News / 29 October 2019

What have we learned from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification?

The second United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was held from 2 to 14 September in New Delhi, India. Our colleague Nathalie has been working together with many civil society organisations for several years to show the UNCCD that large numbers of local communities around the world are working on sustainable land use and on combating desertification and land degradation, and that land-use security is essential.

If people have the certainty that they can use their land for a longer period, they can invest in it for the long term. That makes it easier for them to use sustainable methods, plant trees and improve soil health. Nathalie set off for the conference full of great expectations, including the hope that the conference would help better embed land-use security for farmers and cattle herders in national legislation. Now the dust has settled we asked her to what extent her expectations were fulfilled and what she learned from the conference.

Broad perspective on soil and land

“A number of good things happened at the conference. First of all, a decision was taken on ‘responsible land management’. That may sound a little vague, but it’s actually very important. The UNCCD has traditionally had a quite narrow 'biophysical' perspective on land and soil. We, the civil society organisations, want discussions within the context of the UNCCD also to look at the social and political aspects of land and soil. By seeking answers to questions like ‘what impact does it have on soil, land use and land recovery if farmers and herders have the security of long-term land rights?’ and ‘how can local governments support people in their activities aimed at healthy soil, sustainable land use and land recovery?’ You can only find sustainable solutions for desertification, land degradation and the effects of drought on land by taking account of all aspects of soil and land.”

Taking account of the SDGs

“The decision itself consists of a number of points. The UNCCD member states (all the countries of the world) now officially recognise the importance of responsible management of land (use) rights for sustainable land use and soil recovery. The UNCCD secretariat is therefore going to take active steps to raise awareness on this issue.

It was also agreed that the UNCCD reporting process will take account of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The two relevant goals are SDG 1 (End poverty in all its forms everywhere) and SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) which in particular addresses land rights for women. When reporting on desertification, land degradation and drought, countries are therefore now also going to report on land rights.

In addition, the UNCCD is going to work with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to expand knowledge on the ‘Voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security’ (VGGTs) in policy processes that are relevant for UNCCD. All of these issues are irrevocably linked to land degradation and desertification, or offer solutions to these problems. It’s therefore very positive that, from now on, the UNCCD is going to look at the bigger picture.”

Gender awareness at the UNCCD

“Another success is that there was a lot of enthusiasm to devote greater attention to gender. A number of negotiators who had committed themselves to the issue of gender came together during the talks to look at the documents through ‘gender spectacles’. That gave the COP decisions a better gender focus. It is really good to see that the UNCCD is becoming aware of the fact that drought, for example, can affect women completely differently than men.”

Representative of civil society

“There were around a hundred representatives of all kinds of CSOs at the conference. As a group we made 34 interventions – statements and presentations – based on five priorities that we agreed on together and which we drew attention to as much as possible in each intervention. I think it helped a great deal that we, as civil society organisations, had a clear, recognisable and consistent message that really enabled us to spotlight the points we wanted to make.

My term as a UNCCD CSO panel member comes to a close at the end of December. That’s a pity because I’ve learned a lot and met fantastically motivated people who I’ve worked with very closely in the past two years. On the other hand, it’s good to have fresh blood every two years. Of course, I’ll help my replacement on the panel to learn the ropes. In addition, Both ENDS is a member of Drynet and we work with a lot of organisations in drought areas. That way, we’ll naturally stay involved in the UNCCD.”


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