All of us and our livelihoods depend on healthy land

We all can play a role in combating the effects of desertification, the writer says.
We all can play a role in combating the effects of desertification, the writer says.
Image: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

We all have the responsibility to protect our land from overuse so that it can continue to provide us with food, water and energy to support the nation's wellbeing.

This week SA joins the global community in marking the annual Desertification and Drought Day on June 17. The day is marked under the theme: Food. Feed. Fibre, highlighting the links between consumption and land.

Key to the leading drivers of desertification and land degradation are unsustainable production and consumption. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the feed for animals come from the land.

The marking of the day is therefore another call for more efficient and sustainable practices.

We all can play a role in combating the effects of desertification. We need to change our behaviours, adopt efficient land use and more sustainable management practices.

This call is more relevant even as government continues to facilitate the transformation fundamental for the future of this country.

Desertification and Drought Day, formerly World Day to Combat Desertification, is a UN observance day held on June 17 each year with the aim of raising public awareness on the impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought.

It also propels the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in countries such as SA that are prone to serious drought and/or increased desertification.

According to the UN, there is growing demand and competition for land from agriculture, urban expansion and infrastructure. Almost 75% of all land has been transformed from its natural state, and the pace is accelerating. The health and productivity of existing arable land is declining, worsened by climate change.

This year's theme seeks to highlight how much of what people eat and wear is derived from nature, the land and the soil that support all life on earth. Statistics indicate that, by 2050, food production will require an extra 593-million hectares of agricultural land, while at least 80% of agricultural land globally is used for grazing and grain production to feed animals.

It is predicted that by 2030, the fashion industry will use 35% more land - over 115-million hectares. All of these will result in gobbling up land at a fast rate, and that is unsustainable.

The department of environment, forestry & fisheries working with other government and non-state actors, remains steadfast in implementing programmes that aim to rehabilitate the land and enhance the productivity of land.

Through our various Expanded Public Works Programmes, we have been able to build the much-needed infrastructure with an aim of preserving productive land whilst creating some form of resilience against the impacts of climate change.

We will continue to make funds available for such programmes, as they do not only serve to preserve the environment, but also contribute to improving and sustaining the livelihoods of our people.

The department has for years invested heavily on projects and initiatives across provinces that provide employment opportunities in rural areas while restoring degraded landscapes. We call on all hands on deck in protecting our precious natural resources that provide food, feed and fibre. All livelihoods and human existence are reliant on healthy land.

As a signatory to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), SA works with all countries in the Africa region in advancing programmes that combat and mitigate the effects of desertification and drought throughout the continent.

*Sotyu is the deputy minister of environment, forestry & fisheries

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