Combating Desertification

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By Clarence Mazambani & John Pallet Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) The term ‘desertification’ is the irreversible degradation of land in dry climates, resulting in the loss of the land’s biological productivity. It is a worldwide problem directly affecting up to one third of the planet’s land surface, with a devastating effect on the stability of rural livelihoods. At its 58th session, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2006 the “International Year of Deserts and Desertification”. It justified this resolution as a means to slow down the pace of desertification, and therefore invited governments and other partners to support the celebration of this year. In addition, the aim is to raise public awareness on deserts and desertification in order to protect the biological diversity of deserts, as well as to conserve the traditional knowledge of local communities affected by this phenomenon. In order for Namibia to achieve its Millennium Development Goals, combating desertification must be regarded as a major political and scientific obligation, to sustain livelihoods in communities. Namibia is therefore taking forward the IYDD programme under the banner “Proud of our deserts while combating desertification.” Furthermore, the celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) for 2006 focuses on IYDD. The WDCD is celebrated every year on 17 June all over the world to emphasize that desertification is a global problem and this year it will be celebrated under the theme: “The beauty of deserts – the challenge of desertification”. The celebration also provides an impulse to strengthen the visibility and importance of the drylands issue on the international environmental agenda. As part of the IYDD activities, a group of international experts selected Namibia as a place to meet and discuss the “Role of Information Circulation Systems (ICS) in Science and Practical Approaches to Combat Desertification”. This high-powered conference, held from 2nd – 9th April 2006 in Ondangwa and funded by the European Union, allowed participants to discuss measures to improve communication of ideas to combat and reverse desertification. Information from scientists is often too technical and too complicated for rural people, even decision-makers, to understand. How then, should scientists get their results across to policy-makers, rural farmers and the general public? And how should all these diverse people share their ideas and interesting contributions? In order to improve circulation of information between and amongst these groups, information has to be integrated and translated into a language understandable by the users of the information. A recommendation made to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was to create an integrated ‘Information Circulation System’ which would link and integrate data and information. This system would deliver scientifically sound but technically uncomplicated information for action by civil society (individuals and communities), decision-makers and the scientific community. The seminar was organized under the AID-CCD project, a European Network for Research into Global Change that aims at developing and coordinating exchange of information and experiences among institutions involved in the implementation of the UNCCD. In Namibia the Desert Res earch Foundation of Na-mibia (DRFN) and Goba- beb Training and Research Centre are partners in the AID-CCD project. They are also involved in exchange of information and experiences gained during Namibia’s Programme to Combat Desertification (Napcod). The main work of Napcod was to help set up forums at which communal farmers, in a group with government services and other support organisations, could identify what their main livelihood aims were and then find ways to reach them whilst sustaining the resources they depended on. The approach of ‘putting the community in the driver’s seat’ i.e. using a bottom-up approach, was found to be most appropriate for combating desertification.