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Lessons learnt from COP11

The year 2013 will probably be one of the biggest and busiest year our country and Windhoek in particular, has experienced in terms of hosting international conferences.
Windhoek recently played host to the 8th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training held in late May. Not long after, the 8th edition of the Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) Games were also held in Windhoek in late August.
In October, two more major events will be hosted in Windhoek, the 9th edition of the IWA  International Conference on WaterReuse as well as the Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS). Many have wondered whether Namibia is ready to host these conferences considering the importance and magnitude of such conferences. We have however surpassed our ability to successfully host the SARPCCO and the ICT events but only time will tell if we can pull off both the ATWS and the Water conference.
The past two weeks, Windhoek was invaded by United Nations delegates who attended the just concluded United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)11th Conference Of The Parties (COP11). This is probably the most important conference Namibia will ever host this year as it brought more than 2000 delegates from over 194 countries to discuss matters relating to drought and land degradation.
Hosting the COP11 in Namibia is befitting especially since we are experiencing one of the worst drought to hit our country but also because the delegates at the COP11 are supposed to find solutions to address drought related issues.
As important as this COP11 sounds, the conference technically does not mean anything to an average farmer in the rural area who has experienced drought first hand. Yes delegates will debate and arrive at solutions to improve the living conditions of people affected by desertification and land degradation but what exactly does this mean to a farmer in Kunene region? Many farmers will probably agree with me when I say nothing.
The conference had hiccups in its first week. Apart from obvious preference of foreign international exhibitors to our very own local exhibitors, the Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) held a peaceful demonstration on the premises and protested against the presence of agribusiness at the COP11. Agribusinesses are accused of promoting pesticides that destroy crucial micro-organisms that affect the nutrient cycle in the soil, prevent natural re-generation of the soil, resulting in continuous land degradation.
The CSO’s also want to be given a much bigger role in the decision making of the UNCCD as they feel they are more connected with the farmers on grass-roots level.
Another de-facto is the level of communication between the media and the affected farmers. Lets face it, the COP11 does not necessarily concern the average citizen except that the country will benefit immensely from such a conference in terms of exposure and monetary benefit. Also, the terms land degradation and desertification are new concepts to many Namibians. Mention drought and the average farmer will be able to tell you what it is. With that said, the average person is really not interested in this conference so covering the COP11 in local newspapers and on television is not as major as it would have been broadcasted on indigenous radio stations. It is a fact that people who are more keen on finding out about the decisions taken at this conference are the very same farmers who in most cases do not own a television set, let alone read the newspapers. The media should have conducted regular radio shows to inform the affected people, who are kilometres away, of what is happening at the conference. This conference would have made even more sense to farmers had it been hosted elsewhere near the affected town areas, not in Windhoek.
Lets hope the up coming events will live up to our expectations!

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