United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development


FAO Main Message on Desertification: Policy Options to Expedite Implementation
The Commission on Sustainable Development Seventeenth Session (CSD-17)
Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for CSD-17 (23-27 February 2009, New York)
1. Policies to combat desertification should be based on Sustainable Land Management
(SLM) principles. They should focus on informing and training farmers on technical and
socio-economical options to efficiently combat desertification, and their potential impacts on
productivity, their costs and level of risks. They may directly concern improved land
management options for drylands and other agro-ecological zones, such as new types of
agroforestry trees, new ways of harvesting and managing water, or combining organic and
inorganic sources of soil fertility. They may also promote collective management practices of
land resources, at a watershed or ecosystem level, which may result in new ways of
exchanging goods and services between stakeholders, (e.g. Payment for Environmental
Services), which would have in turn consequences on other policy domains. These policies
should also promote ?win-win? technologies that are beneficial for many development agenda
such as food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, land rehabilitation,
biodiversity preservation, and rural poverty alleviation. For example, introduction of higher
yielding improved seeds may increase the potential productivity impact of improved soil
fertility, water management, or soil and water conservation measures, thus providing more
incentives for farmers to invest in such measures.
2. SLM technology development and dissemination policies and programmes should be multiobjective,
context-dependent, and always be promoted in full cooperation with concerned
stakeholders (e.g. through farmer field schools, Land users associations, SLM Platforms), to
make sure that they are well tailored to farmlands, rangelands and ecosystem conditions (e.g.
using a landscape approach), and at the same time, ensure food production, livelihood
improvement, and environment protection. The implementation of such policies deserve quite
a high level of financial and human resources devoted to field and farm activities, which often
are badly lacking in most countries, particularly in drylands.
3. Social policies supporting SLM adoption, such as the availability and opportunity cost of
labour in rural areas, of infrastructure and education, and the promotion of non-farm incomegenerating
activities, can have a strong impact on land management decisions, given that
many land management measures to combat desertification are labour intensive. FAO?s work
with countries and partners in combating desertification has facilitated the empowerment of
the local people and communities, reinforcing their control over resources and their products,
which are vital to ensuring their long-term commitment to combating desertification.
4. SLM must be designed through promoting farmer innovations and proven indigenous
technologies, combined with technical advice that draws from the latest research and
scientific development. This requires a careful study of various options, with full
participation of the land users and in particular women and vulnerable groups, and other
stakeholders (research, private sector, NGOs). The objective is to replace damaging practices
that may have been applied by local societies as means of food and livelihood security and
survival during stress periods, and to promote the wider adoption of alternative land
use/management practices that are shown to both protect and improve local land resources
and livelihoods. Therefore, policies to combat desertification need to be formulated,
implemented and monitored with the full involvement and control of the concerned land
users (and their representatives), at the local, national, subregional levels and should be
gender sensitive.
5. Shared understanding of land degradation processes and root causes within the main eco
and farming systems is vital. These need to be assessed regularly (both scientifically and
through participative assessments, as done by FAO in the LADA project) and serve as a
diagnostic to prioritize country strategies and public expenditure frameworks. These
priorities should be based primarily on elimination of institutional, legislative or
infrastructure bottlenecks that prevent SLM adoption and up-scaling, and should facilitate comanagement
of development projects by stakeholders and collective community decisionmaking
6. In general, policies have been successful when based on an integrated approach which
includes: agro-ecological principles; a community land planning-landscape-ecosystem
approach; a provision of incentives for access to fertilizers and support to small-scale farmers
to better manage various risks including weather, climate and natural disaster risks; and a
cross-sectoral institutional strategy. SLM embodies an approach which significantly
increases land productivity, while alleviating rural poverty, preserving the natural base and
maintaining ecosystem services. A programmatic and partnership process is essential in the
formulation and implementation of the SLM investment programme, as sectoral policies
influence desertification control. It cannot be conducted independently from rural priority
development programmes. Therefore, SLM programmes should be increasingly
mainstreamed into national development plans and strategies, in particular poverty reduction
strategies, as well as into budgetary and investment agriculture sectoral reviews.
7. The TerrAfrica partnership is one very good example of a programme promoting the
above approach, combining synergistically the efforts of many partners at international
(20 agencies), regional (NEPAD Secretariat) and national level (SSA countries). Already a
dozen countries have embarked on preparing SLM Country Strategic Investment
Frameworks (CSIF). TerrAfrica is benefiting from several sources of funding, including
World Bank grants and loans.
8. The recent High Level Ministerial Declaration on African Agriculture in the 21st Century,
held in Windhoek, Namibia (9-10 February 2009) recognized that sustainable land
management, including reclaiming dry and degraded land, is the key to agricultural
revitalization and to the Green Revolution in Africa.