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PLANET EARTH:OUR LOVING HOME Saving Drylands: COP10 United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification - P2/3    
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Concerned viewers, welcome to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. From October 10 to 21, 2011, the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was held in Changwon, South Korea.

One of three major United Nations environmental agreements, the Convention was adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and established in 1994 to address the issues of desertification, land degradation and drought and to promote sustainable development in the world’s drylands. During the Conference, approximately 6,400 scientists, experts, government officials and non-governmental organization staff members from 156 countries discussed strategies to halt desertification.

The term desertification refers to the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions due to climatic variations, human activity and other factors. Over 100 countries and 1.2-billion people are affected by the phenomenon.

Today, we’ll present part two of a three-part series featuring Supreme Master Television’s interviews with Conference participants. Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil containing nutrient-rich organic matter and micro-organisms. When this invaluable layer erodes, it results in enormous declines in general crop-growing capacity. Around the world, the rate of erosion far exceeds that of soil replenishment, with soil being swept away 10 times faster than it is restored in the United States, and 50 times faster in China and India.

The cause is mainly bad management of the land cover. We are cutting the forest without renewing, without putting new trees. The cities are growing very fast and they are not taking into account the environment as an issue in their development plans. When you open the land for agriculture, they’re using a lot of agricultural chemicals. So basically after a couple of years, we lose the topsoil and we lose fertility because we are only using chemicals to produce (crops).

The Great Plains region in the midwestern United States experienced extreme soil erosion during the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s. Massive amounts of topsoil were blown from degraded fields and transported away in storm clouds. Soil ecosphere is complex with countless species interacting to generate organic matter. Soil forms over a long period of time, playing a role as the groundwork of civilizations.

But, Professor David Montgomery of the University of Washington, USA warns in his book, “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization” that “it only takes one good rainstorm when the soil is bare to lose a century's worth of dirt.”

When the soil is degraded, in fact, we cannot make the recovery of the organic matter in these soils. So, we come to have completely barren soils which are difficult to recover within a few years. It takes a very long time to recover these lands.

With the influence of tropical storms and hurricanes, we are losing a lot of fertile soil, therefore the desertification issue becomes more important for the country.

When desertification intensifies, it will cause the arable and productive lands to recede. In one of our research studies in one region in Iran, within 40 years the arable land receded 1,000 meters and turned into deserts.

The so-called “slash-and-burn” farming method, a key driver of desertification, involves felling vegetation and setting fires on the land to create cropland or pasture for livestock. Globally, an estimated 250-500-million farmers worldwide employ this technique. In addition, the use of firewood for cooking and heating by two-billion people is increasing the rate of forest clearing.

The main causes of deforestation are poor agricultural practices; that is, the slash-and- burn method. Farmers cut down trees to expand their production area. Another cause could be we have some experiences of rampant bushfires. During the dry season, a lot of forests get burned and this has also contributed to the loss of biodiversity.

Slash-and-burn agriculture? This is a traditional practice which was used by local communities in the days long ago when resources were still abundant. The use of wood as a source of energy by 98% of the population of the country (Niger), and the fact that there is an increasing population, are also important. These are all factors which together exacerbate the degrading situation of the environment in which these communities live.

The most important causes are mainly related to bushfires, to overgrazing, but also to the problems linked to salinization and to the exploitation of timber-forest resources. So, as a result, many lands are degraded.

If you see that nearly 90% of the population uses wood for cooking in a Sahelian country, this really pushes the forest back. And this will bring desertification because without trees we have wind erosion and rain erosion, which will come and affect the land.

Desertification and land degradation destroy the natural ecosystem of drylands, eventually altering the structure of the biological community and accelerating biodiversity loss, with associated plants and animals becoming endangered or extinct. Soil scientist Elaine Ingham of Oregon State University, USA, says that, “Just one gram of healthy agricultural soil contains around 100 yards of threadlike fungal material, 100 million bacteria, tens of thousands of one-celled organisms called protozoa, and up to 2,000 tiny worms called nematodes.”

There is a link between biodiversity and the production of the land, the soil fertility. Basically the soil fertility is due to the biodiversity in the soil. We are very rapidly losing our biodiversity. And at same time we are growing very fast and we are losing our natural resources very fast. We are having a high rate of losing species, and ecosystems.

It’s a microcosm of what’s happening all over our planet. Its biodiversity is impacted. And I think one of the take-home messages for me at a conference like this is that we’re still dealing with the effects of climate change, but we need to deal with the root causes. And I think that all the time, all of those impacts are squeezing, and constricting our natural areas, our ecosystems and biodiversity.

The United Nations states that global income loss from desertification and degradation is estimated to be a staggering US$42-billion annually. Italy sees the problems of land degradation and desertification as related issues from a very close perspective, not as somebody else’s problem. It surely affects landscape and economics in my country, where the tourism industry is very significant in contributing to its economics.

Water shortages are an especially significant matter in drylands due to decreased rainfall and higher evaporation rates. To maintain basic well-being, an individual needs at least 2,000 cubic meters of water a year, but dryland residents have only 1,300 cubic meters available.

Dry and semi-dry areas have serious droughts because the land degradation gets worse in all areas. We have less rain, more use of natural resources. Land grabbing by the private sector or other companies, deforestation, and all these things together make the situation very bad, in particular, for the indigenous peoples, and rural communities’ livelihood. There is a big threat for those communities and their livelihoods.

Overgrazing is a main driver of land degradation and desertification. Grazing and trampling by livestock severely devastates the soil in rangeland areas.

The livestock sector is a Mongolian traditional industry. But nowadays, overgrazing by livestock has sharply increased. The livestock sector inefficiently drains our grassland resources and plants are being destroyed rapidly. They disappear because of overgrazing. Thus, you can conclude that overgrazing leads to desertification. That is the largest single source of impact.

We also have degraded lands due to overgrazing, especially in Northern Senegal where intensive livestock farming is really extremely overdone.

Livestock severely impacts soils because the animals are grazing everywhere and there is no kind of concentration for organic materials and obviously that doesn’t help soil to be fertilized.

We have been experiencing the problem of overgrazing, especially in dry areas. With the high population of the livestock, they make a compaction of the soil. And then trees cannot grow as well. Then the process of degradation happens.

Only 30% of the Earth’s surface is covered by land, and 30% of that area is used for livestock grazing or growing grain for animal feed. Clearing land for these purposes has created tremendous ecological instability and grave soil degradation around the world. May humanity quickly stop all livestock raising to prevent further desertification and restore dryland ecosystems.

In closing, we’d like to convey our appreciation to the Conference attendees for speaking to us about desertification and providing insights on how this phenomenon affects their respective nations.

For more information on the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, please visit www.UNCCD.int

Please join us again next Wednesday on Planet Earth: Our Loving Home for the conclusion of our feature on the Conference. Eco-wise viewers, thank you for watching today’s program. May we all receive Heaven’s everlasting grace and abundant love.
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