October 24, 2005

Africa, donors unveil plan to fight desertification

By Wangui Kanina

NAIROBI (Reuters) - African governments and donors on
Monday launched an ambitious plan to fight desertification,
which causes chronic food shortages and threatens to drive
millions from their homes in coming decades.

The so-called Terrafrica partnership aims to attract at
least $4 billion over 12 years to improve the sharing of ideas
about how best to combat land degradation, officials told a
news conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

"Its objectives are to improve the policies and governance
that affect the management of land, to augment the analysis of
the causes of land degradation and the solutions that actually
work on the ground," said Karen Brooks, the World Bank's Africa
regional manager.

Brooks said the money for Terrafrica, described by its
creators as the largest anti-desertification alliance ever,
would be administered initially by the World Bank and made
available thorough a trust fund to be established by donors.

After a couple of years, officials expect the partnership's
head office would be move to a base somewhere in Africa.

According to the United Nations 65 percent of Africa's 800
million population is affected by land degradation, mainly in
areas where forests have been cleared to make way for
agriculture and overgrazing.

"Land degradation and the low productivity in the
agricultural sector are interlinked and important reasons for
food shortages experienced in many of our African countries, "
Kenya's environment minister Kalonzo Musyoka said.

Around the world a total of 2 billion people live in
drylands vulnerable to desertification, ranging from northern
Africa to swathes of central Asia, U.N. experts say.

And storms can lift dust from the Sahara Desert, for
instance, and cause respiratory problems for people as far away
as North America.

Over-grazing and over-planting of crops, swelling human
populations and misuse of irrigation all contribute to the
advance of deserts.

But Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai warned that the
initiative would not be successful without the involvement of
local farmers.

"No matter how many policies we put in place, how much we
talk in these international fora, until we can go down to work
with those farmers down there in the valley, stop the
deforestation and protect these very fragile environments, we
can talk but I can assure you there will be another Terrafrica
in another 30 years," she said.

Maathai's grassroots Green Belt Movement has campaigned for
years to plant trees in Africa, saying plantings slow
desertification, preserve forest habitats for wildlife and
provide a source of fuel, building materials and food for
future generations.

The partnership is made up of African governments, an
African Union project for economic revival known as the New
Partnership for Africa's Development, the World Bank, the
European Commission, the United Nations and other donors.