UN Convention to Combat Desertification, National Action Plan: briefing


11 October 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

11 October 2004

Mr D Olifant (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department presentation on South Africa's National Action Plan

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) made a presentation to the Committee on the National Action Plan that was a required by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The presentation dealt with the development, purposes, implementation and achievements of the NAP. The Committee raised serious concerns about the length of time it has taken to move forward with the NAP, the lack of integration between government departments to combat land degradation and the slow or non-existent rehabilitation of land, particularly land used for mining.

Department Presentation
Ms Mbengashe (DEAT Chief Director: Bio-diversity and Heritage) addressed the Committee on the National Action Plan (NAP). South Africa had ratified the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in 1997 and the NAP was a requirement of the UNCCD. She discussed the objectives of the UNCCD and the implications and issues surrounding desertification. Ms Mbengashe also discussed the global and national legal framework within which the NAP was located. She expanded on the NAP vision of restoring and maintaining a healthy and prosperous environment and the promotion of sustainable land management. She explained the historical development of NAP, existing NAP programs and achievements.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) commented that land degradation had affected the rural areas adversely as many rural people were subsistence farmers. She continued that of the 135 million people affected by land degradation most lived in African countries. She asked if the Department was trying to collaborate with other African countries to prevent erosion. She commented that mining caused gross damage to land and that this land was unusable for farming. She asked if there was a method of forcing those who profited from mining to rehabilitate or finance the rehabilitation of that land.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) commented that the NAP Committee had been working on the NAP since 1995. She asked why it had taken nine years to develop the NAP. She continued that all the achievements of the Department seemed to be only administrative. She asked what the actual programs on the ground would look like and how they would impact the lives of people. She enquired what the Resource Mobilisation Strategy would consist of.

Ms J Sempre (DA) commented that it was the Department of Minerals and Energy's (DME) responsibility to force companies to rehabilitate old mines. She asked if the NAP set up any time frames and targets for how much land NAP would aim to save from degradation.

Mr G Morgan (DA) asked if the Department envisaged any small-scale partnerships with the Expanded Public Works Program. He asked if the Department believed that there were sufficient skills in the national universities to contribute to the monitoring of the Convention. He enquired if the Department was co-ordinating with the recently launched Global Climate Change Strategy and taking global climate changes into account.

Mr K Durr (ACDP) commented that marginal land that was being used for agriculture needed to be taken out of agricultural use and put to better use, such as eco-tourism. He suggested a partnership between the Department, regional governments, the international community and local land owners that would look at alternative uses for land. Marginal land should be taken into conservation and linked with tourism to better utilise the land.

Ms Mbengashe responded that the Department was in discussion with the DME about rehabilitation of mines. The DME had begun impact assessments of the mines and a forum had been established to investigate bio-diversity in mining. She said that the DME was struggling to get the private sector to rehabilitate mines as it was a costly process. The National Steering Committee was attempting to get the DME to join as it also contributed to land degradation. She continued that the Department of Agriculture (DoA) was involving communities in addressing desertification through its Land Care Program, with extensive work within the communities. The reasons that it took the Department so long to develop NAP were due to a gap in the leadership of the Department. The other factor was that it was unclear which department should lead the NAP as the NAP had a departmental cross-cutting nature. She explained that even though there were delays in the NAP, there were many other departmental programs that addressed desertification which were already running effectively on the ground. The Resource Mobilisation Strategy's key partners were commercial and communal agriculture and the Department needed to enlist these parties to become proactive and contribute financially. The Department had met with these parties and asked them how they were combating the problem of desertification. She gave the example of Shell, which with the help of the Department, had initiated a program to look at alternative energy sources. This was an example of a partnership that was successful.

The NAP did not yet have time frames, targets or indicators as these needed data and research to be monitored. The Universities of Potchefstroom, Venda and of the North all had the capacities to develop targets and indicators. The Desert Margins Program (DMP) also focussed on the development of robust indicators of desertification. The Department of Science and Technology had launched a project called the South African Observatory Network to do long term bio-diversity research. The Department's Poverty Alleviation Fund was looking for projects, like the Shell project, to partner with. She responded that the Department believed that there were sufficient skills in South African Universities and the National Botanical Institute. She answered that there needed to be a link between the three Conventions, the Bio-Diversity Convention, Climate Change Convention and the UNCCD. The challenge was how to promote synergy between these conventions and the Department suggested the use of integrated programs and projects.

She continued that the problem of desertification was a global problem and it was well known that Africa's drought and environmental struggles caused many societal problems. Due to the limited resources available in Africa, the Global Environmental Mechanism had committed itself to provide funding for land degradation. The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) had also made funds available for land degradation. The Department had been looking at game farming as an alternative use of land and was in the process of developing guidelines for game farming through the
National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (No. 10 of 2004). Only 12% of the land in South Africa was suitable for agriculture, so alternative uses were necessary. She answered that the government had spent R280 billion on various projects which were related to land degradation, through various departments.

Ms C Johnson (NNP) asked if the Department was the main funder of the NAP and if there was adequate funding for the NAP.

Ms Chalmers asked if there were programs dedicated specifically for dealing with the gross soil erosion which occurred in the previous "homelands".

The Chairperson commented that all the departments that were part of the National Steering Committee (NSC) of the NAP were also running their own projects. He asked if there was a coherent strategy between these departments and who was ultimately responsible for the expenditure and decisions made for the NAP. He asked if the Department had a strategy or program to encourage businesses to save water and for more water to be accessible for consumption.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) commented that veld fires contributed to land degradation and asked how local governments held people responsible for veld fire accountable. He added that motorists discarding cigarette butts were also a cause of veld fires.

Ms Mbengashe answered that it was a challenge to integrate departments but that the NAP had attempted to reach integration. She continued that the Department was not the main funder. The DoA had been spending a large amount of money through its Land Care project. The Department of Water Affair and Forestry (DWAF) had also addressed the issues of reforestation and Working for Water. The Department had put aside R30 million in the past year for poverty relief addressing sustainable land management. The NAP intended to have one or two large integrated projects, incorporating all the different departments. She responded that DWAF was also a role player in land degradation and the NSC was trying to get the various departments to identify their projects which dealt with land degradation.

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) asked if the programs of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) encouraged neighbouring countries in Africa to assist each other in dealing with the scarcity of water. She asked where South Africa stood on this issue.

Ms Mbengashe answered that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had identified land degradation as an issue and its Natural Resources Committee had mobilised funding for trans-national programs dealing with this issue. It was generally accepted that the problem was massive and that there were not enough programs, research and funding available to deal with the issue. GEF funding was obtained for the Desert Margin Program and SADC was committed to prioritising land degradation. NEPAD had a meeting recently to discuss the mobilisation of funds for land degradation in Africa.

Ms Chalmers commented that the Committee had not yet seen the NAP program and that it could only profitably interact with the Department on the NAP once it had read the program. She added that the program had specific ways forward.

The Chairperson asked that the document be given to the Committee as soon as it was available.

The meeting was adjourned


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