Climate Change

Desertification: Food systems under scrutiny as 12 million Ha of lands lost annually

The Conference of Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification started May 9 to chalk out plans to restore 1 billion Ha of degraded land in the next eight years

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 10 May 2022
Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, addresses CoP15 in Abidjan. Photo: @ibrahimthiaw / Twitter

The fifteenth Conference of Parties (CoP15) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) started May 9, 2022, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Through May 20, heads of states and representatives of 196 member states and the EU will discuss an urgent agenda: Restoring a billion Hectares (Ha) of degraded land by 2030.

The CoP15 convenes at a time when the planet is undergoing desertification like never before, throwing the food production system upside down. On April 27, the UNCCD released its second Global Land Outlook that said “some 16 million square kilometres of land — the size of South America — will be degraded if current trends continue.” According to this assessment, up to 40 per cent of all ice-free land is already degraded.

“Human beings live on land, but we also live off the land. We cannot take it for granted,” said UNCCD’s Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, just before the CoP15 started. “We have already reached a breaking point: There is no longer a balance between our needs and the capacity of the land to regenerate and produce,” he said.

The CoP15 will discuss and chart out urgent actions to restore a billion Ha of degraded land between now and 2030, besides future-proofing land use against the impacts of climate change and tackling escalating disaster risks such as droughts, sand and dust storms and wildfires.

Read more on UNCCD CoP14

UNCCD is the only legally binding international agreement that mandates the member parties to “take various actions; including reporting on measures they have taken to implement the Convention.”

During the CoP15, the food system will be under scrutiny, both as a cause of this unprecedented land degradation and also as an ultimate victim of this. This also threatens food security in future.

The second Land Outlook by UNCCD termed food systems as the “single greatest driver” of land degradation and productivity loss, saying crop and grazing currently covers 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface.

Read more on desertification 

“Modern agriculture has altered the face of the planet more than any other human activity. We need to urgently rethink our global food systems, which are responsible for 80 per cent of deforestation, 70 per cent of freshwater use and the single greatest cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss,” Thiaw said.

The CoP15 has dedicated a day for food systems events and discussions, reflecting the centrality of this driver to future land use sustainability.

Perhaps, this is the first convention under the UN related to human and environment that has dedicated a day for food systems. This day will focus on “the interdependence of demand-side drivers and supply chains and help place food systems considerations at the centre of debates on land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss.”

The global non-profit WWF has issued a “food manifesto” for CoP15, highlighting how crucial the reform in the current food system is to save soils for the future.

The manifesto has demanded to “implement large-scale restoration to re-establish ecosystem services and improve the livelihoods of over a billion people living on degraded farmland.”

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