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From the 2nd to the 3rd of June, the Global Landscapes Forum will host the first-ever digital conference focused entirely on Africa’s drylands and how integrative restoration practices can see them flourish once again.

Drylands are an important biome, occupying more than 41% of the global land area and comprising grasslands, agricultural lands, forests, and urban areas.

Trees and forests in drylands generate a wealth of environmental services. They provide habitats for biodiversity, protect against water and wind erosion and desertification.

Africa’s drylands, particularly, are the birthplace of some of the world’s most extraordinary civilizations and species, from ancient kingdoms to wild elephants to “miracle grains” like millet and sorghum.

Sadly, these drylands are rapidly degrading due to climate change. Away from climate variations, drylands are vulnerable to human activities such as deforestation which is the large-scale removal of trees in the forest.

At least 340 million hectares of woody vegetation in Africa’s dryland zones have become degraded through overgrazing, agricultural expansion, and overexploitation for fuelwood and timber.

Globally, 2.9 billion people in developing countries still use traditional fuels such as firewood to make their food on open fires, contributing to the increasing rates of deforestation.

This is even as data from the UN on climate change shows that the smoke from cooking fires accounts for eight deaths every minute globally, impacting mostly women and children.

In the developing world, health problems arising from smoke inhalation, including respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease, and lung cancer are a significant cause of death in both children under five and women.

In a bid to tackle the different contributing factors to land degradation, the Global Landscapes Forum has put together the “Restoring Africa’s Drylands: Accelerating Action On the Ground” conference to be held before the official launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which runs from 2021 to 2030.

As part of preparations ahead of the conference, a group of 50 journalists were selected from across Africa to receive hands-on journalism training to cover the conference and also write about the dryland challenges in their countries by Climate Tracker, an international non-profit organization committed to telling climate-related stories globally.

Apart from the journalism training, there were thematic training sessions which had experts from the Global Landscapes Forum team make presentations on the causes and drivers of landscape degradation and the confounding influence of climate change within the African context.

Experts also looked at biodiversity in African dryland ecosystems, the economic impact of landscape degradation, climate-induced migration, supply chains, sustainable value chains, and the global outlook.

During one of the presentations, a principal scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre, Peter Minang, restated the fact that Africa is among the most vulnerable and most affected continents by land degradation as about 500 million hectares have already been impacted so far.

He said that desertification affects at least 45% of Africa’s land area; 55% of these areas are at high or very high risk of further degradation, while the continent loses at least 56 billion euros annually.

According to Peter Minang, increasing population, poverty, agricultural activities, demographic factors, infrastructure extension, economic factors, and poor government policies are among the major contributing factors to increasing land degradation.

Minang suggested that huge investment in alternative sources of energy such as efficient cookstoves, for instance, will reduce the over-dependence on fuelwood, thereby dealing with the challenge of deforestation.

Other experts who made presentations during the thematic training sessions were Jonathan Davies, Global Drylands Coordinator, and Senior Agriculture Advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Salima Mahamoudou, research associate at the World Resources Institute, and Birguy Diallo, senior project officer with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The conference will be held virtually and this means that anyone who is actively engaged in, interested in, and dedicated to the scaling of dryland restoration in Africa can participate.

There is no better time for Africans to tell their own stories, especially as it relates to the massive loss of drylands and climate change which has often caused conflicts between farmers and herders, destroyed lives and livelihood, than now.

Arinze Chijioke is a Nigeria based freelance journalist. He writes stories on conflict, development, climate change, global health among others. He has had his works published in the African Exponent, Ynaija, and THISDAY newspaper, among other media outlets.