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Tackling desertification, land degradation, and drought for food security

June 16, 2020

Man overlooking valley in Ethiopia
Photo: Arne Hoel/World Bank

Desertification, land degradation, and drought affect soils, vegetation, and water, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and threaten vulnerable populations due to less agricultural productivity and food production. The Global Environment Facility and its partners have been helping countries across sub-Saharan Africa tackle these interwoven challenges in an integrated way through the Resilient Food Systems program, with the goal of promoting greater resilience and more sustainable agricultural and food production.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification is focusing this year’s Desertification and Drought Day, on ‘Food, Feed, and Fiber’ - highlighting the ways global consumer and other economic pressures are leading to worsening land degradation. Addressing these root drivers of environmental challenges is the main objective of the Global Environment Facility’s new Dryland Sustainable Landscapes Impact Program, as well as the GEF’s Integrated Approach Pilot to Foster Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, known as the Resilient Food Systems program.

The Resilient Food Systems program aims to tackle drivers of environmental degradation and foster agricultural productivity in smallholder systems in 12 countries across the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, the Eastern African highlands, and Southern Africa: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. It is a five-year programmatic approach that started in 2017, financed by the GEF with co-financing from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) as well as multiple governments, beneficiaries, and partners. IFAD is the lead agency and coordinates the work with other GEF Agencies including Conservation International, FAO, UNDP, UNEP, UNIDO, and the World Bank, plus executing partners such as the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), AGRA, and Bioversity International.

The following are examples of projects supported by the Resilient Food Systems program that illustrate the GEF’s integrated approach to addressing the challenges of desertification and drought:

In Ethiopia, farming takes place in often highly degraded and vulnerable environments where there is substantial loss of vegetation, associated erosion and declining soil fertility. Huge demand for natural resources, including biomass fuels, has exacerbated environmental degradation and affected food production. A Resilient Food Systems food security and ecosystem resilience project implemented by UNDP, underway in six regions reflecting the diversity of Ethiopia’s landscapes, is helping 20,000 households by joining up efforts to enhance food security and to restore and sustainably manage key environmental resources. The results to date have included improved partnerships among institutions at federal, state, and district levels (meteorology, agriculture, water, energy technologies), and new multi-stakeholder platforms helping to support the integration of natural resources management in food production practices and ecosystem resilience. This has helped different stakeholders to exchange information, monitor the project, and conduct collective visits of the project sites for greater engagement and knowledge sharing.

In Eswatini, the Climate-Smart Agriculture for Climate-Resilient Livelihoods project is helping the country tackle interconnected challenges related to land degradation, food insecurity, and rural poverty through a multi-stakeholder planning approach developed for 37 chiefdoms, with the implementation of better practices for lands, water, and natural resources to enhance food security and diversify livelihoods. The increase of agricultural production is expected to lead to better linkage with local markets. In line with the Resilient Food Systems’ gender monitoring framework, the project has also supported a change in how women are regarded in the context of traditional affairs, as it has succeeded in relaxing the customary practice in Eswatini according to which women are not allowed to speak in meetings where men are present. This was done through an open engagement with chiefs on the socio-economic status of women and the understanding that the failure to grant women adequate empowerment opportunities was undermining the welfare of their villages. Subsequent to this engagement, the chiefs advisory committees and the chiefdom development committees have opted for more gender balance and inclusiveness in the village fora, including the Natural Resource Management Committees proposed in the Resilient Food Systems project that aim to ensure that specific land-use activities match the aspirations of the community and are viable in their environment. Biodiversity-important areas have also been identified for further protection.

A Resilient Food Systems project in Burundi is helping the country tackle the drivers of environmental degradation by advancing an inclusive approach to enhancing agricultural productivity in smallholder systems where food insecurity is directly linked to agriculture. Land degradation in Burundi’s highlands is leading to a decline in agricultural production, loss of agrobiodiversity and contributing to several problems, including food shortages, food insecurity, land and social conflicts, and increased vulnerability to climate change. The GEF-supported project has been helping farmers to improve soil health, diversify production systems, strengthen community management of seed banks, and increase access to seed diversity - key strategies for better resilience and sustainability in smallholder agriculture. Through this project, FAO and Bioversity International have been helping Burundi identify and characterize local crop varieties and breeds, and identify ways to improve access, selection, and sharing of crop and animal genetic diversity at the community and national levels.

To learn more about 2020 Desertification and Drought Day, visit: www.unccd.int