Nov 112010
Authors: Emily Johnson

The United Nations announced the launch of its Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification Thursday from the CSU Cherokee Park Ballroom.

Nine CSU and UN officials signed a declaration to commit the next 10 years to raising public awareness about the threat of desertification and land degradation around the world.

Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, UNCCD, addressed the community at a symposium about the importance of sustainable land management to eradicate poverty.

“Eight out of 10 ongoing world crisis occur in drylands,” Gnacadia said.

Countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somolia and Sudan suffer desperate conditions, especially water scarcity, which result in violence and territorial conflict.

“Desertification is a global threat of well-being,” Gnacadja said. “It’s one of our most pressing security issues but it is still under recognized.”

Gnacadja said that desertification is misleading. It’s not just about a desert but about land degradation—the long tem loss of ecosystem function and productivity caused by disturbances, which the land can’t recover from.

“It starts with loss of soil biodiversity,” Gnacadja said.

The UNCCD chose CSU to publicly announce its program because of its world-renowned reputation for its environmental and natural resources research.

“The UNCDD receives little exposure and a low profile in popular scientific media,” Gnacadja said. “Partnerships like this are essential in addressing these issues.”

Gary Peterson, professor and chair of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, said failing to understand an ecosystem can result in disasters like the American Dustbowl in the 1930s.

“People were using wetland farming techniques brought from the east in the dry ecosystems in the west,” Peterson said. “They stripped the surface, which released soil carbon and weakened soil structure. It was just a downward spiral from there.”

Peterson outlined soil conservation techniques, which include reduced and no-till management and keeping soil covered.

Shannon Horst, CEO and co-founder of the Savory Institute in New Mexico, focuses on short and long-term holistic management that ensures simultaneous economic, ecological, and social soundness. She agreed that soil conservation is key to world sustainability.

“If we want water for our cities, we better pay attention to our drylands,” Horst said.

She added that 40 to 60 percent of the earth’s surface consists of drylands, which are also a host to a large proportion of fresh water.

“In America, we have paper wealth in which we move resources around.” Horst said. “We don’t see things like this,” displaying a picture of impoverished African women looking for water.

“Understanding something about nature is a pressing need for humanity.”

She said that America could be right behind other countries that experience poverty and water crisis if we don’t implement sustainable and holistic land management strategies. A symbiotic relationship with grazing animals and humans is one way to approach symptoms of desertification. Allowing sufficient plant recovery time is important as well.

All in all, scientific and social collaboration around the world regarding sustainable land management and desertification is critical. According to UN predictions, the world faces a severe drought threat in the future. Drylands will significantly expand by the 2030s, which will contribute to climate change and affect agricultural productivity.

“There are many earth emergencies,” said Gnacadja, adding that drylands are perceived as marginal wastelands with low productivity.

He stressed that dryland sustainability around the world will alleviate poverty, ensure food security, avoid forced migrations of people, improve water availability, ease climate change and deforestation and conserve biodiversity.

The UNCCD aims to build momentum over time.

“Enhancing soil anywhere enhances life everywhere,” he said.

Staff writer Emily Johnson can be reached at

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