Silvia Morimoto: Remarks at the Opening of the International Seminar on Combating Desertification

Jul 29, 2015

Ms. Silvia Morimoto, Deputy Country Director, UNDP China 

Minister Zhao Shucong,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good Morning!

It is a great pleasure to be able to join you today at the International Seminar on Combating Desertification and to be able to share some remarks on this important topic on behalf of UNDP. I thank the Ministry of Commerce and the State Forestry Administration for this opportunity and for their commitment to reversing the negative impacts of desertification on the natural environment and on people’s livelihoods.

Across the world, desertification and the degradation of land affects around 8 percent of our planets land and resources, while land degradation and drought directly affect 1.5 billion people globally. Meanwhile, remote sensing images from between 1981 and 2003 reveals persistently declining productivity on over 20% of the land on which these people reside.

In China alone, some 400 million people are struggling to cope with water shortages, unproductive land and the breakdown of ecological systems caused by rising temperatures, overgrazing and poor land management. That is equivalent to almost twelve times the global number of people suffering from AIDS, and is one of the principle reasons why desertification is referred to as the greatest challenge of our generation.

Africa is also no stranger to desertification, with poor agricultural communities in the Sub-Saharan region of the Sahel particularly vulnerable to changes in land productivity. In this regard, the international nature of today’s seminar and the opportunity to engage with experts from the African continent provides an excellent opportunity for the exchange of ideas, experiences and best practices that will be necessary as we move forward.

Ladies and gentlemen!

I am sure by now you are all very well versed on the need to work together, to combine our efforts and consolidate our successes.

Therefore, I would like to turn the focus of my remarks to three key issues that will be crucial in determining our ability to effectively combat desertification.

  1. The first lies in our ability to work effectively with local communities. Desertification, while global in scale, is in fact a local issue that requires local solutions. And it is no longer sufficient to provide training and technical guidance that does not meet the basic needs of the poor. Instead, we must understand that many of the causes of desertification are brought about by economic hardship, access to markets and the need to make ends meet. In short, we must find ways to bridge the gap between communities’ short-term needs and the long-term sustainability of the environment upon which they so heavily depend.
  2. We must consider how traditional livelihood practices can be modified to maximise the potential for income generation and poverty alleviation. This is particularly important in ecologically fragile regions on the fringes of arid and semi-arid regions, where the burdens that human activity places on the natural environment are often magnified. This has been a key part of UNDP’s work in the Upper Yangtze River Basin, where community associations have been established to overcome the over-cultivation of traditional Chinese medicinal plants that were compounding the effects of widespread deforestation and overgrazing.

Livelihood improvement is also something that is being incorporated into existing desertification projects in Ningxia.

  1. We must think long-term. Over the past decade, China has developed innovative techniques for combating desertification, including green shelterbelts that are now protecting farmlands and agro-forestry ecosystems, as well as cities that are prone to desert winds like Beijing. Sustaining these, and other desertification initiatives, provide an important foundation upon which to build, and UNDP is committed to assisting China as it looks to share its impressive range of anti-desertification knowledge with other developing countries through South-South Cooperation.

As world leaders gather to discuss the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – at Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, China and Africa’s engagement in pursuit of solutions to this shared global issue is commendable. I would like to conclude by expressing my hope that you will take full advantage of the opportunities presented to you over the next three weeks, to strengthen your resolve to develop pro-poor desertification policies and strategies. In doing so, I encourage you to think local, think livelihoods and think long-term. 
Thank you!