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[CANCUN, MEXICO] Science has a major role to play in combating desertification, aiding climate change mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable land management practices, especially in the developing world, a conference has heard.
During the opening session of the 3rd United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Scientific Conference in Cancun, Mexico, this week (9-12 March), Tarja Halonen, UNCCD’s drylands ambassador and former president of Finland, said poverty, climate change and desertification are closely linked in their causes, impacts and solutions.
According to Halonen, women, youth and the poor are key when looking for available resources. “Majority of the farmers are women. In Africa, women produce 80 per cent of staple food. In Asia the figure is 60 per cent,” she said. “Scientific works, conclusions and recommendations will play a most important role in advising decision-makers.”

“This scientific conference will consider, in particular, the role of sustainable land management in building resilience and adaptation to climate change.”

William Payne, UNCCD 3rd scientific conference advisory committee

Halonen added that increased population growth will set new demands for productive land capacity, and that in 15 years’ time people will need 45 per cent more food, 30 per cent more water and 50 per cent more energy, with almost half of the world’s poorest people inhabiting degraded lands.
Limited access to productive resources, she explained, will increase poverty, and in addition climate change-related impacts will lead to increasing droughts and land degradation.
“This scientific conference will consider, in particular, the role of sustainable land management in building resilience and adaptation to climate change,” Halonen said. “Adaptation is a necessary element of climate change management [and] despite all mitigation actions it needs careful attention, financial support, means and technology as well as capacity building.”
Halonen called for adoption of agricultural methods that could cut carbon emission by 20 per cent, noting that sustainable land management can enhance carbon sequestration capacity of the soil.  
She added that communicating scientific facts with good examples to decision-makers would enable them undertake necessary commitments for tackling land degradation.
William Payne, the chair of the conference’s scientific advisory committee, explained that overgrazing, soil erosion, and weeds are components of the larger phenomenon of land degradation that reduce the capacity of land to perform ecosystem functions and services that support society and development.
Payne said experts in biophysical sciences have made dramatic improvements in recent years in their ability to better understand and monitor drought, land degradation, desertification, and their component processes. For instance, through remote sensing scientists can monitor larger tracts of land with greater resolution and at a lesser cost than ever.
“Through the use of increasingly sophisticated simulation models, we can not only predict the effects of future management decision, but the impacts of past policy changes, with greater accuracy and precision,” said Payne, who is a professor at the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources at the US-based University of Nevada, Reno.
He, however, observed that scientists know little about how drought, land degradation and desertification interact with various social systems around the world, or how they might interact in the future, especially under changing climate.
Disclaimer: UNCCD sponsored Ochieng’ Ogodo to attend its 3rd Scientific Conference in Cancun, Mexico.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.