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Listening to our Land: Stories of Resilience

September 11, 2017

Listening to our Land cover with launch description text
A new publication, titled "Listening to our Land: Stories of Resilience" was launched by UNDP, GEF, the Government of Namibia, and the Secretariat for the UNCCD at its 13th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Ordos, China.

“…With the knowledge we are gaining, we will become better land and natural resource managers, because we’re understanding how we need to treat our land, and the plants and animals on it.”

These are the words of Rinouzeu Karizembi, one of only two women in the nine-member management committee of the Wild Dog Conservancy from the Otjozondjupa Region in eastern Namibia. Rinozeu and her friend Jaqueline Tjaimi are pastoralists who hope one day to make a better living from raising livestock, but, they are also acutely aware of the constraints presented by the arid Kalahari landscape which is their home, the impacts of their livestock, and the effects of a changing climate. With the support their community has  received through the GEF-financed, UNDP-supported project on Sustainable Management of Namibia’s Forest Land (NAFOLA),  these pioneering young women  envision creating a diversified, communally-managed landscape that supports sustainable use of local natural resources for subsistence livelihoods, and provides a safe habitat for plants and wildlife, for the benefit of people and the land.

Rinouzeu and Jaqueline’s story is one of eight included in a new publication, titled “Listening to our Land: Stories of Resilience,” launched by UNDP, Global Environment Facility (GEF), Government of Namibia and the Secretariat for the UN Convention on Combatting Desertification (UNCCD) at the 13th Conference of the Parties to UNCCD being held in Ordos, China from 6 to 16 September, 2017. This publication features a selection of stories that demonstrate how sustainable land management (SLM) addresses land degradation, and promotes the achievement of multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Through the experiences of people who earn their livelihoods by tending the land, these eight ‘Stories of Resilience’ reflect how, in countries as varied as Namibia, Cuba, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, SLM is improving living conditions of communities and strengthening environmental resilience. They also highlight the importance of improved land stewardship in striving to achieve land degradation neutrality, by restoring productivity and fertility to degraded land and preventing future degradation. This is the essence of target 15.3 under SDG 15 (Life on Land), which works towards meeting growing demands for food, water and other land resources, without depleting the systems that provide them.

Globally, land degradation affects about two billion hectares of land – this represents nearly a quarter of all landscapes under human use. The deterioration of soil fertility, loss of forest cover, and erosion of rangelands, causes biodiversity loss and compromises the flow of ecosystem services that enable food production and support the livelihoods of millions of people. If current trends in land degradation are not reversed, an estimated 135 million people may be displaced by 2045 because of desertification, with cascading social, economic, and environmental consequences.

The scale of the problem is immense, but so is our determination and commitment to address it.” says Naoko Ishii, CEO for the GEF.  “We believe that the tools we have at our disposal for addressing land degradation are better now than ever before – the stories in this book are evidence of that."   As the financial mechanism for implementation of the UNCCD, the GEF has invested more than US$876 million in over 190 programmes and projects that encourage SLM as a comprehensive way to improve land stewardship in support of achieving multiple goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As an implementing agency of the GEF, and as a key partner for the UNCCD, UNDP currently provides support to implement 85 SLM projects in 53 countries, with a total resource envelope of about US$357 million and leveraging co-financing in the order of US$1.38 billion. This work is complemented by local and community-led efforts, supported by the UNDP-managed Equator Initiative and the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP).

SLM provides a diversity of practical tools for managing soil, water, vegetation and animal resources in ways that are ecologically sound, socially inclusive, culturally sensitive, and cost-effective. It also promotes a land stewardship mindset that aims to integrate people’s co-existence with nature over the long term, so that the provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services of ecosystems are ensured. Each story featured in the book demonstrates the effectiveness of a particular approach to SLM, reflected through the personal perspectives of project beneficiaries, who describe their relationship with their land and their efforts to improve its quality through sustainable land management practices.  A common thread running through the stories in this publication is that SLM has wide scope to provide multiple benefits that empower people and nations to restore life to their land, accelerate inclusive social transformation, reduce resource-use conflicts, and cope with the disturbances created by natural disasters and socio-political crises.  

These benefits are presented at the back of the book in ‘balance sheets’ that reflect how the featured projects contribute to achieving the SDGs, and build strong partnerships to scale up efforts to meet future needs for food, fuel and fibre, without degrading the finite land resource base on which these depend.

Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD remarked at the conference “I am optimistic and enthusiastic. Despite the enormous challenges we face in halting, reversing and avoiding land degradation and desertification, the tools that we have at our disposal for addressing land degradation are better now than ever before – and the stories in this book are evidence of that.”

In his address at the launch of ‘Listening to our Land’, the Honourable Pohamba Shifeta, Minister of Environment and Tourism for the Republic of Namibia, said, “Land is a precious resource for everyone, especially those that directly depend on it every day for their livelihoods, so if we don’t listen to it, and care for it, poverty will defeat us. Combating land degradation and desertification and mitigating against their negative impacts, including drought, is therefore central to sustainable land management and natural resources in Namibia.’’

 “We believe that a reversal of current trends of land degradation is indeed possible,” says Nik Sekhran, UNDP Director of Sustainable Development.  “We now have an improved understanding of the kinds of actions that can reverse a great deal of the damage done.  New opportunities to manage land in a fundamentally new way are emerging, including land management options that sequester carbon which can provide large ecological and economic benefits.”