To mark the United Nations’ UNCCD COP 15 conference in Abidjan, the Robert Bosch Stiftung provided African journalists with virtual scholarships to report on the struggle against land degradation in Africa. Here are the best stories.
Perhaps the most important bit of news about the UNCCD COP 15 conference that took place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in May is that it barely featured in the world’s media and the people affected by the topics discussed there learned very little about them.
Yet there is much to report: 70 percent of the land that human beings need for their survival is threatened by land degradation or desertification. More than two billion people live in arid regions. "Drought in Numbers 2022", a report presented at the UNCCD conference in Abidjan, states that the number and duration of droughts worldwide have increased by 29 percent since 2000.
Soil, water and eco-systems are under particular pressure in Africa – on the one hand through the effects of climate change, e.g. droughts, and on the other hand through non-sustainable farming and livestock husbandry practices and deforestation. Media companies in sub-Saharan Africa rarely have the resources to send journalists to big UN conferences, such UNCCD COP15 or the better-known UN Climate Change Conference, so they can report on the discussions and measures taken. That is why the Robert Bosch Stiftung offered journalists virtual scholarships so they could report on COP15 and tell their domestic readers what land degradation means in concrete terms for people on the spot and what the delegates from countries, civil society and local groups proposed to stop the loss of fertile soils. To this end, the Robert Bosch Stiftung cooperated with Internews, a non-profit media organization that trains journalists worldwide and founded the Earth Journalism Network (EJN). The African journalists selected were coached by EJN on the UNCCD process and content, given access to prominent scientists, politicians and civil society representatives, and supported in producing their stories. Here are some of their stories.
With the help of the Fellowship, journalists like Busani Bafana from Zimbabwe were able to participate virtually in the UNCCD conference in Abidjan.
Paul Omorogbe has worked for the Nigerian Tribune, the country's oldest newspaper, since 2009. He exclusively interviewed Dr. Elvis Paul Tangem, the coordinator of the Great Green Wall Initiative that aims to renaturalize 8,000 kilometers of land across Africa.
“The Great Green Wall Initiative began in 2007. It was launched by the African Union with the aim of restoring the continent’s degraded landscapes and transforming millions of lives in the Sahel. (Today) the greatest challenge for the Great Green Wall initiative is the communication narrative surrounding it. When the project started, many of the media said it was never going to work; these Africans are crazy! The narrative focused too much on planting trees. How can you plant trees in the desert? But it is about much more than planting. (…) The trees are only a metaphor for the multifaceted sustainable land management and restoration activities that are taking place around the Great Wall or the drylands.”
Science, health, the environment – these are the big issues for Yukfu Sylvie Bantar, who works for Cameroon Radio Television and has her own show, "The Lifeline". After COP15, she wrote a report about the importance of land rights for women in the struggle against desertification.
A new study published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) says that less than 20% of all landholders globally are women. (…) "There can be no gender equality without access to land," says Loreno Aguilar, a former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica who now works for the UNCCD. Women in Cameroon constitute about 70% of the agricultural work force, but less than 1% of them own land in the country. The customary law of Cameroon grants them access to land, but no rights to own the property (…) it is fundamental that women are integrated in policies with regards to land ownership since they carry out most activities on land.
Robert Amalemba, a journalist writing for the Nairobi newspaper The Standard, interviewed the young Kenyan activist Patricia Kombo, who gave a moving speech to heads of state and government at COP15. "What motivates you," he wanted to know, among other things. Here is her answer:
“The scorching sun. I once went to the arid area of Lodwar to distribute relief and was taken aback at how people, especially children, were suffering under the scorching sun. The sun had made their land unproductive and there was no water in sight. I returned home in Makueni and immediately stared planting trees to avoid such a scenario in my home area. It soon spread to other areas and in schools. Youth, women, Indigenous communities and groups suffer the most due to soil degradation. All that these groups need is education to change their attitude and some little motivation to keep them on the restoration and land reclaiming path. They have seen the hardships that come with degraded soils and will be more willing to be part of that because they owe it to themselves and the coming generations.”
Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh is a Liberian writer who works, among other things, for the English program of Deutsche Welle. She reported on the end of the UNCCD COP 15 conference – and what may follow from it.
At the close of the head of states’ summit, leaders adopted the Abidjan Call. The Abidjan Call urges countries to give the highest priority to the issue of drought and reinforce the commitment towards achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030. Their call to action comes in response to a stark warning by the UNCCD that up to 40% of all ice-free land is already degraded, with dire consequences for climate, biodiversity, and livelihoods.
Renewing his commitment, President Ouattara also announced the ambitious Abidjan Legacy Programme to boost long-term environmental sustainability across major value chains in Côte d’Ivoire while protecting and restoring forests and lands and improving communities’ resilience to climate change, which will require the mobilization of US$1.5 billion over the next five years.
The initial pledges made during the Summit towards this goal came from the African Development Bank, the European Union, the Green Growth Initiative, and the World Bank Group.