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Policies, institutions, economic trends and desertification

Efforts to develop rational dryland use policies and plans have been hampered by the lack of resources and capacities for their effective implementation (Wood and Rydén 1992). Many rural institutions are under-funded or being dismantled in fulfillment of structural adjustment commitments, creating uncertainty in basic support systems such as credit and marketing. On the other hand, the emergence of new institutions and institutional relationships among government and international agencies, NGOs, community organizations and the private sector is a positive trend.

Many rural development policies and institutions in the developing world are subject to conflicting pressures, for example between urban, farming and pastoralist constituencies. The tradeoffs as well as synergies among agricultural productivity, human welfare and environmental sustainability are especially challenging (Ruben et al. 2001). Often the only politically viable option is to defer the changes needed to arrest land degradation.

It is increasingly realized that local institutions can be effective agents for sustainable land use if they are understood and supported rather than superseded (Mazzucato and Niemeijer 2002). To support these institutions, a better understanding is needed of the conditions that lead to their sustenance. The risk of not doing so is that well-intentioned external interventions could go awry. Efforts to privatize land for example can disrupt customary tenure arrangements and inter-ethnic relations leading to social conflict and negative impacts on the environment (Turner 1999).

At the macro-economic level, structural adjustment of national economic policies during the 1980s/90s made some developing-world goods and services somewhat more globally competitive. However, agricultural subsidies in Europe and the USA still significantly impede developing-world access to global markets, depressing their agricultural sector and their ability to invest in new sustainable technologies (McCalla 2002). Structural adjustment also led to higher input prices in local currency in many developing countries (Hazell 2001). This has constrained farmer's use of fertilizer and other purchased inputs, aggravating the depletion of soil fertility.

Falling farm productivity encourages people, especially the young, to migrate out in search of better options. This increases farm labor costs and disrupts social structures, including the adoption of new technology.

International fora and conventions help countries make policy choices about dryland degradation (Hannam and Boer 2001). A number of important milestones include the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment (1972), The World Soil Charter (1982), The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), the Earth Summit (1992), the UN Millennium Declaration (2000) and the World Sustainable Development Summit (2002). These provide avenues for desertification issues to enter into top-level discussions and decision-making.

Traditionally, dry areas received limited amounts of development assistance due to a perception that the return on investment will be greater in more favorable environments. However, recent studies in India and China have found greater returns to public research investments in the drylands, than in more favorable areas. Rural infrastructure, such as roads to reduce the costs of inputs and marketing, along with education, communications and health care are essential for helping farmers improve their competitiveness and profitability (Lewis 2003).

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References Hannam, I. D. and Boer, B. W. 2001. Land degradation and international environmental law. Pp. 429-438 in Bridges, E. M., Hannam, I. D., Oldeman L. R., Penning de Vries, F. W. T., Scherr, S.J. and Sombatpanit, S. 2001. Response to Land Degradation. Enfield, New Hampshire, USA: Science Publishers.

Hazell, P. 2001. Strategies for the sustainable development of dry areas. Bonn and Rome: United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and UNCCD Global Mechanism.

Lewis, A. 2003. Revitalizing the drive for rural infrastructure. IFPRI Forum Sept. 2003:1-12. Washington DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.

Mazzucato, V. and Niemeijer, D. 2002. Population growth and the environment in Africa: Local informal institutions, the missing link. Economic Geography 78:171-193.

McCalla, A. 2002. The long arm of industrialized countries: how their agricultural policies affect food security. Pp. 94-96 in Sustainable Food Security for All by 2020: Proceedings of an International Conference, Sept. 4-6, 2001, Bonn, Germany. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute.

Ruben, R., Kuyvenhoven, A. and Kruseman, G. 2001. Bioeconomic models and ecoregional development: policy instruments for sustainable intensification. In Lee, D.R. and Barrett, C. B. (eds.), Tradeoffs or Synergies? Agricultural Intensification, Economic Development and the Environment. Wallingford, UK: CAB International.

Turner, M. D. 1999. Conflict, environmental changes, and social institutions in dryland Africa: limitations of the community resource management approach. Society and Natural Resources 12:643-657.

Wood, A. P. and Rydén, P. 1992 (eds.) The IUCN Sahel Studies 1991. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN-The World Conservation Union.


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