Desertification and Drought Day (DDD), formally known as “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought”, is observed annually on the 17th day of June to raise awareness about the international efforts to combat desertification, land degradation, and the effects of drought (DLDD). Spotlighting the future of land stewardship, the theme of the Desertification and Drought Day for 2024 is “United for Land. Our Legacy. Our Future”.

This year’s observance coincides with the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The Convention was adopted by the international community in Paris in 1994, signaling acknowledgement that desertification and drought are global challenges that affect all regions of the world. Guyana became a party to the Convention on September 24, 1997.

The UNCCD serves as the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management (SLM). Increasingly, it is recognized that SLM benefits nature and contributes to economic growth. The UNCCD has revealed that land restoration can yield up to US$30 in return for every US$1 invested. SLM is therefore everyone’s business and must be prioritized by all if we are to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030, in keeping with target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For LDN to be realized, human activity should have a neutral, or even positive impact on the land.

The Convention’s message for DDD 2024 is clear: life on land is on the line. There is growing alert on the future of land worldwide. Desertification, land degradation, and drought ranks among the most pressing
environmental challenges, taking into account that around 40% of the global land area is considered to be degraded.

Around the world, healthy land functions to provide our clothing, shelter, jobs, livelihoods, and about 95% our food. It also serves to protect us from worsening droughts, floods, and wildfires. However, growing populations coupled with unsustainable production and consumption patterns are fueling demand for natural resources. Already, every second, the equivalent of four football fields of healthy land becomes degraded globally, totaling 100 million hectares annually. These environmental challenges are drivers of forced migration. Land degradation must therefore be averted, as it is a root cause of conflict and instability.
It is acknowledged that caring for land is an intergenerational responsibility, and so opportunities must continue to be created for youths, indigenous peoples, and local communities to remain as custodians/stewards/guardians of the land.

The achievement of LDN requires collective effort! The Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) in its mandate to have charge of and act as guardian over all public lands, rivers and creeks of Guyana has made strides in this endeavor. Further, the GLSC is an integral national stakeholder in the land titling process. On this Desertification and Drought Day, the Commission salutes those individuals and organizations whose efforts enable sustainable land management in Guyana.

In 2003, the GLSC assumed the National Focal Point role to the UNCCD, spearheading national implementation of the Convention, and preparing and submitting periodical national reports. Since that time, the Commission has executed a series of SLM-related projects and initiatives. The completion of baseline studies in land degradation, watershed management, early warning system and valuation of natural resources, were achieved under the Capacity Development and Mainstreaming of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Project. Each baseline study led to strengthening individual and institutional capacity for SLM at national and local levels.

In April 2016, Guyana was among the pioneering countries in the Region which implemented the Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting Programme (LDN-TSP) which established voluntary national targets and associated measures for achieving LDN. It seeks to pursue balance of gains and losses of land and includes a monitoring framework with trends in land cover, land productivity and soil organic carbon as indicators. Guyana is making gradual progress towards the realization of the targets identified in its LDN-TSP Report.

One of the key national projects currently under implementation is “Mainstreaming Sustainable Land Development and Management (SLDM) in Guyana”. It was formally approved in December 2017, and is funded by the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF). The REDD+ program supports an enhanced and more integrated land-use/landscape and natural resources management approach. The SLDM project’s goal is to establish an enabling environment for promoting sustainable and climate-resilient land development, management, and reclamation in support of Guyana’ s overarching national strategies. The Project commenced efforts towards an integrated and robust spatial data infrastructure and open-data geospatial information system to support improved land administration, enhanced governance of tenure, as well as improved technical support services and mechanisms to encourage adoption of sustainable and climate-smart land use systems and management practices.

Guyana is also among eight (8) Caribbean countries that are implementing the Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Multi-country Soil Management Initiative for Integrated Landscape Restoration and Sustainable Food Systems: Phase 1 (CSIDS-SOILCARE Phase 1). The project is establishing baselines and is paving the way for future LDN transformative projects. SOILCARE Phase 1 seeks to strengthen Caribbean SIDS with the necessary tools for adopting policies, measures, and reforming legal and institutional frameworks to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and Climate Resilience. Through SOILCARE Phase 1 Guyana is expected to gain and utilize updated digital soil data to make informed decisions and contribute to regional and global soil and climate knowledge systems. National soil data will be updated supported by integrated field sampling, laboratory analysis and remote sensing in support of local, national, and regional planning and international reporting. There will also be capacity and capability development within the national soil lab, upgrade of equipment, along with enhancing knowledge of actors including farmers in targeted implementation sites.

These initiatives underscore some of the efforts at safeguarding Guyana’s natural patrimony, and keeping our commitment to international obligations. As the target year for achieving LDN approaches, I call on individuals and groups to mobilize as good land stewards, and redouble efforts towards avoiding, reducing, and reversing land degradation.