India Promotes South-South Cooperation, but Key Questions Unaddressed

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi advocated, “greater
South-South cooperation in addressing climate change, biodiversity
and land degradation.” Courtesy: GCIS

By Joydeep Gupta
Sep 10 2019 (IPS)

At his speech at the United Nations Convention to Combat
Desertification (UNCCD) summit in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra
Modi emphasised South-South cooperation and technology solutions,
but issues of land ownership dog the ongoing negotiations.

As the second week of the UNCCD Conference of Parties (COP)
kicked off in Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
highlighted South-South cooperation and issues of land


Speaking at the opening ceremony of the high level segment, he
said that it was increasingly accepted that climate change impacts
were leading to a loss of land, plants and animal species, and that
it was causing, “land degradation of various kinds (including)
rise of sea levels, wave action, and erratic rainfall and

All of these issues have a significant impact on India, and
other developing countries, and as such, the Prime Minister
advocated, “greater South-South cooperation in addressing climate
change, biodiversity and land degradation.”

He said India would act both internally and externally on this.
Domestically, he said that India was increasing its commitment to
restore 21 million hectares of land by 2030 to 26 million hectares,
an increase of 5 million hectares. The co-benefit of this would be
that it would help create a carbon sink for 2.5-3 billion tonnes of
carbon through increased tree cover.

On external action, he said that India was, “happy to help
other friendly countries cost-effective satellite and space
technologies,” and that it would be creating a Centre for
Excellence at the Indian Council for Forestry Research and
Education in Dehradun to promote South-South cooperation, where
other countries could access technology and training.

Hard questions

Nevertheless, this avoids some of the hard questions that have
been dogging the UNCCD COP. Who owns the land? Who is responsible
when the land is no longer able to support a livelihood, and a
farmer is forced to migrate?

These are not questions anyone thought about when they launched
the UNCCD 25 years ago. But since degradation of land due to a
variety of reasons precedes desertification, these questions are
increasingly worrying policymakers, especially from developing
countries. At the ongoing New Delhi summit, the issues have come to
the fore, and have divided governments along the lines of developed
and developing nations, a process familiar to observers of UN
climate negotiations.

Despite Narendra Modi’s speech at the high level segment,
these issues remained unresolved, with bureaucrats awaiting
instructions from the 100-odd ministers gathered at the Indian

The NGOs who work on farming issues are clear that land
degradation cannot be halted unless farmers around the world have
guaranteed rights over the land on which they grow food for
everyone. This may sound like a no-brainer, but estimates show that
globally only around 12% of all farmers can claim legal rights over
the land they till. To this, experts would like to add the land
held in various forms of community ownership, sometimes by
indigenous communities. But few countries have strong laws to
protect such ownership.

In the first week of the New Delhi summit, developing country
governments have wanted this issue of land tenure being discussed
at the UNCCD forum, and developed countries – led by the US
delegation – have opposed the inclusion. The industrialised
countries say it is an issue of different laws in different
countries, and discussing it in the UN is not going to help.

Land tenure

But, with land degradation being inextricably tied up with
climate change and biodiversity, the urgency of the situation may
force UNCCD to discuss land tenure in this and future meetings, and
to come up with possible solutions.

The solutions are not always as straightforward as they may
seem, warned UNCCD chief scientist Baron Orr in a conversation
Think of what a farmer – especially a smallholder farmer – is
likely to do if offered a high price for land. Most of them are
likely to sell, as evidenced by the mushrooming malls, offices and
homes all around the current summit venue, which was all farmland
just about a decade ago. And what happens to our food supply if
this replicated globally?

Land tenure is important to halt degradation because people
naturally provide better protection to land they own. But it is not
enough. A farmer faced with competitors using chemical fertilisers
and pesticides is not going to move to organic farming just because
that is better for the soil.

Most farmers cannot afford to do that. They need help, as was
seen in India when the state of Sikkim pledged to do only organic
farming. Sikkim is a relatively small state – replicating that
kind of help on a global or even national scale may need far more
money than is available for the purpose, as Orr pointed out.

Land tenure is also an area where women face discrimination in a
big way. Data journalism site IndiaSpend reported that 73.2%
of the country’s rural women workers are farmers
, but have
only 12.8% of India’s land holdings.

Migration: the hot potato

Farmers being forced to migrate because their farms can no
longer support them due to land degradation and climate change is
the hottest potato of them all. Developed countries are united in
opposing this major “push” factor in migration, insisting that
people migrate only due to “pull” factors such as better
economic opportunities. Developing countries, especially those from
the Sahel belt stretching from the western to the eastern coast of
Africa, point to numerous instances where farmers are forced off
land gone barren, and insist on this issue being discussed by

Former UNCCD chief Monique Barbut has said almost all Africans
trying to move to Europe are doing so due to land degradation and
drought. Without putting it in words that strong, current UNCCD
chief Ibrahim Thiaw has backed the inclusion of migration in the
conference agenda.

As host government and conference president, India may have to
use all its diplomatic skills if this knot is to be untied during
this summit – an especially tricky manoeuvre because India has
consistently refused to accept that immigrants from Bangladesh are
entering this country because their farms can no longer support

And it is not just migration across countries. At a meeting
organised on the sidelines of the summit by local government
organisation ICLEI, mayor after mayor got up to say farmers are
coming into their cities in increasing numbers due to land
degradation and climate change, but they have no budget to provide
any housing, water, electricity, roads or any form of livelihood to
these millions of immigrants.

Still, developed country delegations insist UNCCD is not the
right forum to discuss migration. What all 196 governments and the
European Union agree upon in the next day or two remains to be

Human efforts

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister of Environment, Forests
and Climate Change and the conference president, had said at the
opening, “If human actions have created the problems of climate
change, land degradation and biodiversity loss, it is the strong
intent, technology and intellect that will make (the) difference.
It is human efforts that will undo the damage and improve the
habitats. We meet here now to ensure that this happens.” This
foreshadowed what the Prime Minister said today.

He pointed out that 122 countries, among them Brazil, China,
India, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa, which are among the
largest and most populous nations on earth, “have agreed to make
the Sustainable Development Goal of achieving land degradation
neutrality a national target.”

Thiaw drew attention to the warnings sounded by recent
scientific assessments and the growing public alarm at the
frequency of weather-related disasters such as drought, forest
fires, flash floods and soil loss. He urged delegates to be mindful
of the opportunities for change that are opening up, and take
action. The response of governments from developed countries will
decide how useful the current summit will be.

The world is in trouble otherwise. The current pace of land
transformation is putting a million species at risk of extinction.
One in four hectares of this converted land is no longer usable due
to unsustainable land management practices. These trends have put
the well-being of 3.2 billion people around the world at risk. In
tandem with climate change, this may force up to 700 million people
to migrate by 2050.

This story was first published on and can be found


The post
India Promotes South-South Cooperation, but Key Questions
appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Joydeep Gupta is the South Asia Director for the Third

The post
India Promotes South-South Cooperation, but Key Questions
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Food and Nutrition Blogs
India Promotes South-South Cooperation, but Key Questions Unaddressed