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Interview: UN official urges more knowledge about individual country's land loss

by Xinhua writer Shen Zhonghao

BONN, Germany, June 17 (Xinhua) -- It is not a matter of technology, finance or manpower, but lack of knowledge about land that mainly blocks the actual efforts of human society to fight against desertification, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Monique Barbut told Xinhua.

Desertification, along with climate change and loss of biodiversity, has been identified as the greatest challenge to sustainable development in the world, Barbut said preceding the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) which is observed annually on June 17 since 1995.


As regards the main challenges the world is now facing to combat desertification, lack of knowledge about land is ranked as the top one, according to the head of UNCCD Secretariat.

"Many countries do not yet measure how much degraded land they have and how much land they are losing every year for other development issues," she said.

So it is essential to develop scientific knowledge in those countries to make them well known about the real situation they are facing, for which the UNCCD is now trying to help.

In addition to building a global outlook as well as developing a real map on land degradation for the world, the UNCCD has already started to create an index, which will classify countries across the world on basis of their own land degradation.

"We think it is a good incentive to ask countries to realize such number of things, and at least invest in the knowledge." Barbut told Xinhua, "We hope to have the first index by next year."


As head of UNCCD Secretariat since 2013, Barbut has been committed to the implementation of the UN Convention, the 10-Year Strategy of the UNCCD adopted in 2007 as well as worldwide issues of desertification, land degradation, drought etc.

"The convention is advancing a lot," said Barbut, "actually it is our wish that the parties of the convention adopt during that Conference of the Parties (COP) a new target to follow implementation which is called 'land degradation neutrality'."

The 12th Session of COP is scheduled to take place in October in Ankara, at which Barbut expected to reach extensive agreement of that concept.

The concept of "land degradation neutrality", which also belonged to UN sustainable development goals expected to be approved by UN Summit on the post-2015 Agenda in September, meant that the extent of land destruction must be entirely neutralized by the same extent of land restoration, interpreted Barbut.


"Attainment of food security for all through sustainable food systems" was defined as the focus of WDCD 2015, said Barbut.

"People have to know 98 percent of all our calories intake are from the land, they are not from anywhere else," she said, adding that the conjunction between land and food security must be taken seriously.

A few years from now to 2050, there would be 9.2 billion or 9.3 billion people on this planet and people would need to increase food production, for which 4 million hectares of new land every year should be put into place, said Barbut, "so where is that land, how precious it is, is going to be more and more the subject of the years to come."

What is a sustainable food system? In Barbut's opinion, a sustainable food system starts with saying "NO" to food waste.

"People have to learn how to buy food that they are really going to consume, so that not to waste," she said.

Secondly, people have to develop more and more agroforestry systems, which use less pesticide, grow better food and employ a lot of people, according to Barbut.

China has a fabulous example, she said, while picking up one piece of root of licorice from her tea table, "this is licorice and it is the basis by which Inner Mongolian people fight against desertification ... not only it is fabulous for fighting against desertification but also it is the basis of most of Chinese medicine."

It was very impressive that the Chinese people by planting licorice to transform deserted land brought not only food security but also big economic incentive at one point, said Barbut.

The huge agroforestry programs in China also impressed Barbut significantly.

"Actually my new year card of this year has been a picture of the great green wall of China, which I have sent to everybody in the world to show that it can be done," she said.

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