Report: Global observance of the World Day to Combat Desertification in Burkina Faso

The global celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) took place on Thursday, 15 June 2017 at the Centre des Conférences de Ouaga 2000, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Over 400 international and local participants attended the   ceremony with eminent personalities that included : Presidents, several ministers and high-ranking officials from Africa’s foreign affairs, interior and environment ministries, His Eminence Philippe Ouedraogo, Cardinal and Archbishop of Ouagadougou, representatives of intergovernmental organizations, civil society organizations and participants from other countries and international organizations. 

A high-level symposium of ministers and other government officials issued a Call for Action (EN FR) on land-based jobs to tackle Africa’s three big interlinked challenges – Sustainability, Stability, and Security – through the 3S initiative. The Call for Action was endorsed by the Presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in their joint statement which was made during the closing ceremony. Civil society organizations also read a statement. UNHCR submitted a position paper on people displaced by natural disasters and environmental changes. 

Presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger


Mayor of Ouagadougou Mr. Armand Roland Pierre Beound, in a welcome address delivered by his Deputy, on behalf of the City and national commune of Ouagadougou, welcomed participants to the celebration of WDCD. He expressed his appreciation for the decision to host the international observance in his country and his city. Welcoming the participants, he noted Africa’s critical challenges of water resources, population growth and land degradation. He said Burkina Faso has experiences and good practices in fighting desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) that have also shown results in reducing push factors of distressed migration. 

Representing the African Union, Mr. Ahmed Elmekaa, Director, African Union/SAFGRAD, drew attention to the resolutions on DLDD and  climate change that are at the top of the African Union (AU) environmental agenda, as reflected in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) within which Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and water management are considered priorities for addressing hunger. He recalled Africa’s Vision 2063 and its 10-year strategic plan – the Africa We Want - and stated a prosperous Africa must be based on sustainable growth and development. He was pleased that this year’s WDCD theme, “Our Land. Our Home. Our Future”, goes beyond the environmental issue. He welcomed the focus on migration and security and stressed how this should remind everyone about the importance of land in generating food, employment and livelihoods, as highlighted in the Sustainability, Stability and Security – the 3S Initiative. In line with this, he called on member states and international partners to create conditions for the development of employment opportunities and investment in rural infrastructure and to enhance the skills of young people. He concluded his statement with an inspirational declaration: “Vive l’Afrique, Vive, l’Afrique, Vive l’Afrique”.

H.E. Mr. Batio Bassiere, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change discussed the concept of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN), and the efforts by the United Nations to balance the degradation and restoration of land. Highlighting the Day’s theme, “Our Land. Our Home. Our Future.” he affirmed the importance of preserving land from any form of degradation, as a necessary asset for our survival and that of future generations. H.E. Mr. Bassiere addressed the dangerous impacts of  desertificationon livelihoods in Africa, due to the population’s high dependence on agriculture and silvo-pastoralism. He introduced the high-level symposium and mentioned the intention to summarize the discussions in a Call for action for land-based jobs in Africa, which will to be further promoted by the Presidents of Burkina Faso,  Mali, and Niger at the international level. The Minister called for international solidarity to change negative trends of desertification and declared  the High-level Forum of the WDCD officially open. (Read statement)


Introductory Remarks

Dr. Abdeladim Lhafi, President, Sahara and Sahel Observatory, High Commissioner for Water and Forests and the Fight against Desertification, Morocco, stressed we have no other planet, and yet our development is not sustainable. He said the land was becoming dysfunctional. Against these trends, LDN is an indicator that helps building an inventory of the lands that are being lost. He stressed that every year our ecological debt was increasing because our livelihoods do not conform to our ecological resources. This debt is more critical than others debts, he said. Dr. Lhafi also recalled the long road – that includes the industrial and agricultural revolutions -  that led to the present status of land degradation and the disappearance of more than 100,000 species. We need ruptures to address the problem, he said, and said today isn’t a celebration of nature but a moment to take inventory to see what has been achieved and project to what future we want, and then take action. Not forgetting the window is narrowing. Even so, he recalled a stream of recent good news – the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015; COP12 in Ankara that set the ball rolling on the Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting; the Paris Climate Change Agreement and Climate Change COP22 – all of which had produced a consensus on how to mobilize and reverse trends. (Read statement)

Ms. Ramatoulaye Dieng Ndiaye, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Senegal, discussed distressed migration and mentioned that Senegal wants to create new job opportunities by valorizing natural resources, developing ecotourism, taking advantage of carbon markets, and building upon the economic potential of value chains in the non-timber product. She introduced the 3S Initiative, which Senegal launched with Morocco at COP 22 in Marrakesh, by underlining  Africa’s most pressing challenges:  fragile environment, water scarcity, land degradation and the demographic explosion that is foreseen to reach  2 billion people by 2050. She also mentioned that, since agriculture represents 2/3 of the Gross Domestic Product, the potential for conflicts and instability is high when land is degraded. She said that most of the conflicts in Africa are related to natural resources, and land management is crucial to provide alternatives to forced migration and youth radicalization. She concluded by reiterating the focus of the 3S Initiative on providing vulnerable groups, such as migrants and unemployed youth, with access to land. She recalled the endorsements by the G7 and G20 and urged partners to promote its implementation. (Read statement)
Panel 1: The Sustainability Challenge

Mr. Ousman Sowe, Special Advisor to the President of the Republic of The Gambia, decried the fact that Africa’s youth that are the cream and future of the continent are risking their life to migrate. He mentioned that the evidence of distress migration is everywhere in Sahelian Africa, not only around Agadez, in rural Senegal or The Gambia, but also at the margins of the cities. More worrying are the thousands of migrants that get stranded on their way to Europe, referring to those migrants stranded in Libya that have become combatants after having lost everything. 

H.E. Ms. Keita Aida Mbo, Minister of Environment and Sanitation, Mali, said desertification is one of the Sahel’s biggest threats hindering development, poverty eradication and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. The more visible consequences are poverty, land degradation, loss of land fertility and decrease of yield. Distress migration is worsening the situation. In Mali, internal migratory movements are important, and massive displacement took place in 1972 and 1984. Since 2000, internal migration  has increased because of desertification. She also highlighted that in Mali 2,700 youth are being trained in agriculture through the support of private banks and collateral fund; green economic strategies were developed  in 2012 and 2014; a training programme for rural youth with a capitalization of 12 billion CFA has been set up. She also mentioned a tax on companies that generates more than 7 billion CFA per year and is distributed to a national agency for training youth. She recalled the importance of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative that covers 226,260 villages with a strip of 100km of land. Finally, she stressed the need to: create new opportunities for employment and to strengthen them through concrete actions; improve access to land for vulnerable groups; and develop tolls for land reclamation, particularly for women and youth. 

Mr. Emmanuel Munyeneh, Assistant Minister of International Cooperation and Economic Integration, Liberia, stated that migration has a long history and with some key driving factors. He said political instability, economic hardship and poverty, the dependence on and decline of natural resources, social strife, ethnic conflict, economic inequalities, globalization and technology are all linked to youth migration. He noted the most at risk of migrating to Europe and other countries – are not just the poor, but those better off who are also willing to take a risk. He said the right polices and approaches are needed to meet the needs of youth, and 3S presents some of the answers to the growing waves of the migration, especially of the most vulnerable. He noted that since military coups no longer have a place in ECOWAS, stability and economic empowerment are the key challenges the region faces. He said lack of education chances opportunities (or lack therefore) could increase inequality. Quality education and technology for youth will be useful in ensuring equitable distribution of wealth. There is a need for a strong relationship between natural resource management and the aspirations of people, and including youth in the national development process would be vital. He also addressed the environmental aspects and implications of migration particularly on land degradation ., including the environmental implication of migration, particularly on land degradation. Studies show that intensive migration in search of fertile land and water are part of the causes of conflict. Land disputes make up 45-50% of court cases in Liberia, he reported. Migration in search of fertile land across borders is common and can lead to tension. He stressed the need for strong policy and constructive actionable dialogue and called on this high-level forum to show the link between migration, deforestation and land degradation. He concluded that the improvement of youth livelihoods and market-driven opportunities, with attention to rural communities, will be vital, as well as addressing key Sustainable Development Goals, such as eradicating poverty and hunger. (Read statement)

Mr. Ali Riza Diniz, Deputy Under-secretary, Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, Turkey, described the challenges rural populations in Turkey’s drylands faced in the past, which had led to high rural-urban migration, the practical actions the Government had taken and managed to reverse the trend, and what was planned for the future. To reverse the process, priority was given to: investing in agricultural irrigation in order to create rural employment, energy and rural infrastructure to enhance access to the market and eliminate poverty and unemployment that causes migration; subsidizing the weakest links and most vulnerable; sustainable management of water resources; and drought mitigation. The strategy included an initiative to combat agricultural drought to minimize its impacts through management plans with actions for before, during and after a drought. And they introduced drought-resistant species. By constructing transport systems and irrigating dry farming regions, we increased the production and use of knowledge and technology in all production levels and managed to reverse rural to urban migration. Turkey is one of the countries that has managed to increase its forest cover through afforestation and plans to plan 4 billion trees on 4 million hectares over 12 years to introduce irrigation on 2.2 million hectares of land by 2030. He said happiness and prosperity is for everyone in the world and his country will cooperate with Africa in this regard. 

Mr. Mamadou Moussa Diakhite, Director, Sustainable Land and Water Management, NEPAD, outlined his organization's activities that are linked to sustainable land and water management, and combatting desertification and land degradation. He noted that NEPAD was mandated by the African Union to coordinate all activities on combatting desertification and land degradation, and mentioned its involvement in the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, TerrAfrica and AFR100, an initiative to rehabilitate 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. He said 23 countries have signed letters of commitment for a total of 75 million hectares. In addition, South Africa recently joined the initiative, adding another 3 million hectares, and urged other countries to join the initiative. 

Panel 2: The Security Challenge

Mr. Noah Auta Dauda, Director, Joint Services, Ministry of Interior, Nigeria, spoke about the activities the Government has initiated to address distress migration. They include providing improved irrigation services and making job opportunities available in the source areas and signing agreements with some European countries to aid the management of migrants in the receiving areas. He said the government has set out legal requirements for the admission of foreigners and set up more than 700 local offices down to the lowest level of governance to register aliens who come to Nigeria. He drew attention to the actions countries are taking to control migration without refusing people the right to free movement, in the context of the ECOWAS Protocol on the Freedom of Movement, and stressed that a managed approach does not pose threats to security. Other efforts including the AU supported development of micro-chips to tag cattle, which will help to manage cattle movement and rustling across borders, and control the proliferation of small and light arms and criminals. In Northern Nigeria, school enrollment has been increased, and free education for the first 12-years of schooling and a school feeding programme are being provided in order to improve nutrition to eliminate the recruitment and radicalization of children by groups such as Boko Haram. He also reported on an initiative under development to recharge Lake Chad, which has been shrinking, and said Nigeria cannot do it alone. This, he said, has necessitated a collaborative approach through bilateral and multi-lateral efforts. 

H.E. Mr. Xavier Lepeyre de Cabanes, Ambassador of France to Burkina Faso, stated that security is not only limited to migration; there are other aspects that are linked to security in the region. He stressed that the EU is looking at potential measures that were already presented in 2015 in La Valetta. France will intensify its cooperation and dialogue with Africa in the framework of the 3S, climate change and the fight against poverty in those countries. The French agency for development is committing EUR 5 billion for this. CIERAD and IRD will collaborate with the UNCCD to get data on the effects of desertification and   migration, and develop policies that will assist in improving the situation. The other priorities that France has identified are disaster reduction, the Great Green Wall for Sahara and Sahel, improving weather forecasting, land reclamation, land tenure regime and food security. The Ambassador proposed that the Ouagadougou call also include the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is mentioned. He rhetorically asked why the President of the United States decided to quit the Paris Agreement when they care about security and terrorism. It is obvious that both things are linked, he said. Desertification in the Sahel is linked to conflict and insecurity. We cannot fight desertification without fighting climate change. He concluded with the call; let’s make the planet great again. (Read statement)

Colonel Roger Koie-Kouassi, In Charge of Defense Mission, Ministry of Interior, Public Security and Territorial Administration, Central African Republic (CAR), asked : What can  Africa  do to address this challenge? He apologized on behalf of the minister, noting that the security situation in the east of the country hampered his participation at the Symposium. CAR is mainly a rural country, he said, and is facing a serious threat to peace and stability. The challenges are huge, and in spite of the instability, there are factors that can enable resilience. For instance, having a tropical climate can support agricultural production, but the pressure on natural resources is very high, with timber decreasing and religious conflicts increasing. He reported that most of the country’s population is below 24 years of age and because of the marginalization of youth, terrorists can easily radicalize them. About 75% of the population depends on the agriculture; 96 % of the farmers lack access to seeds and 2 million people are food insecure. The land has a lot of natural resources but is not properly exploited. Only 1/3 is cultivated. Migrants are facing integration problems. Mr. Koie-Kouassi said 92 % of the displaced people lost their resources which their livelihoods depended on. Furthermore, there is a problem with the ownership of land. Returnees lose everything because upon their return, in some cases, they cannot prove that they were the legitimate owners of the property to start with. Transhumance is another source of conflict. Climate change brings nomads to the borders and there are huge risks. Pastoralists get armed to protect their cattle, which creates conflict and enhances weapons trafficking. He said the return of migrants needs to be linked to security and reconciliation. Mr. Koie-Kouassi indicated that in October 2016 the country adopted a national plan to provide a sustainable answer to the population which included:

·    Support peace, security and reconciliation of the combatants 
·    Renew the social aspects related to food security and resilience and reduce conflicts related to   natural resources 
·    Boost economy and private sector through a capitalization of small farmers and pastoralists to mitigate the conflict between them.
(Read statement)

Panel 3: Stability Opportunity

The Deputy Minister of Environment andSustainable Development, Niver, on behalf of the Minister Al Moustapha Garba, highlighted the challenges the country is facing that include population growth, vulnerability to climate change and the movement of sand hills that occupy fertile areas. He said desertification; land degradation and drought in the Sahel, and Niger in particular, have consequences on the production system. Declining of food production, leads to food insecurity because communities are losing land, which is their means of subsistence. Sahel and Niger are characterized by terrorist groups that take advantage of poor  and vulnerable populations for recruitment. To manage these challenges, Niger is finding opportunities in making soil restoration a core priority of the Government. In 2015, the country restored 250,000 ha of degraded land, at a cost of about 200,000 FCFA per hectare, 30-40% of which goes directly to populations. He said communities reported that the  work of recovering degraded land is better than working in agriculture. He  made reference to  a joint project in Agadez - a border crossing area for migrants – in Niger, which is being implemented with the UNCCD under the 3S initiative. Aiming to restore degraded land that will be productive in 2-3 years and will be allocated to returning migrants. The project will create 470 jobs linked to soil restoration. The project is a demonstration site for migrants to show that it is possible to restore degraded land, to make it profitable and to create employment. It will give them an idea of what they can do when they return. 

Mr. Guido Carrara, Head of Political Section, European Union (EU) Delegation in Burkina Faso said the EU has been a development partner in Africa for 46 years, and that it is now more and more involved in security issues. Not just because of the traditional relationship but because  the implications of its security also affect Europe. Developing resilience to environmental degradation, desertification and climate change are part of the pillars of the common strategy between Africa and Europe. In the framework of this strategy, there are many options and opportunities. He highlighted that increasing resilience, increasing quality jobs for youth, more stability and prosperity of both sides will be part of the agenda of the EU and AU summit in Abidjan in November. He asserted  that strengthening governance and human rights and rule of law are also part of the relationship. He recalled on a new initiative to invest EUR44 million in Africa by 2020 with a view to create jobs and investments in Africa in order to target the root causes of migration. Priority investments would go, inter alia, into basic infrastructure, environment, sustainable management, natural resources management and energy, and thus contribute to implementing the Paris Agreement. He said the 3S has been discussed as a co-funded initiative with EU through UNCCD to explore the links between desertification, land degradation and climate change, peace and stability, and the creation of millions of jobs for youth, women and migrants and people returning to their countries and those who are likely to leave. He also highlighted other relevant actions under the EU, including the Valletta Joint Action Plan, on which basis a Trust Fund was set up and co-financed by end of 2016. In two-and-a-half-years, it has initiated 118 projects. About EUR1.9 billion will support activities in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, EUR 1billion is earmarked for the Horn of Africa and EUR 350 million will go to North Africa. He said EUR 822 million has been disbursed already. He stressed the lack of inaction over the last 20-30 years regarding the changes in demography and stressed the need to act now. (Read statement)

Mr. Ibrahim Loumoumba IDI-ISSA, Deputy Executive Secretary of CILSS (Permanent Inter-State Commission on the Sahara and Sahel) stated that as requested, his talk would focus on the service delivery CILSS could provide for the 3S. He discussed the evolution of the CILSS and its target for actions, namely, food and nutrition security, drought, population growth, access to agricultural and agri-food products, water control and focus on resilience and gender equality. He said the technical and scientific expertise developed by CILSS on these issues aim to improve the living conditions for Sahelian people. Regarding the 3S, he underlined the challenge of youth employment because Africa’s population will double by 2050, of which 50-60% of will be in the rural areas. He said 300,000 to 400,000 people are on the labor market every year.  He stressed that the Sahel region needs to address food security, and noted that less than 3% of the agricultural land is irrigated and less than 5% of our natural resources are exploited. He said CILSS will back the 3S initiative with its scientific heritage by providing their expertise and the tools they have developed to guide implementation in member states. He presented a wide range of the tools, among them, tools to identify areas of vulnerability, guide orientation of land rehabilitation, improve agricultural production, and build scenarios to better manage those resources and models to map soil fertility that would enable farmers and young people to improve production in the context of green employment. He said agriculture can be interesting for young people but they will need adequate compensation to return to it, and stressed the need to develop production models to increase productivity, diversify goods and enter new markets, and on governance instruments for food security and early warning system. 

Ms. Roukiattou Ouedraogo of the nongovernmental organization(NGO) SPONG, spoke on behalf of the NGOs. She presented the results of their meeting and field visit held respectively on 13 and 14 June. She also highlighted a successful land restoration intervention by a local farmer, and drew attention to local innovative methods such as Zaï that have improved land productivity and helped local populations to feed themselves. She underlined that civil society organizations have experiences that can be scaled up, and invited technical and financial experts to explore how these experiences could be integrated into broader initiatives. She also appealed to the EU to ensure the mobilization of USD100 billion per year for climate change actions become a reality.

Question and Answer Session

A question and answer session followed the presentations. The issues of interest included: concrete examples of how to support forced migrants in the countries they flee to without criminalizing them; whether there was any intention to integrate the education and training of youth in the 3S; how the tools developed by CILSS were being disseminated and could be made accessible to farmers, land users and civil society organizations; and the role of research and collaboration with academic institutions to support 3S.

In their responses, Nigeria shared their experience in receiving and settling forced migrants and the development investments they are making to halt and/or reverse forced out-migration. Respondents also stated that the 3S initiative will take into account the training of women and youth targeted. Wetlands International drew attention to a publication on this issue that was released last week. 


The Master of Ceremonies called the meeting to order at 2:30 pm and invited the guests to welcome the Presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. A dance troupe from Burkina Faso entertained the guests. 

Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, and H.E. Mr. Batio Bassiere, Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change, Burkina Faso, signed Burkina Faso’s declaration and commit to the Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting Programme.

signing ceremony

Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso presented and submitted an “Appeal from interreligious forum (read text in EN FR SP)” from Burkina Faso’s religious and faith organizations, who called upon all – governors, men and women of our continent - each at their own location to collaborate urgently in the restoration of our environment, our common home, and for green jobs in land restoration to create employment, especially for young people. On their part, the faith and religious organizations pledged to engage in the context of their own realities and environments and to work together to address the challenge of Climate Change that threatens humanity. 

H.E. Mr. Batio Bassiere, Minister of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change, Burkina Faso, presented the Call for Action (EN FR) from the High-level activities carried out at the symposium. 

In an interactive Griot style of song and conversation, two Burkinabé artists, a poet and a singer and Tam Tam player conversed about the challenges of desertification and land degradation, including the distress migration of youth and the responsibility of governments.

Ms. Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, referred to a saying used by the Burkina people, “the mother is there, the child too, now all we need is a little luck,” to argue that the Sahel region has some advantages they could bring them luck such as the demographic dividend and the international community moving fast to act on climate change. She said however, she wouldn’t count on those. Instead, she challenged the region to create their own luck through preparation, for instance, by allocating 100,000 hectares of degraded land for restoration by young rural people. It would create jobs, increase food productivity. (Read statement)

President Roch Kaboré of Burkina Faso delivered the closing speech that was jointly prepared with Presidents Ibrahim Keita of Mali and Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, and who were at the ceremony in support of and in solidarity with the President Kaboré and to receive the call from the Symposium. The Presidents received the Call for Action on the 3S initiative presented by the ministers, and congratulated the latter on their work and the conclusions they had reached. He said the Call was exhaustive for the international authorities to act upon and that as Heads of State, they would work in partnership at regional and global levels to deliver the message. They said combatting desertification is insurance for the future, therefore we should develop technologies on sustainable land management and the skills young people need to restore the land; and provide finance that is innovative at national, regional and international levels. The international community will be indispensable and together, they said, we can reverse land degradation. President Kaboré announced that his country would restore 5 million hectares of land by 2030, which could help meeting the needs of 6 million people.

The closing ceremony adjourned at 4:30pm.

At a dinner ceremony held immediately following the closure of the ceremony, the UNCCD announced the winners of the Land for Life Award, Practical Action Sudan/UNEP from Sudan; Watershed Organization Trust from India. The Land for Life China award was given to Ms Yingzhen Pan, Director General of National Bureau to Combat Desertification, China. 


Photos courtesy of NEPAD/Teko Nhlapo