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Former Finnish President becomes UNCCD Drylands Ambassador

Nairobi, The Coordinator of the African Alliance of Rangeland Management and Development has congratulated Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland for accepting her designation as Drylands Ambassador of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) for at least two years.
During this time, she will promote the shift towards sustainable land management practices globally and better livelihoods for rural women in the drylands.
Henry Neondo said he looks forward to seeing her do more to push to the centre-stage of the global agenda challenges of drylands.
According Neondo, drylands make up to over 60% of the continent’s landmass, but despite this, governments have continued to deny their development.
These areas have poor infrastructure and are not adequately served by roads or telecommunications. Health and educational services are rudimentary or absent and they are cut off from markets for agricultural or veterinary inputs and to sell agricultural or livestock products.

He attributes this to among many other reasons assumption by governments that drylands are wastelands, with little potential, and in need of constant supplies of food aid.
Contrary to this erroneous belief, the drylands have proven that they can sustain agriculture including tree-based livelihoods and animal production.
Yet in Africa, the drylands have sustained wildlife and bring in important tourist revenue that is ranked among the top five contributors to GDP of many African economies and hence, said Mr Neondo, Halonen’s work is already cut out.
“Sustainable development, poverty eradication and the empowerment of women are very close to my heart. That is why I agreed to serve as Co-Chair of the UN Millennium Summit, later as Co-Chair of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainably, and now as Drylands Ambassador of the UNCCD,” Halonen said when she accepted the designation.
“Soil protection and the promotion of sustainable land management and agriculture are central tools for tackling poverty. I intend to promote sustainable land management at all levels, and its inclusion in the new sustainable development goals and the post-2015 Development Agenda. This is crucial for effective poverty eradication,” Halonen added.
Scientists estimate that every year, at least 12 million hectares of productive land is lost through desertification and drought alone, and that over 24 billion tons of fertile soil is lost through erosion. Poor agricultural practices are a leading driver and have become more powerful as weather events get more erratic and extreme.
Welcoming Drylands Ambassador Halonen, Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary said, “Her Excellency is a global leader on sustainable development and women’s empowerment. We are deeply honored by her willingness to put her vast experience and expertise at the disposal of the Convention.”
“Effective cooperation is a pre-requisite for addressing land degradation and reducing poverty. And she is a strong advocate on how to resolve the widespread poverty and gender disparities that are tearing apart societies, especially among many of the climate-vulnerable land-dependent dryland peoples of the world. We will also listen carefully to her advice,” Barbut added. At the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012, world leaders agreed to strive towards a land-degradation neutral world with a view to halt the rapid loss of productive land.
Former Presidents Halonen of Finland and Pedro Pires of Cape Verde, who also became a UNCCD Drylands Ambassador in October 2013, intend to promote the realization of this vision. Halonen was President of Finland from March 2000 to March 2012, and is Finland’s first female head of state. Social justice and the promotion of equality have remained core issues in her political career. UNCCD Drylands Ambassadors are designated by the Executive Secretary and serve for a two-year term with the possibility of renewal.

The African Alliance for Rangeland Management and Development (AARMD) is a continental movement of organizations in Africa, brought together by the desire to shape the opinions and advocate for effective policies that will protect rangelands in the light of climate change, drought, desertification and land degradation.
Membership is open to Non-governmental organizations, research institutions, Foundations, Trusts, Community-based organizations, faith-based networks, national coalitions and regional networks in Africa.

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