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From the President

IFAD commemorates the International Year of Deserts and Desertification 2006 by increasing awareness of the links between land degradation and poverty

IFAD PresidentPoverty and desertification are closely linked. Poverty pushes people onto fragile lands, where they must often take desperate measures to survive. The resulting deforestation, overgrazing and poor irrigation can lead to land degradation. Stripped of its fertility, degraded land no longer supports people and communities, thus feeding the vicious cycle of poverty. Today, more than 100 million people worldwide risk forced migration due to desertification and land degradation.

The United Nations General Assembly designated IFAD as a focal point for the observance of the International Year of Deserts and Desertification 2006, along with the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.

We were pleased to accept this responsibility because we know that land degradation is a critical issue to rural poor people who depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods and a major obstacle to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

IFAD is committed to investing in the world's arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones, which are prone to land degradation. Over the past 25 years, we have committed over US$3.5 billion to support dryland development and combat land degradation throughout the world. Today, about 70 per cent of our programmes and projects are located in ecologically fragile, marginal environments.

Recently we reviewed our portfolio to see how our activities were contributing to implementation of the UNCCD. Using a set of parameters known as the Rio markers, we measured how IFAD programmes and projects were helping to meet the objectives of three conventions adopted at the 2002 Rio Summit. Between 2002 and 2004, the share of IFAD projects related to the UNCCD increased from 34 to 55 per cent.

Our work in combating land degradation is strengthened by our close relationship with the Global Environment Facility (GEF). As one of the GEF's executing agencies, IFAD has expanded access to GEF funding for tackling land degradation. In 2004, we created a GEF unit at IFAD to strengthen our ability to link poverty eradication with efforts to prevent land degradation.

We also fight desertification through our work with the Global Mechanism (GM), which is hosted by IFAD. The GM acts as a catalyst to mobilize resources to implement the UNCCD. IFAD is the GM's largest contributor, helping to promote programmes in 29 countries and 12 sub-regions and provide technical and financial support to other UNCCD-related initiatives.
Another important partner hosted by IFAD is the International Land Coalition, which is dedicated to improving access by rural poor people to land and other natural resources.

We support TerrAfrica, a major initiative to implement sustainable land management in sub-Saharan Africa, working with other partners to prevent land degradation in vulnerable countries. The GM, the UNCCD Secretariat and the World Bank are partners in this effort.

Raising awareness about gender and land degradation is another important aspect of our work at IFAD. In many of the world's drylands, including much of Africa, it is women who devote the most time and effort to cultivating and managing land. We ensure women gain a stronger voice so they can take part in making decisions about how land and other natural resources are managed.

Land degradation and desertification harm the rural poor most of all. As the UN agency dedicated to reducing rural poverty, IFAD can make a difference to rural communities by promoting sustainable land management techniques that reverse desertification. The International Year of Deserts and Desertification provides us with a unique opportunity to raise awareness about land degradation and to help protect the fragile beauty and unique heritage of the world's deserts.

Lennart B├ąge

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