Data and local know-how for sustainable land use

Rice fields and  forest plantations
Copyright: Flickr/Louis Putzel/CIFOR

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  • Increasing land degradation in Africa, Asia and Latin America requires action
  • A meeting has called for involvement of multiple actors in halting it
  • Modern science, local knowledge and policies could aid sustainable land use

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[CANCUN, MEXICO] Scientists have recommended a need for integrating local knowledge and global data on how ecosystems interact to help improve sustainable land use and conservation.  
Experts say increasing land degradation in regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America requires urgent action.
“When ecosystems are degraded they will take thousands of years to rebuild, and human beings have a responsibility to ensure they are taken care of,” said Bernard Hubert, chair of the Scientific and Traditional Knowledge for Sustainable Development Consortium, at the 3rd United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Scientific Conference in Mexico, last month (9-12 March).

“When ecosystems are degraded they will take thousands of years to rebuild, and human beings have a responsibility to ensure they are taken care of.”

Bernard Hubert, Scientific and Traditional Knowledge for Sustainable Development Consortium

According to Hubert, in Africa and Latin America there are forested places that if not well taken care of, people in those places could end up with severe land degradation and lose ecosystem life-supporting services.
“These [forests] are also good for global climatic cycles like the Amazon and the Congo basin,” said Hubert, who is the president of France-headquartered Agropolis International, an organisation that focuses on agriculture, food, biodiversity and environment. “If destroyed the impact will be global.”
Hubert added that monitoring and evaluation of land use and understanding climate change using science such as remote sensing are crucial.
Science-policy interface, he noted, is key to fostering sustainable land management practices and civil society has a duty to ensure that governments put in place scientifically-informed policies and programmes for protection of ecosystems, and they are held accountable for their implementation.
He termed the conference as a scientific one that promotes dialogues among scientists, policymakers and civil society, and how to create social interactions with others.
He stated that the scientific community should carry forward the findings of the conference’s deliberations to the 12th session of the UNCCD Conference of the Parties scheduled for 12-23 October in Ankara, Turkey.
Uriel Safriel, a professor of ecology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and head of the Center of International Conventions at the Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Israel, said that problems of land degradation, for instance in Africa, cannot be solved only by natural sciences such as meteorology and agro-ecology.
“There are social and political undertones to these and there is need to understand why people do things that cause desertification,” Safriel said.
He explained that the local circumstances such as activities of communities and governments could be important in understanding problems of land degradation but global approach was critical because of the interrelatedness of ecosystems worldwide.

He said the conference was based on interactions that generated policy options for sustainable land management. “It was an experiment initiated by the UNCCD to have a different scientific conference approach to produce policy options to be looked at by governments,” Safriel added.
The conference concluded that human activities are the main drivers in the processes of drought, land degradation, desertification and climate change.
“Society must therefore mitigate or reverse these stresses through innovative approaches to attain land degradation neutrality,” adds a report on the conference’s conclusions. “The very best modern science and technology will be needed, allied with local or traditional knowledge that has developed over time. Ultimately we must change human behaviour and attitudes regarding the use of land and other natural resources.”  
 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.