Author Archives: Emily Davila

Land Degradation and the Rural Poor: Economic and Social Aspects

Plenary I Economic and social impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought (49)

Edward B. Barbier is the John S. Bugas Professor of Economics at the University of Wyoming. He also blogs at Triple Crisis.

Since 1950, the estimated population in developing economies on “fragile lands” has doubled.  These fragile environments are prone to land degradation, and consist of upland areas, forest systems and drylands that suffer from low agricultural productivity, and areas that present significant constraints for intensive agriculture. Today, nearly 1.3 billion people – almost a fifth of the world’s population – live in such areas in low and middle income economies.  Almost half of the people in these fragile environments (631 million) consist of the rural poor, who throughout the developing world outnumber the poor living on favored lands by 2 to 1.

In addition, around 430 million people in developing countries live in remote rural areas.  These are locations with poor market access, requiring five or more hours to reach a market town of 5,000 or more.  Of the rural populations in such remote regions, nearly half are found in less favored areas, which are semi and semi-arid regions characterized by frequent moisture stress that limits agricultural production.  Again, people in remote rural regions tend to be some of the poorest in the developing world.

To put these numbers in perspective, the total population in the richest countries of the world is around 850 million.  In contrast, as noted above, 1.3 billion people in the fragile environments in developing countries, and 430 million people inhabit remote rural areas.

The clustering of rural populations in less-favored areas and fragile environments is also likely to continue into the foreseeable future, given current rural population and poverty trends in developing economies.   Although from 1981 to 2005 the number of extreme poor globally declined from 1.9 billion to 1.4 billion, current development policies are not winning the war on poverty in the rural areas of low and middle income countries.  First, despite rapid global urbanization, the rural population of developing regions continues to grow, at just over 1.0% per year in recent decades.  Second, around three-quarters of the developing world’s poor still live in rural areas, even allowing for the higher cost of living facing the poor in urban areas. In general, about twice as many poor people live in rural than in urban areas in the developing world.  As a consequence, rural populations in poor countries are growing, rural poverty is endemic, and substantial spatial poverty traps are widespread.

Overcoming such spatial poverty traps and alleviating rural poverty in many developing economies will therefore require a much more robust strategy than current global economic development efforts.  Specific policies need to be targeted at the poor where they live, especially the rural poor clustered in fragile environments and remote areas. This will require involving the poor in these areas in payment for ecosystem services, targeting investments directly to the rural poor, reducing their dependence on exploiting environmental resources, and tackling their lack of access to affordable credit, insurance, land, and transport.  Where possible, efforts should be made to boost rural employment opportunities, especially for those poor households dependent on outside labor employment.

Bringing drylands poverty to the radar screens of science and policy

–Prof. Antonio Rocha Magalhães, Chair, UNCCD Committee on Science and Technology

One issue of concern to me is related to the fact that the dry lands do not attract enough attention from the decision makers, in general. Yet, dry lands cover 40% of the land territory of the planet and are home to one third of the global population. And most of the poverty, which constitutes the real development problem of the world, is concentrated in the dry lands.

Drylands are fragile and highly vulnerable to climate variability and change. DLDD – desertification, land degradation and droughts – is a global problem that particularly affects these ecosystems. So the livelihoods of the poor inhabitants of the drylands are also likely to be among the most vulnerable to global warming. But their plight is rarely voiced or given serious consideration in relevant global and national policy arenas.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification is the only global instrument we possess to deal with the scourge of desertification, land degradation, drought and poverty in the dry lands. In this sense, it is more than an environmental Convention. It is also a development Convention to address poverty eradication in a sustainable way.  But giving priority to these themes has been an arduous task.

Yet science too, has not given sufficient attention to these issue areas. On the one hand, the resources to promote research and science in dry lands issues is seriously inadequate. Consequently, information to be delivered to policy makers and land users is insufficient, and a lack of awareness on the subject follows suit. It is a vicious cycle.

Scientific conferences, of the kind that is taking place in Bonn, are an avenue to break this cycle. The UNCCD 2nd Scientific Conference has improved our knowledge base on the economics of DLDD, with a view to bringing policy makers crucial information on the costs of combating desertification versus the costs of inaction. The foundation of the first two conferences gives me hope that the scientific community will be mobilized substantially so that there is a body of knowledge to tackle the complexity of DLDD for the creation of sound and informed decisions.

Losing ground…time to move from thoughts to action

Walter Amman, GRF, Press Conference, Tuesday 9 April 2013

Walter Amman, President Global Risk Forum GRF Davos, speaks at the 2nd Scientific Conference press conference.

Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (DLDD) are hardly recognized as a global challenge with economic impact. It is a creeping disaster perceived as a problem mainly concerning the African continent and some other drylands.

But there is no way we can ignore the importance of sustainable (dry)land management anymore. Worldwide an area three times as large as Switzerland of fertile soil is lost annually caused by human induced land degradation with huge implications for the affected population.

Hundreds of millions of people in over 100 countries are affected in all continents, and the number is rising. Crop losses of up to 50% in some countries are the result. The annual global loss of 75 billion tons of soil sums up to an estimated global economic loss of $ 400 billion. 42% of the world’s poorest people live in degraded areas. During a drought the poorest households experience crop-income losses that are proportionally higher than the wealthiest.

DLDD is not only threatening the 1/3 of the global population living in drylands, it has direct impacts on every one of us and poses future generations at risk to suffer from the consequences of land degradation: hunger and poverty, loss in biodiversity, loss of carbon storage capacity, etc.. Today 80% of armed conflicts occur in arid lands caused by resource scarcity. The growing number of economic migrants and environmental refugees are exacerbating problems and tensions in host communities, and are further degrading land.

DLDD ruins ecosystems and their goods and services thus bearing enormous risks for sustainable development, economic prosperity, and social stability.

What is desperately needed is a global awareness that we are currently cutting off the branch we are sitting on! Fertile soil is our most valuable non-renewable resource. It lays the foundation for life, feeding the billions populating our Planet.

As President of the Global Risk Forum GRF Davos, I see DLDD at the core of climate change triggering poverty, hunger and hindering sustainable development. What we urgently need is an Integrative Risk Management approach to combatting DLDD considering all phases of the Risk Cycle and integrating all stakeholders and decision makers. Only an integrative and holistic approach will lead to sustainable land management.

Sustainable Land Management ensures healthy soils with positive impacts on economic growth, food security and laying the foundation for sustainable development.

Healthy soil is essential to the survival of humanity. We need to move from Thoughts to Action now! The UNCCD 2nd Scientific Conference is an important step. The conference will assess the economics of desertification, sustainable land management and resilience of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas and will raise the awareness that the cost of inactivity is much higher than the cost of actively combatting DLDD.

Walter Ammann is President and CEO of the Global Risk Forum GRF Davos, selected lead institution to organize the UNCCD 2nd Scientific Conference under the guidance of the CST Bureau.

Better evidence for better policies. A paradigm shift is needed to counter vulnerability and increase people’s resilience

Plenary I Economic and social impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought (48)
Our fight against desertification and land degradation requires a more comprehensive approach, strengthening resilience to all kinds of  political, economic, social and ecological risks and instabilities.

Dealing with that complexity in a given spatial context calls for better knowledge, for better evidence. There is no need for rocket science. But  a whole range of disciplines has to contribute. And they all should not  just contribute individually, they should instead contribute jointly.

A  “nexus perspective” is not just needed on political levels, it is  also needed on academic levels. There are strong roles for development  research, applied economics and social sciences, earth sciences, life  sciences, environmental sciences – just to name a few. They all should  contribute to better evidence that is needed for informed debate, for informed policy making, and for informed action on the ground.

–Stefan SCHMITZ; Head of division rural development and food security, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ