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21 October 2011 | Blogs

21.10.2011. At my first attendance at a UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) conference, it is encouraging to see in Changwon that decision makers are increasingly recognizing desertification and land degradation as drivers of both natural resource depletion and poverty in many affected dryland countries, writes  Asli Toppare of the TEMA Turkey & Drynet network.

Although they are all attending the conference to achieve sustainable land use with its effects on agriculture, rural development and food security, the major problems of participants show great diversity – just like the lovely Korean food. However, the discussions at the end of the day always come to the same conclusion that we can only achieve our objective by working together. Whether we are representing the government, the civil society, the farmer or academia, we are human beings without distinction; we are all affected by desertification and we all have responsibilities. That is why all of us are here at the Conference today.

Many of the “on the ground” activities on sustainable land management with communities affected by land degradation are carried out by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in close relationship with local communities. These activities are especially viable because they are based on the knowledge and practices of people who experience the problems, and take their limitations into consideration. This approach gives us the insight to propose solutions taking into account the immediate needs of people as well as the policies that restrict us.

Drynet, a global network of CSOs working in drylands, believes that working with local communities and local knowledge is crucial so as not to lose valuable insight into local realities, customs and the environment, and thus risk alienating the very people who are primary beneficiaries of the initiatives.

Four years ago the UN Convention to Combat Desertification was placed on a new track to achieve its goals via the 10 Year Strategic Plan. However, much remains undone. DRYNET believes that without effective participation of civil society the Convention will fail in its promise to serve the people of the world’s drylands. Drynet is therefore present at the conference to flag the importance of civil society participation and to demand its recognition as a key stakeholder in all decision-making processes.

I believe that the civil society has a lot to contribute to the process, since we have more social proximity to the local communities and thus the problems at the core. In my first experience at the meeting this week, I witnessed that the presentations made on our side at the Open Dialogue session on the fifth day of the Conference, were quite interesting for the Parties (government delegates) who had until then focused on the bureaucratic procedures of the Convention. Not only were we able to demonstrate diverse successful examples of sustainable land use from different regions, but we also touched upon diverse approaches to finding solutions; from best practices to science and community relations, from poverty eradication to gender issues. The Parties’ interest in our presentations, as demonstrated by the questions that they asked, was noteworthy, demonstrating the simple fact that we are able to add value to the process.

On the other hand, the issue of how much of the CSO involvement is going to be officially reflected is a concern. The Open Dialogue sessions need to be fully integrated in the official report of the meeting and we need to lobby effectively not to risk being left out. CSOs already have limited opportunity to report on activities in their countries within the UNCCD context. Sharing the same interest and goal of combating desertification, I believe that CSOs should have the opportunity to reflect on a variety of decisions and implementation. A proposal is under discussion to have best practices reported via the WOCAT system instead of the current UNCCD PRAIS system, for CSOs only (Parties remain reporting via PRAIS). Whereas this has the advantage of being part of a global system, there is a danger that the role of CSOs in reporting on other aspects of UNCCD implementation will be diminished.