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Combating the desertification of KwaZulu Natal

Combating the desertification of KwaZulu Natal

Aug 1, 2015

During the commemoration of the 2015 World Day to Combat Desertification of KwaZulu Natal, Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson addressed a number of Government officials; dignitaries; members of the media; and Youth.

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs released her speech, published here:

I am very pleased by the warm welcome and reception we have received here to honour this important global event. It is indeed encouraging to witness the enthusiasm of the Umzinyathi District communities participating in this year’s occasion to celebrate the World Day to Combat Desertification here in this beautiful part of the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Even more inspiring has been the actual participation of our youth and school children. Today, we as South Africans, join the global community to celebrate the 2015 World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCC) which global United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) family members commemorated on 17 June. This important day that focuses on the important issue of land and soils.

As you may be aware, land is a vital natural capital for producing food and other ecosystem goods and services. It is even more so for the rural poor, especially women, who rely heavily on land as their most significant asset for the sustenance of their livelihoods and well‐being for their household and families.

Distinguished guests, productive land is becoming a strategic commodity as it is central to the links with biodiversity, food, water, energy, climate change and environmental health in an interdependent yet complex set of relationships. We are informed by science that, between 1985 and 2005, the world’s croplands and pastures expanded by 154 million hectares. By 2030 which is in the next two decades or so, we might need to convert some additional 200 million hectares of forest and grassland into agricultural land in order to match the demands for food, energy, and water which are expected to increase by at least 50%.

Ladies and gentlemen, to meet the global food human and other livelihood needs by 2050, the world’s agricultural systems must simultaneously produce far more food for a growing population, provide economic opportunities for the rural poor who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and reduce environmental impacts. It is therefore evident that, figuring out how to feed 9.6 billion people while also advancing rural development, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting valuable ecosystems is one of the greatest challenges of our era.

Ladies and gentlemen, Healthy soils and land are critical to the achievement of these forecasted milestones. Yet these efforts are being impacted upon by the challenges posed by Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD). Land degradation refers to the loss of the biological productivity of the topsoil. It is caused by human activities and is being exacerbated by poverty and the adverse impacts of climate change amongst many other aspects. Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought negatively affects water resources, drives deforestation, affects food security; and contributes to environmentally induced migrations.

Distinguished guests, degradation of our land and ecosystems are an important form of land transformation that are among the world’s and indeed South Africa’s most critical environmental issues, intricately linked to food security, poverty, urbanisation, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Given our historical background, South Africa has struggled with land degradation issues for a long time.

The KwaZulu-Natal Province has a fairly high provincial veld degradation index and of the highest provincial indices of soil degradation and susceptibility to donga formation. We have also heard in recent months that the Province of KwaZulu-Natal is experiencing serious challenges relating to drought that is also affecting our water systems. In this regard, DLDD undermines the productive potential of land and water resources in this area. The consequences are therefore considerable and diverse in terms of the provisioning of goods and services provided by natural ecosystems with direct impacts on human welfare, our biodiversity and the productive potential of our land.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, poverty is at its most prevalent among our communities that depend directly on land. We are encouraged that there is much fertile land here in this district municipality, and that agriculture remains important. It is in this context that government through its different spheres is implementing programmes, through its Expanded Public Works Programmes like Working for Land by DEA and Landcare by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) among many others to address these challenges, create jobs and alleviate poverty.

Ladies and gentlemen, DLDD is affecting the health and the size of the land available for our use today. Soil formation takes many years but just one flood can sweep it all away. Hunger is prevalent in the areas where water retention is poor, and the land is highly vulnerable to natural and human destructions. Land for food production is scarce. Erosion is costing us more than 3 tons of fertile soil per year.

It is becoming increasingly clear that our ability to deliver on fundamental developmental priorities such as access to housing, water, sanitation, food security, energy, transport, education and public health services, at all administrative levels, is being persistently undermined by short, medium and long term impacts of desertification, land degradation and climate change. It is envisaged that Land Degradation over the next 25 years may reduce global food production by up to 12% resulting in an increase of, world food prices. Worth noting is that billions of people worldwide are affected by hunger and 80% of small farmers in rural areas are landless due to the impacts of DLDD in their areas.

Nations are losing their productive lands, sources of employment and the means to secure their economies. The price it would cost to fix a degrading land on a large scale, to minimize these outcomes, is a cost we are paying today through social and political unrest, conflict and forced migration. Land degradation corrodes the three pillars of sustainable development worldwide. Beyond food scarcity, DLDD can create unemployment, economic deterioration, social tension, involuntary migration and conflicts. There should therefore be a change in our land use practices through smart agriculture and adaptation to changing climate, especially in the dry fragile parts of our areas where food shortages are becoming more and more severe.

My message to you Ladies and Gentlemen is that land stewardships must be in the forefront of our collective development efforts and activities to catalyze policy and mobilise resources in order to improve the conditions of the rural poor. If we all do not rise to this challenge, we will not achieve our commitments for climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, reversing land degradation, achieving food security and the Millennium Development Goals targets. Without ensuring healthy soils and productive land, we will not effectively alleviate rural poverty and hunger or ensure long‐term food security or build resilience to climate change, drought and water stress.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this year, the slogan for commemorating the WDCD is “attainment of food security for all through sustainable food systems”. The slogan calls on everyone to take action in order to address matters relating to food security, eradication of hunger and poverty alleviation. In this regard, this year’s event aims at encouraging the participation of local communities in sustainable livelihoods projects.

The slogan highlights many important aspects such as: (a) access to technology and land rights for small holder farmers who safeguard the environment and meet the food needs of millions of households, especially among the poorest households; (b) a balance in the land use for ecology and consumption, drawing on the best practices; (c) more investments in sustainable land practices so that sustainable food systems become the normal practice and (d) more effective action on DLDD whose effects on security, peace and stability are invisible yet real for the affected communities due to food, water scarcity and environmentally forced migration.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is vital to consider, particularly in the drylands where people living in poverty depend heavily on the productivity of their land and the many benefits it provides. Sustainable land management demands that we give attention to the management of land and reclamation of natural resources. This will reduce the potential for disaster and help us secure more food, energy and water for our everyday needs. Ladies and gentlemen, my message to you is that, we need to recover degraded land to remain food secure.

To achieve this, we need the active involvement of our youth.  I would like to take this opportunity to highlight to our youth its efforts aimed at job creation and empowering the youth in the environment sector. This includes Youth Environmental Services (YES) Programme, Youth Jobs in Waste Programme, Groen Sebenza Jobs Fund partnership project amongst others. This programme is aimed at encouraging better environmental management practices within our communities.

To our youth again, especially those involved in violence, they must know that they will face the full might of the law. Killers will not have any mercy. Resist the temptation to use drugs, and to be used by criminal syndicates in their drive to destabilise our society. Prove to the criminals that they have no friends in our midst. This applies even more in our efforts to deal with the scourge of violence. Join hands and assist government in dealing with the scourge of crime. Peace and prosperity are what the people of this province want. This is what you deserve.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we can overcome the challenges we are facing today by further avoiding degradation in new areas and start prioritising the restoration of degrading lands at large scale. This will minimize the negative effects on the land and enable it to regain its natural abilities it has lost. This is why our government is spending millions in “working for” Environmental Programmes to clear invasive species, restore and care for our degraded land and ecosystems. Ladies and Gentleman, let us act together on a global scale to make SLM to be part of the agenda and to enable the most vulnerable communities to withstand the worst DLDD-related stresses that may happen.

From what I have already highlighted, it is clear that, desertification, land degradation and drought have devastating effects to our communities, on livelihoods and to the economy. I therefore call on national campaigns on raising awareness to have mechanisms and systems that will prevent future devastating impacts of DLDD. We need to stand together in addressing these challenges that impact on all of us in one way or the other, particularly the youth and women. We may not eliminate all the impacts of DLDD today but with healthy and productive land many tragedies can be prevented. DLDD is about changing the status of the land. Working together we can do more. Arise South Africa, arise.

I thank you!

Source: Department of Environmental Affairs

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