Time to remove silk gloves

20.10.2011. During a presentation held by Professor Rattan Lal during the high level segment of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, one of the arguments raised was that when people are poverty-stricken and desperate, ensuring sustainable land management is not their priority. This is of course a valid argument, and one that we have heard many times before. But is it the desperate hunger-stricken people of the world who constitute the main human driver of desertification? writes Martine Dahle Huse, information and policy officer at Drylands Coordination Group.

Martine Dahle Huse Photo: Martine Dahle Huse

It is the first time I attend a COP for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and I am rather new to this area, but one thing that I have noticed and that has made me think, is the absence of the private sector. It would appear to be the same for other players present at the conference, as the Koreans are pushing for private sector involvement through the Changwon initiative, and during a training session on Resource Mobilisation held by the Global Mechanism for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) present here, the main emphasis was put on how they could get financing from the private sector. However, unlike the Koreans and the Global Mechanism, my concern is that the private sector is one of the causes of land degradation.

As was raised as a concern by CSOs during the training held by Global Mechanism, in many countries, the private sector is a huge driver of desertification in its search for maximum profits and growth regardless of social and environmental costs. But during this conference I have only heard this mentioned by CSOs. I have not once heard any talks of regulations, laws, and keeping the agribusiness actors and others responsible for their actions.

Why is this the case? It is for lack of power? Is it for lack of will? Are the Parties and the intergovernmental agencies so dazzled by the efficiency and power of the private sector that they have forgotten to be critical? Or am I completely wrong in my assumptions? Is it really the hungry and desperate people who are the main responsible for the large scale land degradation we are witnessing today?

Whatever the answer is, when learning that 16 people (12 out of whom are children) die every minute due to land degradation, I think the Parties present here at the conference should remove their silk gloves, and start discussing how human drivers of land degradation can be stopped.

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