Scientists unite to put drylands on Rio+20 agenda

Two billion people share the world's drylands Copyright: Flickr/teepi

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[NIAMEY/RIO DE JANEIRO] Scientists and policymakers from Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and France have called for better scientific cooperation and capacity building in the drylands with an eye on putting the drylands agenda on the UN Rio+20 summit agenda next year.

Participants at the Fight Against Desertification in Africa conference in Niger (24–25 October) invited world leaders who will take part in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in June 2012, to make creative decisions to promote sustainable development in dryland areas — home to up to two billion people.

The ‘Declaration of Niamey’ adopted at the conference aims to put dryland issues on the Rio+20 agenda, Tahirou Amadou, the spokesperson for the French institute for research and development (IRD) in Niger, told SciDev.Net. He said that the declaration will feed into the preparatory meetings for the summit.

The declaration recommends policies that would ensure the greening of the economy through sustainable development, including enhanced use of renewable energy.

"Efforts to improve scientific cooperation devoted to the drylands should be promoted at all levels," it says, highlighting the need for interdisciplinary research — in the fields of desertification, drought and land degradation — which takes into account social, economic and environmental issues.

This could be achieved by developing local research initiatives and regional centres of excellence, building new networks and observatories, better sharing of scientific data and its use by policymakers.

Research activities should help build local expertise, the declaration says, and not be restricted to producing scientific publications but also have outputs that could be used directly by policymakers and other stakeholders.

The declaration also calls for more South–South and tripartite cooperation; better governance that would use traditional knowledge and empower local populations while reinforcing regional cooperation; and better communication among scientists, policymakers, industry and civil groups, as well as new strategies to better monitor actions against desertification.

Koffi Clément, a lecturer in the department of biodiversity at Abobo-Adjamé University, Côte d’Ivoire, said that the declaration is a strong signal to scientists, policymakers and institutions.

"We hope that the recommendations will be applied for real effectiveness in the fight against desertification in Africa," said Clément.

Esther Bemerguy de Albuquerque, secretary of the Council of Economic and Social Development, Brazil, who attended the conference, said: "There is great interest in Brazil in this coalition, because [drylands] represent 11 per cent of Brazilian territory.

"We hope the recommendations of the declaration serve as a basis for discussions at the Rio+20 summit to renew global understanding about goals and strategies to give impetus to international efforts to combat desertification, land degradation and the effects of drought in the perspective of sustainable development."

Earlier this year, Qatar launched the Global Dry Land Alliance, which would enable member states to pool their research efforts to strengthen food security in arid countries.

The Niamey conference was organised by the African Union, the Pan African Agency of the Great Green Wall, in collaboration with France’s Institute of Research for Development ,and Brazil’s Centre for Strategic Studies and Management. The latter two have included the declaration recommendations in their submissions to the Rio+20 summit draft document.

Link to ‘Declaration of Niamey’  [217kB]

Additional reporting by Luís Amorim.