Semiarid Regions of Latin America Cooperate to Adapt to Climate

Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, South-South, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Combating Desertification and Drought

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2020 (IPS) – After centuries of poverty, marginalisation from national development policies and a lack of support for positive local practices and projects, the semiarid regions of Latin America are preparing to forge their own agricultural paths by sharing knowledge, in a new and unprecedented initiative.


In Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, the Gran Chaco Americano, which is shared by Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and the Central American Dry Corridor (CADC), successful local practices will be identified, evaluated and documented to support the design of policies that promote climate change-resilient agriculture in the three ecoregions.

This is the objective of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo, an initiative financed by the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by the Brazilian Semiarid Articulation (ASA), the Argentinean Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) and the National Development Foundation (Funde) of El Salvador.

DAKI stands for Dryland Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The project, launched on Aug. 18 in a special webinar where some of its creators were speakers, will last four years and involve 2,000 people, including public officials, rural extension agents, researchers and small farmers. Indirectly, 6,000 people will benefit from the training.

“The aim is to incorporate public officials from this field with the intention to influence the government’s actions,” said Antonio Barbosa, coordinator of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo and one of the leaders of the Brazilian organisation ASA.

The idea is to promote programmes that could benefit the three semiarid regions, which are home to at least 37 million people – more than the total populations of Chile, Ecuador and Peru combined.

The residents of semiarid regions, especially those who live in rural areas, face water scarcity aggravated by climate change, which affects their food security and quality of life.

Zulema Burneo, International Land Coalition coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean and moderator of the webinar that launched the project, stressed that the initiative was aimed at “amplifying and strengthening” isolated efforts and a few longstanding collectives working on practices to improve life in semiarid areas.

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The practices that represent the best knowledge of living in the drylands will be selected not so much for their technical aspects, but for the results achieved in terms of economic, ecological and social development, Barbosa explained to IPS in a telephone interview from the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, where the headquarters of ASA are located.

After the process of systematisation of the best practices in each region is completed, harnessing traditional knowledge through exchanges between technicians and farmers, the next step will be “to build a methodology and the pedagogical content to be used in the training,” he said.

One result will be a platform for distance learning. The Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, also in Recife, will help with this.

Decentralised family or community water supply infrastructure, developed and disseminated by ASA, a network of 3,000 social organisations scattered throughout the Brazilian Northeast, is a key experience in this process.

In the 1.03 million square kilometres of drylands where 22 million Brazilians live, 38 percent in rural areas according to the 2010 census, 1.1 million rainwater harvesting tanks have been built so far for human consumption.

An estimated 350,000 more are needed to bring water to the entire rural population in the semiarid Northeast, said Barbosa.

But the most important aspect for agricultural development involves eight “technologies” for obtaining and storing water for crops and livestock. ASA, created in 1999, has helped install this infrastructure on 205,000 farms for this purpose and estimates that another 800 peasant families still need it.

There are farms that are too small to install the infrastructure, or that have other limitations, said Barbosa, who coordinates ASA’s One Land and Two Waters and native seed programmes.

The “calçadão” technique, where water runs down a sloping concrete terrace or even a road into a tank that has a capacity to hold 52,000 litres, is the most widely used system for irrigating vegetables.

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil's semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil’s semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

And in Argentina’s Chaco region, 16,000-litre drinking water tanks are mushrooming.

But tanks for intensive and small farming irrigation are not suitable for the dry Chaco, where livestock is raised on large estates of hundreds of hectares, said Gabriel Seghezzo, executive director of Fundapaz, in an interview by phone with IPS from the city of Salta, capital of the province of the same name, one of those that make up Argentina’s Gran Chaco region.

“Here we need dams in the natural shallows and very deep wells; we have a serious water problem,” he said. “The groundwater is generally of poor quality, very salty or very deep.”

First, peasants and indigenous people face the problem of formalising ownership of their land, due to the lack of land titles. Then comes the challenge of access to water, both for household consumption and agricultural production.

“In some cases there is the possibility of diverting rivers. The Bermejo River overflows up to 60 km from its bed,” he said.

Currently there is an intense local drought, which seems to indicate a deterioration of the climate, urgently requiring adaptation and mitigation responses.

Reforestation and silvopastoral systems are good alternatives, in an area where deforestation is “the main conflict, due to the pressure of the advance of soy and corn monoculture and corporate cattle farming,” he said.

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

More forests would be beneficial for the water, reducing evaporation that is intense due to the heat and hot wind, he added.

Of the “technologies” developed in Brazil, one of the most useful for other semiarid regions is the “underground dam,” Claus Reiner, manager of IFAD programmes in Brazil, told IPS by phone from Brasilia.

The underground dam keeps the surrounding soil moist. It requires a certain amount of work to dig a long, deep trench along the drainage route of rainwater, where a plastic tarp is placed vertically, causing the water to pool during rainy periods. A location is chosen where the natural layer makes the dam impermeable from below.

This principle is important for the Central American Dry Corridor, where “the great challenge is how to infiltrate rainwater into the soil, in addition to collecting it for irrigation and human consumption,” said Ismael Merlos of El Salvador, founder of Funde and director of its Territorial Development Area.

The CADC, which cuts north to south through Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, is defined not as semiarid, but as a sub-humid region, because it rains slightly more there, although in an increasingly irregular manner.

Some solutions are not viable because “75 percent of the farming areas in the Corridor are sloping land, unprotected by organic material, which makes the water run off more quickly into the rivers,” Merlos told IPS by phone from San Salvador.

“In addition, the large irrigation systems that we’re familiar with are not accessible for the poor because of their high cost and the expensive energy for the extraction and pumping of water, from declining sources,” he said.

The most viable alternative, he added, is making better use of rainwater, by building tanks, or through techniques to retain moisture in the soil, such as reforestation and leaving straw and other harvest waste on the ground rather than burning it as peasant farmers continue to do.

“Harmful weather events, which four decades ago occurred one to three times a year, now happen 10 or more times a year, and their effects are more severe in the Dry Zone,” Merlos pointed out.

Funde is a Salvadoran centre for development research and policy formulation that together with Fundapaz, four Brazilian organisations forming part of the ASA network and seven other Latin American groups had been cooperating since 2013, when they created the Latin American Semiarid Platform.

The Platform paved the way for the DAKI-Semiárido Vivo which, using 78 percent of its two million dollar budget, opened up new horizons for synergy among Latin America’s semiarid ecoregions. To this end, said Burneo, it should create a virtuous alliance of “good practices and public policies.”

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Rock Glaciers Supply Water to Highlands Communities in Argentina

Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Long months of community work to install pipes to bring water from rock glaciers to indigenous villages in the Puna region in northwest Argentina served to strengthen collective organisation and community ties in an inhospitable ecoregion, where solidarity and joint efforts are essential to daily survival. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Sardina

Long months of community work to install pipes to bring water from rock glaciers to indigenous villages in the Puna region in northwest Argentina served to strengthen collective organisation and community ties in an inhospitable ecoregion, where solidarity and joint efforts are essential to daily survival. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Sardina

EL CÓNDOR, Argentina, Nov 14 2019 (IPS) – In Argentina’s Puna region, at 4,000 metres above sea level, the color green is rare in the arid landscape, which is dominated by different shades of brown and yellow. In this inhospitable environment, daily life has improved thanks to a system of piping water downhill from rock glaciers to local communities.


“When I was a girl we would walk an hour or two to fetch water from the hills. Since we didn’t have jerry cans or buckets, we carried it in sheepskin bags,” Viviana Gerónimo, a 50-year-old Kolla indigenous woman, tells IPS.

“We also built dams, to retain rainwater. We used it for ourselves and for our animals,” she adds. Gerónimo, a married mother of five, lives in Hornaditas de la Cordillera, an indigenous hamlet of just 15 families in the province of Jujuy in northwest Argentina, a few kilometres from the Bolivian border.

The Puna highlands region is a desert where only a few shrubs grow to less than half a metre in height and where it hardly ever rains – the average is around 200 millimetres a year, almost all of which falls in the southern hemisphere summer: December to March.

These high plateaus located above 3,000 metres altitude in the Andes mountains cover not only northwest Argentina but also northern Chile and southern Bolivia and Peru.

Local inhabitants in the Puna region depend mainly on livestock, although they cannot raise cows due to the poor quality of the pastures.

Geronimo’s family has 80 llamas and 120 sheep – the domestic species that best adapt to the climate of the Puna, although the profit margins are slim. In fact, the local indigenous people rarely shear them anymore because the wool fetches such low prices. They raise them for their own consumption and to sell the surplus meat.

Viviana Gerónimo adds color to the yellow and brown arid landscape of Hornaditas de la Cordillera, one of the Kolla indigenous communities that now have water for the consumption of the 15 local families and for their sheep, llamas and vicuñas, as well as subsistence crops, in this Andean highlands region in the northwest Argentine province of Jujuy. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Viviana Gerónimo adds color to the yellow and brown arid landscape of Hornaditas de la Cordillera, one of the Kolla indigenous communities that now have water for the consumption of the 15 local families and for their sheep, llamas and vicuñas, as well as subsistence crops, in this Andean highlands region in the northwest Argentine province of Jujuy. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The Kolla are the largest of the dozen or so indigenous peoples in Jujuy, where 7.8 percent of the population was recognised as native in the last national census in 2010 – more than three times the national figure of only 2.4 percent. Officially, there are 27,631 members of the Kolla people, although the real number is probably much higher, as there are more than 100 Kolla communities in the Puna.

Water brings change

The water collection system benefits the indigenous communities of Hornaditas de la Cordillera, Escobar Tres Cerritos and Cholacor, and the town of El Condor, the municipal seat, which has a primary and secondary school and first aid clinic.

El Cóndor is an hour’s drive from La Quiaca, the main Argentine city on the border with Bolivia. It has about 400 inhabitants, while the communities of the rest of the municipality number less than 100 people in all.

Climate change also seems to be playing its part in exacerbating the scarcity of water. “Although the biggest problem here has always been water, our grandparents said it used to rain more,” says 53-year-old Ricardo Tolaba, another resident of Hornaditas.

“In the past, the ponds, where underground water comes to the surface, dried up in June or July, after the summer rains. Now they dry up in March or April,” he told IPS.

The most important resource are the so-called rock glaciers: moving ice in the mountains covered in rocks and debris which keep them from melting; invisible but strategic water reserves.

The province of Jujuy has 255 rock glaciers, according to the National Glacier Inventory published by the Argentine government in 2018.

With government support, the local communities built a system of underground pipes that run down the slopes for 33 kilometres, using the force of gravity to pipe water to different villages.

“Back in 2007 we began to talk to the communities about how we could build a solution to the lack of water,” says agronomist Julio Sardina, a technician with the Secretariat of Family Agriculture who has worked with the indigenous settlements of Jujuy for more than 20 years.

Long months of community work to install pipes to bring water from rock glaciers to indigenous villages in the Puna region in northwest Argentina served to strengthen collective organisation and community ties in an inhospitable ecoregion, where solidarity and joint efforts are essential to daily survival. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Sardina

Long months of community work to install pipes to bring water from rock glaciers to indigenous villages in the Puna region in northwest Argentina served to strengthen collective organisation and community ties in an inhospitable ecoregion, where solidarity and joint efforts are essential to daily survival. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Sardina

“The problem was that people in the lower-lying areas didn’t have water for their animals. And some wanted to plant crops but couldn’t because of the lack of water,” he adds during his tour with IPS through the different communities participating in the project, which are precariously connected by dirt roads in poor condition.

Sardina explains that the Secretariat of Family Agriculture provided the materials to build the system, thanks to funding from the Socioeconomic Inclusion in Rural Areas Project (Pisear), a national government programme.

From the outset, it was stipulated that the work had to be carried out by the members of the beneficiary communities.

“The project, besides bringing water to the villages, helped the communities organise and forge closer ties, since the families were isolated from each other,” says Sardina.

The system benefits some 600 people in an area where families are often nomadic, moving around to find the best pastures. Many Kolla Indians have communal land titles, which is not common among native peoples in Argentina.

When it reaches the communities, the water is stored in a tank. It is also piped to some of the houses and to water troughs for livestock.

But the greatest impact of the project was on agriculture, which has always been limited in the Puna region by the lack of water.

In the high Andean plateau of the Puna, in northwest Argentina, the biggest need was always water, says Ricardo Tolaba. People walked for hours to find it and carry it back in small containers, for human and animal consumption. With the new community-built system that pipes it from rock glaciers, "things began to change," he adds. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In the high Andean plateau of the Puna, in northwest Argentina, the biggest need was always water, says Ricardo Tolaba. People walked for hours to find it and carry it back in small containers, for human and animal consumption. With the new community-built system that pipes it from rock glaciers, “things began to change,” he adds. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

David Quiquinte, also from Hornaditas, proudly relates that “a 40-centimetre-deep ditch was dug, where the pipe was buried to prevent freezing,” since in the wintertime temperatures in the Puna region can drop to 25 degrees Celsius below zero.

“For nearly six months, the entire community threw its effort into this work… except for one or two people,” the 40-year-old local resident told IPS, without concealing his irritation with those who didn’t help out.

During meetings with technicians from the Secretariat of Family Agriculture, the indigenous communities in Jujuy’s Puna region raised their concern about the growth of the population of vicuñas, a wild South American camelid native to the Andean highlands.

The vicuña came close to extinction in the 1960s, but recovered thanks to protection measures agreed by the countries of the Puna ecoregion.

“We needed water, especially because there wasn’t enough for the animals. And in the meetings about the water system project, many people complained that the vicuñas were eating the grass needed by the llamas and sheep,” Luis Gerónimo, 30, who lives in the community of Escobar Tres Cerritos, told IPS.

That is how the idea arose for training for the “chaccu”, an ancestral practice that the Kolla Indians have taken up again, as have other indigenous communities in Bolivia and Peru, which consists of capturing, shearing and releasing wild vicuñas.

“We’ve been practicing the chaccu for five years and people no longer see vicuñas as a problem. Today they are taken care of. The llamas and sheep graze in the lowlands and the hills are left to the vicuñas,” says Luis Gerónimo.

The chaccu and the water project pursue the same ultimate goal: to enable people from the communities to stay in Jujuy’s Puna region instead of migrating to the cities.

“I am one of the people who went to work in different parts of Argentina and came back. And I’m convinced that we have the resources to keep young people in the Puna,” says Tolaba.

He points out that “the main need in the Puna has always been water. Walking for hours to fetch water or to take the animals to drink are things we’ve been used to since we were kids here.”

But “with this project, things have begun to change,” he adds.

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Translating Ambition to Action: High Hopes for United Nations Action Week

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Conferences, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Cameron Diver is Deputy Director-General, the Pacific Community (SPC)

New Caledonia, Sep 13 2019 (IPS) – In less than 10 days, countries from around the planet will come together in New York for the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. I look forward to representing the Pacific Community (SPC) at this important event, and throughout “Action Week” during the upcoming UN General Assembly.


Cameron Diver

The interconnections and synergies between major issues of global concern and the key role multilateralism and international cooperation can play in helping tackle these challenges are illustrated by the agenda of the week from 23 to 27 September. Underpinned by the Sustainable Development Goals, each of the high-level summits will focus on commitments to accelerate action across climate change, enhance efforts to secure healthy, peaceful and prosperous lives for all, mobilise sufficient financing to realise the 2030 Agenda and address the specific issues and vulnerabilities of small island developing states.

The week of summits kicks off with a focus on climate action. And this is, in my mind, highly appropriate. The multiplier effect of climate change undermines our efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals, it increases the challenges of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, it intensifies competition and the potential for conflict around natural resources and it poses the single greatest existential threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the globe. From where I stand, the science on climate change is clear. To take only these examples, the IPCC Special Reports on the impacts of global warming of 1.5° above pre-industrial levels and climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems provide us with the most robust, high quality evidence base to understand the significant negative impact climate change is already having on our natural environment, on the wellbeing of people, ecosystems, flora and fauna and the massive and potentially irreversible consequences of inaction. As regards our ocean, the upcoming Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate is likely to confirm what the islands of the Blue Pacific continent, and others whose cultures, traditions and livelihoods are deeply attached to the ocean, have already sensed: the climate crisis is a real and present threat to ocean and coastal ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.

The stakes are high, but where there is a threat there is also an opportunity. If we act now, there is still have time effectively to tackle the climate crisis! To put it simply: ambition without action is insufficient and simply not an option. SPC is committed to working with our Member States, international and regional partners to translate climate ambition into tangible climate action, for both mitigation and adaptation. The benefits could be huge, with the Global Commission on Adaptation estimating that investing $1.8 trillion in climate adaptation globally in just five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits. We are also convinced that we must collectively harness the synergies between, for example, climate and the ocean, biodiversity, health, security, economic development, food systems, land use, gender and many other development areas to fully exploit the potential of the SDGs and ensure that future pathways to sustainable development are integrated, inclusive, nature-friendly, climate-informed and resilient. SPC is already implementing this approach with its Members and partners. One illustration is our EU funded PROTEGE project, whose intended outcomes include a transition to sustainable integrated agriculture and sound forestry resource management; sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management that is integrated in and adapted to island economies; sustainable integrated water resource management; and invasive alien species control, all against a backdrop of climate-change hazards that require ecosystem and biodiversity protection, resilience and restoration.

As was recently remarked to me at the Green Climate Fund Global Programming Conference in Korea: “we already know what we must do. We need to stop talking and start doing”. It is my sincere hope that “Action Week” in New York will indeed be a turning point for “doing”; a catalyst for firm, measurable commitments to tangible actions that match the level of ambition already expressed to address the climate crisis and the multiple development challenges that remain as we approach the final decade of the 2030 Agenda. If we do not translate ambition into action, we will fail ourselves, we will fail future generations and we will fail our planet. If, however, we take up the challenge and take sustained, coordinated and integrated action, we can win the battle against climate change, create new and innovative opportunities for development, deliver on the promise of the Global Goals and trace a positive pathway to new era of resilient and sustainable development. High hopes indeed…

 

India Promotes South-South Cooperation, but Key Questions Unaddressed

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture

Opinion

Joydeep Gupta is the South Asia Director for the Third Pole.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi advocated, “greater South-South cooperation in addressing climate change, biodiversity and land degradation.” Courtesy: GCIS

At his speech at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) summit in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised South-South cooperation and technology solutions, but issues of land ownership dog the ongoing negotiations.

As the second week of the UNCCD Conference of Parties (COP) kicked off in Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted South-South cooperation and issues of land degradation.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the high level segment, he said that it was increasingly accepted that climate change impacts were leading to a loss of land, plants and animal species, and that it was causing, “land degradation of various kinds (including) rise of sea levels, wave action, and erratic rainfall and storms”.

All of these issues have a significant impact on India, and other developing countries, and as such, the Prime Minister advocated, “greater South-South cooperation in addressing climate change, biodiversity and land degradation.”

He said India would act both internally and externally on this. Domestically, he said that India was increasing its commitment to restore 21 million hectares of land by 2030 to 26 million hectares, an increase of 5 million hectares. The co-benefit of this would be that it would help create a carbon sink for 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon through increased tree cover.

On external action, he said that India was, “happy to help other friendly countries cost-effective satellite and space technologies,” and that it would be creating a Centre for Excellence at the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education in Dehradun to promote South-South cooperation, where other countries could access technology and training.

Hard questions

Nevertheless, this avoids some of the hard questions that have been dogging the UNCCD COP. Who owns the land? Who is responsible when the land is no longer able to support a livelihood, and a farmer is forced to migrate?

These are not questions anyone thought about when they launched the UNCCD 25 years ago. But since degradation of land due to a variety of reasons precedes desertification, these questions are increasingly worrying policymakers, especially from developing countries. At the ongoing New Delhi summit, the issues have come to the fore, and have divided governments along the lines of developed and developing nations, a process familiar to observers of UN climate negotiations.

Despite Narendra Modi’s speech at the high level segment, these issues remained unresolved, with bureaucrats awaiting instructions from the 100-odd ministers gathered at the Indian capital.

The NGOs who work on farming issues are clear that land degradation cannot be halted unless farmers around the world have guaranteed rights over the land on which they grow food for everyone. This may sound like a no-brainer, but estimates show that globally only around 12% of all farmers can claim legal rights over the land they till. To this, experts would like to add the land held in various forms of community ownership, sometimes by indigenous communities. But few countries have strong laws to protect such ownership.

In the first week of the New Delhi summit, developing country governments have wanted this issue of land tenure being discussed at the UNCCD forum, and developed countries – led by the US delegation – have opposed the inclusion. The industrialised countries say it is an issue of different laws in different countries, and discussing it in the UN is not going to help.

Land tenure

But, with land degradation being inextricably tied up with climate change and biodiversity, the urgency of the situation may force UNCCD to discuss land tenure in this and future meetings, and to come up with possible solutions.

The solutions are not always as straightforward as they may seem, warned UNCCD chief scientist Baron Orr in a conversation with thethirdpole.net. Think of what a farmer – especially a smallholder farmer – is likely to do if offered a high price for land. Most of them are likely to sell, as evidenced by the mushrooming malls, offices and homes all around the current summit venue, which was all farmland just about a decade ago. And what happens to our food supply if this replicated globally?

Land tenure is important to halt degradation because people naturally provide better protection to land they own. But it is not enough. A farmer faced with competitors using chemical fertilisers and pesticides is not going to move to organic farming just because that is better for the soil.

Most farmers cannot afford to do that. They need help, as was seen in India when the state of Sikkim pledged to do only organic farming. Sikkim is a relatively small state – replicating that kind of help on a global or even national scale may need far more money than is available for the purpose, as Orr pointed out.

Land tenure is also an area where women face discrimination in a big way. Data journalism site IndiaSpend reported that 73.2% of the country’s rural women workers are farmers, but have only 12.8% of India’s land holdings.

Migration: the hot potato

Farmers being forced to migrate because their farms can no longer support them due to land degradation and climate change is the hottest potato of them all. Developed countries are united in opposing this major “push” factor in migration, insisting that people migrate only due to “pull” factors such as better economic opportunities. Developing countries, especially those from the Sahel belt stretching from the western to the eastern coast of Africa, point to numerous instances where farmers are forced off land gone barren, and insist on this issue being discussed by UNCCD.

Former UNCCD chief Monique Barbut has said almost all Africans trying to move to Europe are doing so due to land degradation and drought. Without putting it in words that strong, current UNCCD chief Ibrahim Thiaw has backed the inclusion of migration in the conference agenda.

As host government and conference president, India may have to use all its diplomatic skills if this knot is to be untied during this summit – an especially tricky manoeuvre because India has consistently refused to accept that immigrants from Bangladesh are entering this country because their farms can no longer support them.

And it is not just migration across countries. At a meeting organised on the sidelines of the summit by local government organisation ICLEI, mayor after mayor got up to say farmers are coming into their cities in increasing numbers due to land degradation and climate change, but they have no budget to provide any housing, water, electricity, roads or any form of livelihood to these millions of immigrants.

Still, developed country delegations insist UNCCD is not the right forum to discuss migration. What all 196 governments and the European Union agree upon in the next day or two remains to be seen.

Human efforts

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the conference president, had said at the opening, “If human actions have created the problems of climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss, it is the strong intent, technology and intellect that will make (the) difference. It is human efforts that will undo the damage and improve the habitats. We meet here now to ensure that this happens.” This foreshadowed what the Prime Minister said today.

He pointed out that 122 countries, among them Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa, which are among the largest and most populous nations on earth, “have agreed to make the Sustainable Development Goal of achieving land degradation neutrality a national target.”

Thiaw drew attention to the warnings sounded by recent scientific assessments and the growing public alarm at the frequency of weather-related disasters such as drought, forest fires, flash floods and soil loss. He urged delegates to be mindful of the opportunities for change that are opening up, and take action. The response of governments from developed countries will decide how useful the current summit will be.

The world is in trouble otherwise. The current pace of land transformation is putting a million species at risk of extinction. One in four hectares of this converted land is no longer usable due to unsustainable land management practices. These trends have put the well-being of 3.2 billion people around the world at risk. In tandem with climate change, this may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.

This story was first published on thethirdpole.net and can be found here.

 

Achieving Global Consensus on How to Slow Down Loss of Land

Asia-Pacific, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Conferences, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Regional Categories, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations

Combating Desertification and Drought

India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, Prakash Javadekar (left), said he would be happy if CoP 14 could achieve consensus on such difficult issues as drought management and land tenure. Courtesy: Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Sep 4 2019 (IPS) – Expectations are high, perhaps too high, as the 14th Conference of the Parties (CoP 14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), now into the third day of its two-week session, is being held outside the smog-filled Indian capital of New Delhi.


At the inauguration on Monday, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, Prakash Javadekar, soon after ceremonies to mark his taking over as president of the Convention for the next two years, said he would be happy if CoP 14 could achieve consensus on such difficult issues as drought management and land tenure.

Other issues on the agenda of CoP14, themed ‘Restore land, Sustain future’ and located in Greater Noida, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, include negotiations over consumption and production flows that have a bearing on agriculture and urbanisation, restoration of ecosystems and dealing with climate change.

According to Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the Convention, CoP14 negotiations would be guided by, its own scientific papers as well as the Special Report on Climate Change and Land of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in August.

The IPCC report covered interlinked, overlapping issues that are at the core of CoP14 deliberations — climate, change, desertification, and degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.

“Sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies,” the IPCC report said. It also identified land use change as the largest driver of biodiversity loss and as having the greatest impact on the environment.

Javadekar said he saw hope in the fact that of the 196 parties to the Convention 122, including some of the most populous like Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa have agreed to make the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN) targets by 2030 as national objectives.

But the difficulty of seeing results on the ground can be gauged from India’s own difficult situation. Nearly 30 percent of India’s 328 million hectares, supporting 1.3 billion people, has become degraded through deforestation, over-cultivation, soil-erosion and wetland depletion, according to a satellite survey conducted in 2016 by the Indian Space Research Organisation.

A study, conducted last year by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), an independent think-tank based in New Delhi, estimates India’s losses from land degradation and change in land use to be worth 47 billion dollars in 2014—2015.

The question before CoP14 is how participating countries can slow down loss of land and along with it biodiversity threatening to impact 3.2 billion people across the world. “Three out of every four hectares have been altered from their natural states and the productivity of one every four hectares of land has been declining,” according to UNCCD.

Running in parallel to CoP14 is the 14th session of UNCCD’s committee on science and technology (CST14), a subsidiary body with stated objectives — estimating soil organic carbon lost as a result of land degradation, addressing the ‘land-drought nexus’ through land-based interventions and translating available science into policy options for participating countries.

On Tuesday, as CoP4 launched into substantive business, the participants at the CST and other subsidiary bodies began to voice real apprehensions and demands.

Bhutan representing the Asia Pacific group, highlighted the need for cooperation at all levels to disseminate and translate identified technologies and knowledge into direct benefits for local land users.

Bangladesh pointed out that LDN targets are sometimes linked to transboundary water resources and also called for mobilising additional resources for capacity building.

Colombia, speaking for the Latin America and Caribbean group, appreciated the value of research by the scientific panels, but urged introduction of improved technologies and mitigation strategies to reduce the direct impacts of drought on ecosystems, starting with soil  degradation.

Russia, on behalf of Central and Eastern Europe, mooted the establishment of technical centres in the region to support the generation of scientific evidence to prevent and manage droughts, sustainable use of forests and peatlands and monitoring of sand and dust storms.

Civil society organisations, led by the Cape Town-based Environmental Monitoring Group, were also critical of the UNCCD for putting too much emphasis on LDN and demanded optimisation of land use through practical solutions that would ensure that carbon is retained in the soil.

“Retaining carbon in the soil is of particular value to India and its neighbouring countries, which presently have the world’s greatest rainwater runoffs into the sea,” says Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a New Delhi based NGO, working on the water and environment sectors.

“What South Asian countries need to do urgently is to improve the rainwater harvesting so as to recharge groundwater aquifers and local water bodies in a given catchment so that water is available in the post-monsoon period that increasingly see severe droughts,” Thakkar tells IPS. “This is where governments can be supportive.”

Benefits such as preventing soil degradation and consequent landslides that have become a common feature in South India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

A study published in May said half of the area around 16 of India’s 24 major river basins is facing  droughts due to lowered soil moisture levels while at least a third of its 18 river basins has become non-resilient to vegetation droughts.

Responding to the suggestions and demands the Secretariat highlighted  recommendations to ensure mainstreaming of LDN targets in national strategies and action programmes, partnerships on science-policy to increase awareness and understanding of LDN and collaborations to assess finance and capacity development needs.

In all, the delegates, who include 90 ministers and more than 7,000 participants drawn from among government officials, civil society and the scientific community from the 197 parties will thrash out 30  decision texts and draw up action plans to strengthen land-use policies and address emerging threats such as droughts, forest fires, dust storms and forced migration.

“The agenda shows that governments have come to CoP14 ready to find solutions to many difficult, knotty and emerging policy issues,” said Thiaw at the inaugural session. The conference ends with the parties signing a ‘New Delhi Declaration’ outlining actions to meet UNCCD goals for 2018-2030.

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Chilean Schools Recycle Greywater to Combat Drought

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Water & Sanitation

The principal of the Samo Alto rural school, Omar Santander, shows organic tomatoes in the greenhouse built by teachers, students and their families, who raise the crops irrigated with rainwater or recycled water in Coquimbo, a region of northern Chile where rainfall is scarce. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The principal of the Samo Alto rural school, Omar Santander, shows organic tomatoes in the greenhouse built by teachers, students and their families, who raise the crops irrigated with rainwater or recycled water in Coquimbo, a region of northern Chile where rainfall is scarce. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

OVALLE, Chile, Jul 4 2019 (IPS) – Children from the neighboring municipalities of Ovalle and Río Hurtado in northern Chile are harvesting rain and recycling greywater in their schools to irrigate fruit trees and vegetable gardens, in an initiative aimed at combating the shortage of water in this semi-arid region.


And other youngsters who are completing their education at a local polytechnic high school built a filter that will optimise the reuse and harvesting of water.

“The care of water has to start with the children,” Alejandra Rodríguez, who has a son who attends the school in Samo Alto, a rural village on the slopes of the Andes Mountains in Río Hurtado, a small municipality of about 4,000 inhabitants in the Coquimbo region, told IPS.

“My son brought me a tomato he harvested, to use the seeds. For them, the harvest is the prize. He planted his garden next to the house and it was very exciting,” said Maritza Vega, a teacher at the school, which has 77 students ranging in age from four to 15.

The principal of the school, Omar Santander, told IPS during a tour of rural schools in the area involved in the project that “the Hurtado River (which gives the municipality its name) was traditionally generous, but today it only has enough water for us to alternate the crops that are irrigated, every few days. People fight over watering rights.”

The Samo Alto school collects rainwater and recycles water after different uses. “The water is then sent to a double filter,” he explained, pointing out that they have a pond that holds 5,000 liters.

The monthly water bill is much lower, but Santander believes that the most important thing “is the awareness it has generated in the children.”

“There used to be water here, and the adults’ habits come from back then. The students help raise awareness in their families. We want the environmental dimension to be a tool for life,” he said.

For Admalén Flores, a 13-year-old student, “the tomatoes you harvest are tastier and better,” while Alexandra Honores, also 13, said “my grandfather now reuses water.”

El Guindo primary school, located 10 kilometers from the city of Ovalle, the municipal seat, in a town known as a hotspot for drug sales, performed poorly in tests until three years ago.

At that time, the principal, Patricio Bórquez, and the science teacher, Gisela Jaime, launched a process of greywater recovery. They also planted trees and native species of plants to adapt to the dry environment of the municipality of 111,000 inhabitants, located about 400 kilometers north of Santiago.

Four students, ages 13 and 14, talk to IPS about how the water reuse project has made them aware of the importance of taking care of water in the semi-arid territory where they live, in a classroom at the rural school of El Guindo, in the municipality of Ovalle, Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Four students, ages 13 and 14, talk to IPS about how the water reuse project has made them aware of the importance of taking care of water in the semi-arid territory where they live, in a classroom at the rural school of El Guindo, in the municipality of Ovalle, Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

“The project was born because there was no vegetation,” said the teacher. Today they recover 8,000 litres of water a month. “Teaching care for the environment provides a life skill,” said Bórquez.

“Our school had the stigma of being in a place rife with drug addiction. Today in Ovalle we are known as the school with the most programs. We placed third in science,” she said.

Jaime described the experience as “gratifying” because it has offered “tools to grow and create awareness among children and the entire community about the importance of caring for water and other resources.”

Geographer Nicolás Schneider, founder of the “Un Alto en el Desierto” Foundation, told IPS that his non-governmental organisation estimates that one million litres of greywater have been recovered after eight years of work with rural schools in Ovalle.

In this arid municipality with variable rainfall, “only 37.6 mm of rainwater fell in 2018 – well below the normal average for the 1981-2010 period of 105.9 mm,” Catalina Cortés, an expert with Chile’s meteorology institute, told IPS from Santiago.

Schneider describes the water situation as critical in the Coquimbo region, which is on the southern border of the Atacama Desert and where 90 percent of the territory is eroded and degraded.

“Due to climate change, it is raining less and less and when it does, the rainfall is very concentrated. Both the lack of rain and the concentration of rainfall cause serious damage to the local population,” she said.

Innovative recycling filter

With guidance from their teachers, students at the Ovalle polytechnic high school built a filtration system devised by Eduardo Leiva, a professor of chemistry and pharmacy at the Catholic University. The filter seeks to raise the technical standard with which greywater is purified.

Duan Urqueta, 17, a fourth-year electronics student at the Ovalle polytechnic high school, describes the award-winning greywater filter he helped to build. Initially, units will be installed in eight rural schools in this municipality in northern Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Duan Urqueta, 17, a fourth-year electronics student at the Ovalle polytechnic high school, describes the award-winning greywater filter he helped to build. Initially, units will be installed in eight rural schools in this municipality in northern Chile. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The prototype recycles the greywater from the bathrooms used by the 1,200 students at the polytechnic high school. This water is used to irrigate three areas with 48 different species of trees. Similar filters will be installed in eight rural schools in Ovalle.

The quality of the recovered water will improve due to the filter built thanks to a project by the Innovation Fund for Competitiveness of the regional government of Coquimbo, with the participation of the Catholic University, the “Un Alto en el Desierto” Foundation, and the Ovalle polytechnic high school.

The prototype was built by 18 students and eight teachers of mechanics, industrial assembly, electronics, electricity and technical drawing, and includes two 1,000-litre ponds.

The primary pond holds water piped from the bathroom sinks by gravity which is then pumped to a filter consisting of three columns measuring 0.35 meters high and 0.40 meters in diameter.

“The filter material in each column…can be activated charcoal, sand or gravel,” said Hernán Toro, the head teacher of industrial assembly.

Toro told IPS that “the prototype has a column with zeolite and two columns of activated charcoal. The columns are mounted on a metal structure 2.60 meters high.”

View of the water cleaning filter designed at the Ovalle polytechnic high school and built by a group of teachers and students with funding from the government of the region of Coquimbo, in northern Chile. Each unit costs 2,170 dollars and it will promote water recycling in the schools in the semi-arid municipality. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

View of the water cleaning filter designed at the Ovalle polytechnic high school and built by a group of teachers and students with funding from the government of the region of Coquimbo, in northern Chile. Each unit costs 2,170 dollars and it will promote water recycling in the schools in the semi-arid municipality. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The water is pumped from the pond to the filter’s highest column, passes through the filter material and by gravity runs sequentially through the other columns. Finally, the water is piped into the secondary pond and by means of another electric pump it reaches the irrigation system.

Duan Urqueta, a 17-year-old electronics student, told IPS that they took soil and water samples in seven towns in Ovalle and “we used the worst water to test the filter that is made here at the high school with recyclable materials.”

In 2018, “we won first place with the filter at the Science Fair in La Serena, the capital of the region of Coquimbo,” he said proudly.

Pablo Cortés, a 17-year-old student of industrial assembly, said the project “changed me as a person.”

Toro said the experience “has been enriching and has had a strong social impact. We are sowing the seeds of ecological awareness in the students.”

“It’s a programme that offers learning, service, and assistance to the community. Everyone learns. We have seen people moved to the point of tears in their local communities,” the teacher said.

Now they are going to include solar panels in the project, which will cut energy costs, while they already have an automation system to discharge water, which legally can only be stored for a short time.

Eight schools, including the ones in Samo Alto and El Guindo, are waiting for the new filters, which cost 2,170 dollars per unit.

Schneider believes, however, that at the macro level “water recycling is insufficient” to combat the lack of water in this semi-arid zone. And he goes further, saying “there is an absence of instruments for territorial planning or management of watersheds.”

“Under the current water regulatory framework, the export agribusiness, mainly of fruit, has taken over the valleys, concentrating water use…and the government turns a blind eye,” he complained.