GLOBE Southern Africa Parliamentary Seminar on Combating Disertification Campaign


25 April 2002
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Meeting report


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The aim of this report is to summarise the main events at the meeting and identify the key role players. This report is not a verbatim transcript of proceedings.

25 April 2002

Ms G. Mahlangu

Documents handed out:
Combating Desertification Campaign (GLOBE Southern Africa & EMG)
UNCCD: International and National Framework (DEAT) First National Report on the Implementation of the UNCCD (Land Affairs)
Shall We Dance? The UNCCD and the World Summit (EMG)
[e-mail for documents]

The seminar, hosted by the Committee, was an initiative of GLOBE Southern Africa in conjunction with the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG). The Committee was addressed on the Global Framework behind the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and South Africa's commitments, desertification issues being confronted on the ground, and desertification in the context of the WSSD. They were then given an opportunity to ask questions and briefly discuss the issues.

The Chairperson told the Committee that members of the Land and Agriculture, as well as Water Affairs and Forestry Committees, were also invited to attend this seminar. She apologised for the miscommunications that led to the cancellation of the previously scheduled meeting the day before and proceeded to express that the Committee had a very good relationship with GLOBE and believed the Combating Desertification Campaign to be very important. With South Africa hosting the WSSD, it was important that they be able to showcase steps that South Africa had taken in support of many realms of sustainable development.

Mr F. Caas, Executive Director of GLOBE Southern Africa, then addressed the Committee, stating that this campaign targeted legislators in an effort to create an understanding of the problems of poverty and land degradation and the instruments available to combat these issues. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), to which South Africa is a party, required the development of a National Action Programme (NAP). Efforts to combat desertification had been faced with many obstacles, and Parliament had a strong role to play in implementing a workable plan. This seminar was a pre-conference workshop to prepare for the main Combating Desertification Conference in Namibia in 2002, and a presentation of the outcomes of this initiative would be presented at the WSSD. Mr Caas added that GLOBE would produce a conference brochure and draft legislative guidelines for implementing the UNCCD in Southern Africa that would be presented to the Southern African Parliamentary representatives at the conference. The outcomes of the conference would then be presented at the WSSD. GLOBE would also be creating a website to support the campaign.

The UNCCD: the Global Framework and South Africa's Commitments Under It
Mr N. Nomshogwana, Chief-Directorate of Biodiversity and Heritage for DEAT, presented next on South Africa's implementation of the UNCCD. He stated that South Africa was moving towards a holistic approach to its many problems, and this was somewhat in response to the example of the many conventions aimed at promoting various aspects of sustainable development. He then defined some terms and offered some statistics. He stated that South Africa signed the UNCCD in 1995 and ratified it in 1997, and he briefly explained some of the objectives and provisions to which South Africa was obliged, particularly concerning the NAP. The provisions offered criteria for the NAP, gave government clear responsibilities, and advocated a democratic "bottom-up" approach. NGOs were to play a strong role, authority would be decentralised, and NAPs would have to be fully integrated and aligned with other relevant national programmes. Mr Nomshogwana then further highlighted the benefits of the UNCCD that would ultimately promote sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Mr Nomshogwana followed by focusing on notable articles within the convention, particularly highlighting obligations of country parties (Article 5), and specific requirements for developing NAPS. Cross-sectoral cooperation and incorporation of all other relevant initiatives within the country would be vital. He also mentioned commitments and obligations of African country parties.

He continued by explaining South Africa's actions in response to the convention. DEAT was the department in charge of the initiative, EMG was to coordinate the participation of civil society in the NAP, and a national review of land degradation and awareness-raising campaigns had been underway. Concerning the NAP process, provincial consultative workshops would occur in June and the first draft of the NAP was expected in July. A national workshop was scheduled for October, and the final version of the NAP would be released in January next year. South Africa was party to the UNCCD because desertification was a very real issue in this country, and they needed to be committed to combating desertification and, further, to reducing poverty through these means.

Questions and Discussion
The Chairperson stated that this was the Committee that ratified the UNCCD, and they appreciated that their department was the focal point. The Committee had mentioned recently to DEAT that they needed to review the money spent on membership to conventions, but they needed to be committed to this convention, as it was a vital issue for South Africa.

Ms J. Chalmers (ANC) asked if the NAP was a concrete document or a process.

Mr Nomshogwana replied that it was a process and provincial action plans would be established as well. The concrete programme would be a document available next year.

Ms J. Semple (DP) asked what practical role DEAT would be playing other than facilitator.

Mr Nomshogwana stated that DEAT's role as coordinator would include creating awareness of the importance of the UNCCD and creating incentive for other departments to participate as well.

Ms C. Ramotsamai (ANC) said that, especially in areas of the Eastern Cape, it did not appear that action would be taken soon. She suggested that local governments should be targeted first because it was individual communities that were affected. Resources should be focused where the problem was the most severe.

Mr R. September (ANC) asked whether NGOs were invited to join this seminar.

The Chairperson replied that NGO presence was represented by Mr N.Oettle of EMG, but he would be speaking for many NGOs.

Desertification: the Tangible Issues Being Confronted on the Ground
Mr P. Thabethe, Assistant Director and Land-Care Coordinator of Land Affairs, presented the First National Report on the Implementation of the UNCCD. He told the Committee that although South Africa consisted of only 13,5% arable land, 80% was used for agriculture, and although people are the main cause of land degradation, global climate change threatened the situation even further. He showed several slides with photos of degraded rural areas and stated that many technical programmes were already underway within the NAP process while other pilot projects had begun as well. Evaluation of activities in the field was also occurring, and Mr Thabethe showed maps portraying soil and veld degradation throughout the country.

Mr Thabethe proceeded by pointing out available national plans and strategies that needed to be streamlined and utilised, including the National Development Plan and the National Environmental Action Plan, as the purpose of the NAP was in accordance with many priority fields highlighted in these areas particularly focused on harmonising environmental policies and promoting and sustaining the environment. He stated that South Africa had submitted a report to the Commission for Sustainable Development on the progress of sustainable development in South Africa in which the South African desertification NAP process was described. Local needs and responsibilities needed to be included in the plan, and input and recognition by the local people would be called for as implementation of the programmes needed to be felt on the ground.

Mr Thabethe then spoke on the National Conservation Strategy and institutional measures taken to implement the UNCCD, including the establishment of the National Coordinating Body (NCD) known as the Steering Committee. The NAP would be part of the National Economic and Social Development Plan with linkages to national, sub-regional, and regional programmes. Priority would be given to the consideration of people's needs, as required by the National Environmental Management Act of 1998, and he mentioned some methods of pursuing this.

Mr Thabethe then discussed international partners and donors and how each was involved in the campaign. He also spoke on the degree of decentralisation achieved within South African efforts to combat desertification and how further community involvement was necessary. In conclusion, environmental monitoring and observational capacities also needed to be improved, and more feedback would be necessary, but practical measures to combat land degradation were ongoing. The NAP would attempt to bring all of the actions together within one document.

The Chairperson agreed that any actions aimed at communities without involvement and consultation of the communities was doomed to fail.

Shall We Dance? The UNCCD and the World Summit
Mr N. Oettle of EMG presented next on desertification within the context of the WSSD. South Africa had developed a "non-paper" calling for a renewed commitment at the WSSD to the Millennium Declaration targets, stating that as the problems were global, a global response was necessary. A second "non-paper", presented at Prep Com 3 presented a framework for action. Mr R. Sherman of GLOBE Southern Africa explained a "non-paper" to be an informal tabling of ideas without binding views. It was a way that South Africa was thus far exhibiting leadership for the coming Summit. South Africa was calling for partnership on all levels with representation of all stakeholders.

Mr Oettle stated that the Chairman's Paper was currently the basis for the WSSD Implementation Strategy, and it argued that enabling national environments would be crucial. The Paper referred specifically to strengthening implementation of the UNCCD, and the positions it recommended would likely be the official positions emerging form the WSSD. The Paper also referred to land issues as a primary point in the context of poverty eradication. Concerning the protection of natural resources and social development, the Paper promoted the integration of agriculture with other aspects of land management and ecosystem conservation and the enhancement of productivity through community-based approaches. A special focus was also given to women and the poor.

He continued by explaining that the notion of partnership would play a big role in Type 2 outcomes of WSSD. Type 2 outcomes would be non-binding implementation strategies to support the binding Type 1 outcomes. NEPAD was being seen as one of the key partnerships at the WSSD. Though it was consistent with some of the principles in the Chairman's Paper, Mr Oettle explained that it was inconsistent with others. From the viewpoint of NGOs, however, NEPAD was not considered sustainable because it was developed in a non-participatory, "top-down" manner, where those most affected were not consulted. Mr Oettle also mentioned that the UNCCD had been largely ignored as a priority of DEAT in the past two years, but NEPAD, and the upcoming Summit, had brought it back to the fore.

Mr Oettle concluded by stating that NEMA and UNCCD both ensured public participation, and this was a vital aspect to solving the problems they focused on. The NAP would serve well by outlining problems and contradictions in policies and legislation thereby ensuring a workable overall plan be found.

Questions and Discussion
One member pointed out that the second presenter had raised the idea of activity at the provincial level, but what really needed to be developed was municipal level participation.

Mr Thabethe replied that an inventory of all activities related to the UNCCD had been called up so that they could identify the needs and what was currently occurring in that realm.

Mr Oettle stated that solid steps had been taken in how they institute CCD at the local level in some areas, but this inventory was necessary to ensure streamlined and efficient efforts that did not contradict each other.

Ms L. Mbuyazi (IFP) said that the presenters had put a challenge to them as lawmakers to respond to the call. They also needed to look into NEPAD and into incorporating bottom-up participation as well.

The Chairperson said that she believed EMG made its presentation after consultation with other NGO groups. Because NGOs dealt directly with people, they were in a position to let them know if programmes were actually working on the ground. Though there were problems, government had great opportunities.

Ms Ramotsamai wanted to know if the 80% of land used for agriculture was out of the 13,5% of arable land or out of the total land of the country.

Mr Thabethe replied that it was out of the total land, though only 13,5% of the land was viable for such use without causing degradation. In rural areas, this occurred because people needed it for survival. The CCD called for alternate actions and solutions.

The Chairperson said that the Committee needed to advise their Department on the budget, so perhaps sometime soon Mr Thabethe could let them know about some of the alternatives.

Mr Oettle stated that in much of his work in the Northern Province, very little of the land was arable, but much was used for grazing and was productive for that use. Often the people in those areas did not have enough of the land to make a living that way because the most profitable way of using a small plot of land was to plough and mono-crop, but that was causing degradation. Capacity to deal with these problems in many areas, however, was developing.

Mr M. Moss (ANC) said that the key was education. How people used the land would depend largely on local government and those on the ground. People needed to be educated on how to use and respond to legislation or it would not be beneficial.

Mr Nomshogwana replied that decentralisation was certainly vital. This was the direction that the process was taking.

Mr Oettle added that alternative activities had to be offered when they asked people to give up their sources of income, but many of the alternative activities lacked sufficient funding.

The Chairperson agreed that available resources had to make it to the right places. The meeting would have to be closed, but the Committee would consider the points and suggestions made. They were also very concerned that the WSSD preparations had proceeded without parliamentary involvement though many of the emerging objectives would require legislation. A group she would be meeting with insisted that they have representation at the PrepCom in Bali, as they might be able to influence even this late. They were also in the process of getting a slot in the National Assembly for debate on WSSD issues.

Mr Sherman of GLOBE Southern Africa briefly commented that, following the Rio Summit, concerns about desertification were primarily on environmental impact, but it was now seen in a very different light with the focus on poverty eradication through combating desertification, and they wanted to make that clear.

The meeting was adjourned.

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