Ensuring food security is one of the most pressing challenges in Africa, which is increasingly losing ground as a result of challenges from climate change to land degradation, the top United Nations environment official today said, urging a stronger emphasis on the continent’s transition to a ‘green economy.’
“From plugging into solar power in Algeria and Tunisia to investing in green funds in South Africa, diverse pathways to greener and more-inclusive economies are being pursued across the continent,” the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, said in his message for Africa Environment Day. “This transition must be accelerated.”
Africa Environment Day, marked annually on 3 March, focuses this year on ‘Combating Desertification in Africa: Enhancing Agriculture and Food Security.’
The continent has lost 65 per cent of its agricultural land since 1950 due to land degradation, according to figures cited by UNEP. Up to 12 per cent of its agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) is lost due to deteriorating conditions and 135 million people are at risk of having to move from their land by 2020 due to desertification.
This year’s commemoration coincides with Wangari Maathai Day, which is dedicated to the celebration of the work and vision of Africa’s first female Nobel laureate, champion of grassroots environmental activism, and fervent defender of biodiversity.
Inspired by the Ms. Maathai and her Green Belt Movement, UNEP created the Billion Tree Campaign in 2006. The campaign surpassed its initial goal of planting one billion trees in just a few months.
“Professor Maathai showed the kind of visionary leadership that will be required to win this crucial race,” Mr. Steiner said.
He added hope that “other leaders will be inspired to pick up the baton and ensure that Africa’s rich natural resources can be conserved, and thus serve as the foundation for a sustainable future and food security for all on the continent.”