Farmers plant grass to stabilise sand dunes at the edge of the Mu Us Desert in Lingwu, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in November 2009. REUTERS / Stringer

By Laurie Goering
11 Feb 2011 15:47

LONDON (AlertNet) – Increasing drought and aridity around the world, linked to climate change and land degradation, are becoming a major threat to food security and poverty reduction efforts, according to the United Nations’ anti-desertification chief.

Stepping up investment in restoring degraded land and curbing desertification could work toward solving a wide range of the world’s most pressing problems – climate change, food security, water shortages and the threat of growing conflict and migration, said Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification.

“No one is unaffected by desertification,” he said in an interview with AlertNet. “It is affecting our food security, entrenching people in poverty, increasing our water stress and leading us to lose biodiversity.”

The U.N. desertification convention, a lesser-known cousin of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, aims to curb degradation of dry land around the world and the advance of deserts, a major problem in regions including Africa’s Sahel zone and China.

Since 1950, 1.9 billion hectares (4.7 billion acres) of land around the world has become degraded, a problem that has reduced harvests, contributed to changing rainfall patterns and increased the vulnerability of millions of people, Gnacadja said. Each year, on average, another 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of land a year is lost to the problem, he added.

That is hugely worrying at a time when the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts world food production will need to grow 70 percent by 2050 to meet rising demand, the Benin-born official said. Right now, about 44 percent of the world’s food – grain and livestock – is produced in dryland areas, he said.

Many of the world’s most vulnerable people also live in dry regions – half of the 1.2 billion people who reside there are below the poverty line – which suggests worsening climate-linked droughts and other land degradation could worsen poverty and drive growing conflict and migration, Gnacadja said.

“The drylands are the most conflict-prone zone of the world and that is not by accident,” he said. “Instability is fuelled by precisely the quest of people to have access to very scarce resources like productive land and water.” …

Drought and desertification a growing threat to food security – UN expert

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