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UNEP scheme makes strides in averting desertification
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The UN Environment Program (UNEP) scheme to stem desertification in Africa has made strides, with extinct grass species being re-introduced.

A statement from the Nairobi-based UNEP said on Wednesday the Desert Margins Program has demonstrated success in pilot projects in nine African nations, including Senegal, where the Sahel Apple, a nutritious fruit with a high-market value which also restores degraded lands, was introduced by the scheme.

"Land degradation and desertification are not inevitable and the multiple inspiring solutions from the Deserts Margin Program underscore this," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, marking the World Day to Combat Desertification.

The agency said in other countries on the continent communities are testing the re-introduction of extinct grass species, the deployment of rainwater harvesting, rotational grazing and the simple anti-erosion techniques as anti-desertification strategies.

"It is time to scale-up and to replicate these kinds of actions in order to climate-proof vulnerable communities while boosting livelihood, biodiversity and water supplies en route to achieving the UN's poverty-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)."

Steiner said land degradation threatens nearly 1 billion people in some 100 countries and it is estimated that around a third of the world's lands are experiencing desertification.

"There are many factors at work including climate change. Thus the governments need to seal the deal on a serious and far-reaching new agreement at the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in just 172 days time," he said.

"But land degradation and desertification is not inevitable and the multiple inspiring solutions from the Deserts Margin Program underscore this."

The promising techniques have emerged from the US$10 million Desert Margins Program (DMP) led by UNEP in partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Kenya's rangelands are characterized by low and erratic rainfall, prolonged dry periods and frequent droughts.

Indeed the problem of desertification and land degradation is serious as over 80 percent of the country's total land area is categorized as arid and semi-arid.

According to UNEF, the project introduced new technologies into the area for improving soil moisture, bush management and constructing terraces which are now contributing to a successful revegetation of denuded ranges.

UNEP and partners with funding from the Global Environment Facility, have just launched the Climate Benefits Project that will be estimating the amounts of carbon that can be stored in soils and vegetation under different management regimes.

Communities in Western Kenya alongside ones in Niger, Nigeria are pioneering the work.

Poverty and the challenge of feeding a population of 6 billion people, which has almost doubled in the past four decades, are part of the pressures driving the loss of vegetation and soil fertility.

While true deserts grow and shrink naturally, it is the drylands which make up 40 percent of the Earth's land surface that suffering desertification as a result of unsustainable use of land and water in too many places.

These drylands, which include the real deserts, savannahs and tropical dry forests, are dynamic ecosystems that feed agricultural growth and are often home to extremely specialized communities of animals and plants. However, they are also increasingly vulnerable to the threat of land degradation.

On top of this, climate change is also contributing to land degradation. Land and water resources, essential to development and livelihood are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change which is leading to floods, droughts and rising sea levels. It has been estimated that nine out of every 10 recorded natural disasters are climate related.

According to the UNEP-led study, best-bet technologies that combine modern science with traditional and indigenous knowledge such as those introduced in the nine DMP pilot countries in Africa, are a global example of how to combat the trend of desertification with viable solutions.

(Xinhua News Agency June 18, 2009)

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