Environmental and development experts have provided insights on how drylands can contribute to the growth of agriculture and the larger economy in Africa.
The experts spoke at the first-ever digital Global Landscape Forum (GLF) conference held between June 2nd and 3rd. The major theme of the conference focused around Africa’s drylands and integrative restoration practices.
While delivering a keynote speech on Africa’s perspective on ecosystem restoration at the conference, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD), Ibrahim Thiaw, explained that drylands are significant to economic growth in countries across Africa,
Mr Thiaw also debunked misconceptions he claimed were undermining the potentials and uniqueness of Africa’s dryland amidst ongoing restoration campaigns across the world.
According to him, claims that drylands do not contribute much to the economy are untrue because in most drylands, people have lands as their only assets. He argued that in Africa, up to 70 per cent of the population depends on the primary sector, including drylands that represent up to 45 per cent.
Agriculture, livestock, inland fisheries, and tourism revenues are seamlessly possible in drylands, he explained.
Mr Thiaw stated that there’s a need to debunk myths being concocted and circulated about dryland regions across the world.
According to Aridity Index (AI), the United Nations’ Environment Programme (UNEP) explained drylands as the ratio between average annual precipitation and potential evapotranspiration, noting that drylands are lands with an AI of less than 0.65.
Mr Thiaw said the myth that drylands are not productive are untrue, adding that they provide the inhabitants with unique products and produce such as cereals, animal feed and non timber products.
He noted that almost 3 billion people live on the drylands globally. This people, he said, include 100 million pastoralists, adding that half of the world’s range land is found in dryland.
“The cotton industries would not survive without cotton coming from dryland,” he said.
“The world is just about to discover the nutritional and health values of shea butter, baobab and other cosmetic products that are uniquely produced in drylands.”
Speaking further, the UNCCD official also said the claim that drylands are not rich in biodiversity, and that they have little to offer in the climate crisis, is not true.
“The largest terrestrial behaviour found in the magnificent savannahs of African to the tiniest microorganism found in the large diversity of dryland habitats (Savannahs, ponds, rivers, wetland etc) are in the drylands,” he said.
Mr Thiaw noted that the large open spaces in dryland are major carbon sinks, adding that their management and mitigation provides a range of opportunities for organisms.
Similarly, the environmentalist said it is not true ‘drylands are wasteland, and they are not worth investing in’, adding that dryland harbors major extractive industries from oil production in the Middle-east to mineral extractions in dry Africa and Australia.
“The world is amazed by the clean energy potentials found in drylands,” Mr Thiaw said, adding that drylands are sources of healthy products and tourist attraction because of their unique landscape, wildlife and great diversity of people.
He noted that people living in dryland areas use little biomass and they are generally water efficient.
“People living in drylands either scarcely use the environment or they are forced to migrate because there would be no resources to sustain them.
“Change is homemade; it’s time to change our narratives on drylands in Africa. It’s time to reset, rethink Africa’s development and it is time to turn challenges into opportunities,” he said.
Providing additional insights in her remarks, Inger Anderson, Under-Secretary-General, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), explained that in order to reverse the damages that humanity has caused to the natural world, “there is an urgent need to mobilise and make a social movement”.
The official called for “a mass movement, a youth movement, a finance movement and a science movement to speed up Africa’s dryland restoration efforts”.
“It is a great opportunity to start delivering on sustainable development goals so that we can create that world of prosperity, equality and of peace,” she said.
Meanwhile, Salima Mohamoudou, a research associate at World Resource Institute(WRI), explained that ‘copy and paste solutions’ have proven not to be the best option to explore in drylands restoration efforts across the continent.
“There is no one-size-fits-all option. What has worked elsewhere like in the UK and U.S. may not work well for Africa,” she said.
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