Land Protection Key to Success of Sustainable Development Goals

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Currently, 12 million hectares of land are lost annually due to land degradation and desertification. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

BONN, Germany, 30 Dec 2016 — According to Dr. Richard Byron-Cox, his admiration for the late President of Burkina Faso, Captain Thomas Sankara, strengthens his role as the Action Program Alignment and Capacity Building Officer at the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) based in Germany.


Richard Byron-Cox , UNCCD Capacity Building Officer

Richard Byron-Cox , UNCCD Capacity Building Officer

As one of the founding fathers of the concept of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN), he believes this can help countries suffering from floods, droughts, etc. be self-sufficient.

In an interview here, Dr Byron-Coxsaid LDN is a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystems and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales.

He said Burkina Faso must change its present relations to the question of land management in such a way that these floods and drought are brought to a minimum, if not stopped altogether.

And, that its international politics must of necessity, focus on convincing others that LDN is not just of national importance to Burkina Faso, but of global importance to the world.

Excerpts from the interview:

R.S.: As regards flood or drought, what are the driving factors behind the increased exposure of Burkina Faso to these natural hazards?

R. B-C.:There are no national boundaries when it comes to the environment. Therefore, what is happening in Burkina Faso as regards droughts and floods is directly linked to the “carbon economy;” the practice of neoliberal economics; and the limited understanding of all humanity of these basic truths. You have used the words “natural hazards”. Where is the defining line between natural and manmade hazards these days? It is clear that these more frequent, longer, and more dangerous droughts and floods are occasioned by human actions. Is it therefore correct to call them “natural’ in the true sense, spirit, and meaning of that word?” Just something to think about.

R.S.: That said, you seem to admire Thomas Sankara and we all know about his commitment to bring or give dignity to his country and people. Which of his legacy concerning the land protection could still be useful to Burkina Faso?

R. B-C.: I know that Captain Thomas Sankara meant well not only for his country, but for all of Africa. For this I loved him and always will, because I love humanity as a whole. May his soul rest in peace! As regards land, it is my firm conviction that his policy of focusing on preventing famine through agricultural self-sufficiency and implementing necessary land reform, is superlative to anything done before or since. Indeed, Captain Sankara’s(and here I use the word Captain meaning a true leader, not just his military rank) mission, of planting million trees to halt the growing desertification in the Sahel; his land redistribution program, and his defense of women’s rights were all policies that protected land, and of equal importance provided opportunities to the poor of our humanity. His policies in this regard were, and are, remain an illumination that will light the path of those who respect the environment and in particular our land; believe in the dignity of all humanity, and are concerned for the wellbeing of their neighbor.

R.S.: By 2030, LDN aims to, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, how that would be achieved?

Several reports including from the Food and Agriculture Organization show that by 2030 we are going to need 50% more food and 30% more water. Can you see us achieving these without achieving LDN?

R. B-C.: It is known that the average human being can live 6 minutes without oxygen, 6 days without water, and 60 days without food. Now which of these three you know that we can have without land? It brings me back to Captain Sankara again. He clearly understood what the disease is. Remember, Captain Sankaranever saw foreign aid as the solution, Never. His was a philosophy that preached African self-reliance.

R.S.: Correct. But, Thomas Sankara was always taking in consideration the mind of his people; however, LDN is a top-down concept which rural people are unaware of, how could those people and their country that lack financial and technical resources, address LDN?

R. B-C.: It is the media’s responsibility to help spread this to all sections of the community, hold the governments accountable for carrying out their obligations. The raison d'être of community-based Organizations is the empowerment of local communities. They must ensure that people become the front and center of any process to achieve LDN-- in the same way that Captain Sankara created relevant institutions where they did not exist and in the same way he changed policies. If the belief is that justice on the ground can be guaranteed by some distant overlord in faraway places, then that is an illusion to be pursued but never to be attained! But we must stop demanding that governments do this. Instead, we must lead by example.

R.S.: Where are the local people and their knowledge as concepts that international organizations think are the top-down ones always imposed on people and their countries?

R. B-C.: You are right that the mechanisms to allow for full and effective participation in this process by rural and local people and in particular the poor are really non-existent. And here again I see where the serious media and the CSOs must play a significant role. Their job in this case is to speak for the voiceless, to let suffering speak.

R.S.: Could you predict the future of LDN as you are one of the fathers of this concept?

R. B-C.: Thank you for this acknowledgement. I am deeply humbled. This is so, for it is extremely rare when my work is recognized. Being black is always a challenge under any circumstance, including at the United Nations. As regards the future of LND I think the three important things that need to happen are:

  • it should become a compulsory principle of international law making it legally incumbent on all nations to achieve it;
  • people have to be placed front and center in any efforts to achieve LDN. Without this the process will become an exercise in futility;
  • national targets must be set, mechanisms and resources put in place to achieve them, and a credible monitoring must be put in place.

R.S.: But why should LDN become an international environmental law in order to achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

R. B-C.: In making LDN a compulsory principle of international law, we will be demanding a particular behavior from all states. As regards achieving the SDGs, if you take a serious glance at them, you will realize that about 13 of them cannot be achieved without addressing the question of land. This means more than 75% or ¾. I think this fact point to the elementary truth that protecting land will be crucial going forward. As a matter of fact, several reports including from the Food and Agriculture Organization show that by 2030 we are going to need 50% more food and 30% more water. Can you see us achieving these without achieving LDN? Is so, please let me know how!

Following a series of two-day media training workshops on the UN's post-2015 global development agenda, we will be running feature articles and oped pieces written by some of the young journalists who participated in them. Sponsored by Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, the media workshops are supported by the UN Foundation.

The series of articles will focus on the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by world leaders during the UN General Assembly session in September 2015, and the Climate Change Agreement which came into force in November 2016.

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