United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has defined "Desertification" as ‘a process of land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities’. Desertification is a phenomenon which is concerning the overall degradation of the land and land use in the dryland regions (arid, semi-arid and sub-humid). That is, it is not confined to desert regions alone, as the process of desertification is greatest in the drylands. Desertification is one of the major global environmental problems which has direct impact on the living standard of the inhabitants by way of decreased food output in the affected areas. The Convention has laid emphasis on Africa, because of acute problems of famine and malnutrition.

The issue of land degradation and desertification was given attention during the UNCED (UN Conference on Environment and Development) 1992 (also known as the Earth Summit) and a resolution adopted in the UNCED in Rio in June 1992, and consequently, an International Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification particularly in Africa was adopted on 17th June 1994. The convention has so far been signed by 144 countries. The Convention came into effect on 17th March 1997.

The FAO has estimated that the world food supply requires to be increased by 75% over the next 30 years to meet the needs of the growing population. This is particularly challenging because the per capita area of arable land which stood at 0.48 ha in Asia in 1950-1955 is expected to decline to 0.25 ha by 2000. In the Indian context, the per capita area of arable land has declined far more rapidly over the past 30 years and is declining further (Table below:).

Objectives of the UNCCD

The basic objective of the UNCCD is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, through effective action at all levels, through national, regional and sub-regional action programmes supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements, in the framework of an integrated approach which is consistent with Agenda 21, with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in affected areas.

The Convention realises that achieving this objective will involve long-term integrated strategies that focus simultaneously in affected areas, on improved productivity of land, conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources leading to improved living conditions, in particular at the community level. Thus, the Convention addresses the issues such as environmental conservation, agricultural productivity, sustainable energy and fodder production and use, developmental activities for local communities and their rehabilitation in degraded lands and to improve their living standards.

Preparation of the National Action Programme (NAP)

The arid, semi-arid, and sub-humid regions of the country comprising the ‘drylands’, which receive less than the normal rainfall, cover about 77.6% of the total land area are most susceptible to the process of desertification. Although the drylands have low productivity, they contribute to substantial production of milk, meat, pulses, millets, fibers, and hides, supporting the livelihood of about 68.7 % of the country’s population.

The major programmes of the Government of India include:

In order to achieve the objectives, the Convention has called upon the member parties to prepare a National Action Programme (NAP) which shall utilise and built to the extent status of land degradation in India possible on existing relevant action programmes, as central element of the strategy to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought. The NAP shall identify the factors contributing to desertification and practical measures for their prevention and control. In order to implement the objectives of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in the country, a National Steering Committee under the Chairmanship of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) is being constituted.

Regional Action Programme (RAP) of the UNCCD

Thematic Programme Networking (TPN)

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has recommended close cooperation in different regions of the world such as Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Northern Mediterranean and to prepare action programmes drawn from experiences from other countries of a Region. A Regional Action Programme (RAP) for the Asian countries has been formulated to strengthen the existing capacities of the member parties and to network with other member countries of the Asian Region to take suitable measures for combating desertification.

The programme is also expected to throw up ideas, identify gaps in knowledge, shortcomings in R&D and in existing data and their applicability. About 15-18 countries from the Asian Region are expected to participate in the network. The network is expected to help the member parties strengthen their existing infrastructure for tackling the problems relating to this area.

Six thematic networks have been identified for regional cooperation:

TPN-1: Desertification Monitoring & Assessment.

TPN-2: Agro-forestry Management & Soil Conservation in arid, semi-arid & dry subhumid areas.

TPN-3: Range & pasture management in arid areas with particular emphasis in controlling shifting sand dunes.

TPN-4: Water Resources Management for agriculture in arid, semi-arid and dry subhumid areas.

TPN-5: Drought Preparedness & Mitigation in the context of climate change.

TPN-6: Strengthening planning capacities for drought management & Controlling desertification.

India is to host TPN-2 on ‘Agroforestry and Soil Conservation’. For all other areas, experts from Indian institutions involved in that area would participate as a member country in other countries identified as focal points.

Status of Land Degradation in India

The problem of land degradation/desertification in our country has been due to various factors :

Unsustainable agricultural practices:

- extensive cropping of agricultural area,

- excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides,

- shifting cultivation without allowing adequate period of recovery,

Classification of Drylands in India