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Desertification and Drought Day 2024 in Bonn

On 17 June 2024 Desertification and Drought Day in Bonn, Germany will host the Global Observance Event. This will also mark the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), one of the three Rio Conventions alongside climate and biodiversity.

“United for Land: Our Legacy. Our Future”

Every single second, we lose valuable, healthy land the size of four soccer fields worldwide. That amounts to a total of 100 million hectares per year - an area almost three times the size of Germany. Engaging present and future generations is more important than ever to halt and reverse these alarming trends and meet global commitments to restore 1 billion hectares of degraded land by 2030. 

The theme chosen for this year's Desertification and Drought Day (DDD 2024) “United for Land: Our Legacy. Our Future.” — seeks to mobilize all parts of society in support of sustainable land stewardship. On and around 17 June, outreach and action are visible around the world. In Bonn, a Youth Conference “Youth United4Land” on 16 June will precede the celebration of the Global Observance 2024.

On the occasion of DDD 2024, the Bonn International News (BIN) editors talked to the hosts and partners of the event, as well as to one of the land heroes, representatives of the young generation of land activists and ambassadors nominated by UNCCD.

Ibrahim Thiaw, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of UNCCD

BIN: Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, you are Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. May we ask you: why is are we marking Desertification and Drought Day each year?

Thiaw: On this Desertification and Drought Day, we highlight the importance of intergenerational stewardship for our land. Land degradation affects up to 40% of the planet and nearly half the world's population, particularly one billion poor whose livelihoods depend on healthy land. Half of these - 556 million -- are under the age of 18, with young rural women particularly disadvantaged. Land restoration can unlock multiple opportunities for youth, create decent jobs, enhance food and water security, conserve our natural and cultural heritage and build resilience. By caring for our land, we ensure a sustainable future for present and future generations.

Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

BIN editors also spoke to Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Ministry is taking the lead within the German Federal Government in hosting the Global Observance 2024.

BIN: State Secretary Flasbarth, on 17 June, Germany is hosting this year’s Global Observance Event on the Desertification and Drought Day in Bonn. Your Ministry is deeply invested in better land policies worldwide. Why is this topic of importance?

Flasbarth: The condition of our soils plays a central role for all of us. Soils retain water, allow trees and plants to grow, act as habitats and store CO2. We will only be able to feed humankind and deal with the climate crisis if we have healthy soils. This means that protecting soil and land is a global challenge. 

Large sections of the world’s population are already affected by drought – and not just in desert regions. The condition of the soils in Europe is also deteriorating rapidly. Almost 95 per cent of our food production relies on these soils. As carbon stores, soils play a major role in combatting climate change, and represent the source of life for around two thirds of the organisms on our planet – including people.

In short: protecting soils is a vital task for the future. We need to tackle it together as a global community, and together with the younger generation. 

BIN: What exactly does your commitment to land issues look like – and why are young people key to many solutions?

Flasbarth: Protecting our soils is a cross-generational task. As the host of this year’s Observance Event of Desertification and Drought Day in Bonn, Germany wants to give young people in particular a voice and to enable them to represent their concerns in international political processes. 

In collaboration with the United Nations and the City of Bonn, we are inviting young people who are actively involved in soil protection – such as young farmers and scientists – to attend a workshop in the run-up to Desertification and Drought Day. The concepts and ideas they develop at the workshop will be presented by the participants at the Observance Event, and we will take them with us to the next UN conference on land and drought taking place in Saudi Arabia in December. 

Through our German development policy, we are working with partner countries and international organisations such as the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to protect and restore healthy soils worldwide. 

Germany is supporting small farmers around the world to make arable land fertile again and to protect water catchment areas. 

In Ethiopia, for example, constructing small dams has restored soil fertility and increased the groundwater level, meaning that drinking water is available for longer periods during the year. Germany is also working with the Ethiopian government to foster sustainable farming practices and the efficient use of fertiliser. This reduces the amount spent on expensive imported fertiliser, and reduces the strain on both soils and groundwater. 

Katja Dörner, Mayor of Bonn

BIN editors also spoke to Katja Dörner, Mayor of the host city of the Global Observance 2024. 

BIN: This year’s DDD is taking place in the UN City of Bonn. Mayor Dörner, how is the city taking initiative for healthy soils – and why is it so important to reach out to children and young people?

Dörner: Land, climate and nature – these three are inseparably entwined. Global strategies and debates come together at UN Bonn, with two of the three so-called Rio Conventions (UNFCCC and UNCCD) working from here, as well as the science-policy platform for biodiversity, IPBES. In the daily business of our city administration, we cannot but address more than one issue at a time. The management of our nature preserves, parks and gardens, for instance, addresses the land as much as it protects our plants and animals. With our activities as a sponge city or the promotion of organic farming, we take a stand against sealing. Keeping up open spaces in the city reduces the consequences of heat and heavy rains. At the same time, it creates new habitats for plant and animal species. Furthermore, our environmental education center House of Nature has developed special learning modules on soil and its inhabitants. 

Organic agriculture plays a vital role in soil conservation. Therefore, Bonn engages as a BioCity, promoting organic farming and advancing the use of organic products for example in school meals or retirement home catering.

I am pleased that one of Bonn’s active secondary schools, “BonnsFünfte”, is a so-called “AckerSchule”, where students may learn all about organic farming in educational and practical lessons on the school farmland. This school will now be awarded the title “Land Friendly School”, offering additional learning opportunities throughout the year. 

Engaging youth and giving them a strong voice is close to my heart. Therefore, at Desertification and Drought Day 2024, Bonn is not only supporting the Global Observance hosted by the Federal Government of Germany, but also co-hosting the Youth Conference “United4Land” bringing together young Land Heroes and young activists – including a student delegation from Bonn - to work on positions towards COP 15. Because land is our legacy and our future – a future they will be living in. 

Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven, GIZ Managing Director

At a global scale, GIZ is a key player in supporting better land management in many places in the world. BIN editors asked GIZ Managing Director Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven about the legacy this is building.

BIN: Ingrid Hoven, How are programs led by GIZ contributing to development and a better future for next generations?

Hoven: The future of our land is at stake. Desertification, land degradation, and drought are among the most pressing global challenges, threatening our most precious resource: land. It provides us with food, clothes, and shelter. Yet, the growing world population is exacerbating the pressure on land due to unsustainable production and consumption patterns.

This year’s theme of Desertification and Drought Day “United for Land: Our Legacy. Our Future” spotlights the future of land stewardship to raise global awareness for this resource. It is land that secures livelihoods and provides stability and prosperity for billions of people around the globe.

I am convinced that we need to engage not only present but also future generations when addressing these challenges. Young voices need to be heard. Indigenous knowledge needs to be preserved. During my visits in our partner countries, I am regularly witnessing the share of young people eager to make a change. I am therefore honored to work for an organization that puts people first.

We at GIZ support our partners continuously to improve their food and nutrition security. More than two million people have participated in trainings on soil protection and rehabilitation and could increase their yield by up to 70%.

A project implemented by GIZ in Burkina Faso has improved the job prospects, particularly of young people in rural areas, using mango and cashew dumplings as organic fertilizers. This new approach could not only improve the fertility of soil but also created 130 new jobs in promising start-ups.

We look forward to sharing such experiences, to networking and to learning from each other on this year’s Desertification and Drought Day.

Kehkashan Basu, President of the Green Hope Foundation

Kehkashan Basu from Canada is founder and President of the Green Hope Foundation. She was appointed a UNCCD Land Hero in acknowledgement and support of her work.

BIN: Kehkashan Basu, can you tell us a bit more about your work with the Green Hope Foundation? And also, as a young leader, how does this year’s slogan “United for Land: Our Legacy. Our Future” resonate with you? 

Basu: The theme of "United for Land: Our Legacy. Our Future" is extremely relevant to the work that I have done for more than a decade through my organization, Green Hope Foundation, on the intersection of achieving land degradation neutrality, social equity and gender equality. As someone who works in communities that are suffering from land degradation, both as a direct impact and a consequence of climate change, it is evident that without land, there can be no future for us, as human beings. 

We often take the land that we live on for granted and do not realize how it sustains our food, the clothes we wear, the places we live and work in, and thus, we choose to ignore the tremendous consequences of land degradation on the lives of those most vulnerable, especially women and girls. 

When working in the communities that are suffering as a result of degraded land, it becomes evident that there is an urgent need to achieve land degradation neutrality, not only to protect the environment for future generations, but also to ensure social equity and gender equality to make sure that we do not leave behind one half of humanity. We witness every day how women and girls still lack land rights and tenure security while at the same time being burdened with the task of rebuilding post-climate change-induced disasters. 

As a young leader, I believe that if we are to secure our legacy as responsible global citizens and thereby, our future, it is imperative that we take into account the importance of land and be united in our efforts to achieve land degradation neutrality for economic, social and environmental justice.

BIN editors would like to thank all organizers and partners of DDD 2024 for sharing with us their valuable insights and perspective.