Five per cent of global agricultural GDP lost each year

UNCCD Second Scientific Conference on economic assessment of desertificationFindings of a scientific study that says the global community is losing five per cent of global agricultural gross domestic production (GDP)  owing to land degradation, was presented during the UNCCD 2nd Scientific Conference in Germany.

Under the theme ‘Economic assessment of desertification, sustainable land management and resilience of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas’, the conference was attended by scientists and representatives of government, international and civil society organisations.

Former President of Finland Tarja Halonen, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja, and President of the Global Risk Forum (GRF) Davos Walter Ammann, addressed the opening session.  The study presented was titled ‘The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought: Methodologies and Analysis for Decision-Making’.

The study shows that between four and 12 per cent of Africa’s agricultural GDP is lost owing to environmental degradation. The direct economic costs of land degradation at country level vary widely, with some as high as 6.6 per cent of agricultural GDP in Paraguay, nine per cent in Burkina Faso, and 24 per cent in Guatemala.

Social costs are also a factor. Nearly 870 million people globally suffer from chronic hunger. In Uzbekistan, food yields have declined by 20 to 30 per cent owing to land degradation. In East Africa nearly 3.7 million people need food assistance owing to the 2011 drought of 2011.

‘Sustainable land management, prevention of land degradation and rehabilitation of land is a most effective and cost benefit way to eradicate rural poverty,’ said Halonen, who is also the chairman of the Global Sustainability Panel. ‘Land will provide food, decent job and income to the rural people. Sustainable land management is also closely linked with availability of energy and water sources.’

According to Halonen, the information presented at the conference indicates that integration of sustainable land management as a central part in the development policies and international cooperation will be smart economics, contribute to better life in rural areas, and mitigate the environmental challenges.

The study, which looks at the costs and benefits of addressing desertification, land degradation and drought, found that the existing scientific research mostly focuses on the direct economic costs of these phenomena, but overlooks the unintended consequences.

Gnacadja said: ‘Desertification, land degradation, and drought are key constraints to building social and environmental resilience, achieving global food security, and delivering meaningful poverty reduction. Unless scientific understanding of all land degradation and drought is strengthened, especially in the context of a changing climate, the global community is poorly positioned to deal with the impact of change.’

‘Fertile soil is our most valuable non-renewable resource. It lays the foundation for life, feeding the billions populating our planet,’ Ammann added. ‘Nevertheless, each year an area three times the size of Switzerland is lost for good due to desertification.’

The outcomes of the conference will be transmitted by the Committee on Science and Technology of the UNCCD to the Convention’s Conference of the Parties that meets later this year.