The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Africa digital conference begins Wednesday 2, June under the theme – restoring Africa’s drylands.
Occupying just under half of the continent’s landmass, and home to about half its population, the story of the drylands of Africa has for a long time been dominated by doom. From drought and famine to conflicts and displacement.
Jules Bayala is principal scientist with the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes & Dryland Cereals. We asked him a few questions about the potential of the drylands and possible solutions that could come out of this conference.
Why is it important to understand and invest in the drylands?
The current narrative on the drylands is that they lack resources, they are areas of several disasters including drought, famine, war, migration. For instance, the Sahel has been seen as just a place of hunger, persistent droughts and climate extremes.
It has also been seen as a place where farmers struggle to produce the crops and livestock to sustain the growing population, a place dominated by security issues such as terrorism, conflicts between communities and unprecedented levels of migration. This rhetoric is misleading as the Sahel has both important human capital, with youth representing 65% of the population, and the natural resources to generate quality products and create massive green jobs.
“The Sahel has both important human capital, with youth representing 65% of the population, and the natural resources to generate quality products and create massive green jobs.”Jules Bayala, Principal Scientist, CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes & Dryland Cereals
As the Sahel is endowed with large areas of degraded lands, we strongly believe that properly re-greened landscapes are the surest path to the broad-based prosperity that will transform the Sahel from a land of challenges to a land of opportunities.
Perhaps the most important is the understanding that land restoration, just like land degradation, is mostly the result of human decisions. If communities are given the space to develop solid governance models for their landscapes, including decisions about how to manage livestock, who is allowed to cut firewood where and so on, then landscapes can become transformed. This positive impact will be boosted by the judicious application of technical assistance to boost the human capital of the community.
Cleverly advised farmers, working within a community that is master of its own lands, will rapidly transform them into productive landscapes filled with life. And it is in these transformed landscapes that businesses can begin to grow. That is because as farmers produce more, families are better fed, and more products can be marketed and money starts to accumulate in the community.
Such income will be invested in village-level enterprises ranging from simple agro-processing to motorbike logistics, from mobile phone charging to entertainment venues. Restoring the land and vegetation cover will provide year-round production of fruit and non-timber forests to support the development portfolio of value chains.
Africa is the driest of the world’s continents. In practical terms what does this conference mean for the 45% of the continent’s landmass that’s drylands?
Developed countries do not want to support the burden of migration that will continue to increase if nothing is done. The cheapest way to resolve that issue and the associated ones is to create jobs locally, and land restoration is a sector that can contribute to these jobs creation by providing labour, providing services in link with land restoration and finally in developing portfolios of value chains (as opposed to single value chain) from the restoration actions.
All together, these will lead to a restored and healthier environment as well as better livelihood for the local communities.
A decade of ecosystem restoration
The GLF Africa digital conference is happening just ahead of the Launch of the UN Decade on ecosystem restoration, a global rallying call to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.
Africa’s drylands are especially prone to degradation due to intensification of agricultural production, mining, infrastructure development and urbanization, and further exacerbated by climate change. However, the benefits of taking action against land degradation outweigh the cost by up to seven times. It has been established that inaction may cost countries around US$490 billion per year, while action to reverse land degradation could generate benefits worth up to US$1.4 trillion.