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Desertification Increases Poverty and Contributes to Migration in Latin America and the Caribbean

World Day to Combat Desertification – 17 June

More than 50% of lands in Latin America and the Caribbean suffer from some kind of degradation. In rural areas, in particular, this is a potential factor in the vicious circle of land overexploitation, degradation, increased demands on production, greater poverty, food insecurity and migration.

In Brazil, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia Mexico, Paraguay, Argentina, Ecuador, the Guyanas, Surinam and Belize, degradation affects from 91% to 63% of national lands. The countries of the Central American isthmus, in turn, are vulnerable to natural disasters linked to land degradation and severe drought. This alarming environmental trend is largely attributable to human activity, but only a handful of countries have policies for land recovery.

In observance of this year’s UN World Day to Combat Desertification, commemorated on 17 June, we present three replicable initiatives – all finalists in the “Experiences in Social Innovation” competition, organized by ECLAC and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation – that have improved quality of life in their communities.

  • In Valente, Bahía, a semi-arid region of Brazil, one community of peasant farmers is innovating to assure its economic future by working together to produce and market items made from sisal, and to improve bee-keeping and goat milk and meat production. The project employs 900 people, markets products directly to sales points outside the area and supports a rural school for 1,800 youths. The community administers a revolving credit fund to invest in small farms and provide training. Among the project’s achievements are having negotiated a higher price for its sisal production, fostered local industrial development and creation of production credit, increased production of goat meat and milk, reduced poverty and kept families from leaving the area.
    Contact: Misael Lopes da Cunha, Presidente APAEB
    E-mail: diretoria@apaeb.com.br
    Tel: (5575) 2632181
    Web site: www.apaeb.com.br
  • Lack of irrigation water for small farms in  Sierra de Teixeira, Cacimbas, Paraiba State, Amazonia, Brazil led one NGO to organize a network of 300 peasants organizations peasant families to build water collection systems (tanks and wells) for farming and domestic use. Today, the families operate a revolving system of solidarity funds in which beneficiaries return resources to others. A similar system is in place for seed banks and breeding farm animals. Training is also an important part of the process.
    Contact: José Días Campos, coordinator of the  Centro de Educação Popular e Formação Sindical (CEPFS)
    E-mail: cepfs@uol.com.br
    Tel.: (55 83) 472-2249 and 9961-1361.
  • A poisonous weed known as kellu kellu has spread over the altiplano grasslands from the Peruvian highlands to northern Argentina, killing cattle, invading fields of barley, alfalfa and quinoa, and forcing peasants off the land. In Bolivia, one NGO works with local authorities and families to rid community pastures of the weed and recover 16,000 hectares for farming. The 773 families work collectively, using machine and manual labour, to pull up the plants between periods of rain and flowering, to prevent reseeding.
    Contact: Jeannepierre Fiorilo Barrios
    E-mail: aguaclaraboj@hotmail.com
    Tel. : (591) 2-5281288.

Complete information on this competition, including multi-media materials in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese, is posted at: www.cepal.org/dds/innovacionsocial/portada_i.htm.
E-mail:  innovacion.social@cepal.org. Telephones:  (56-2) 210-2148/ 2451/2263.

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