Lessons from IFAD-supported projects show that women and men benefit from a gender approach that reinforces their joint participation in restoring productivity to degraded land.

Working in partnership

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an independent financial organization established in 1991 to provide grants to developing countries for projects that have global environmental benefits and contribute to sustainable livelihoods. IFAD was selected as an executing agency of the GEF because of IFAD’s expertise in addressing land degradation, its recognition of the links between poverty and the environment, and its crucial role in the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

IFAD also hosts the Global Mechanism, a subsidiary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification with a mandate to increase financing for sustainable land management. It is hosted at IFAD in recognition of IFAD’s focus on rural development, agriculture and sustainable land management.

IFAD also hosts the secretariat of the International Land Coalition, a global alliance of organizations dedicated to working with poor rural people to increase their secure access to natural resources, particularly land. It does this by building alliances between development partners, including NGOs, intergovernmental, governmental and civil society organizations.

IFAD supports the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Later this year, IFAD will publish an updated report on its projects and programmes related to the UNCCD objectives. A separate paper on incorporating UNCCD objectives into IFAD operations is also being completed.

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