Responding to Desertification at the National Scale Detection, Explanation,and Responses
Obando, Joy Apiyo
Lynam, M. A. T.
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Althoughland-usepracticesthatleadtodesertificationareusuallytheproximateresultofdecisionsby individual households and their communities, many important economic, legal, and technical frameworks that promote or combat desertification are elaborated at the national scale. A general appreciation of where the different forms of degradation that create desertification occur, and why, is important for directing policy intervention appropriately; however, it is difficult and probably unnecessary to define “desertification” too precisely at this scale. Agreement on policy is paralyzed where contention persists, and a number of such scientific disagreementsarediscussed.Yettherearesomedesertificationdebateswheremoreconsensushasnow been reached, and implementation is less fraught with uncertainty. A crucial role for national policymakers is the creation of an appropriate and secure context for local activities, for local participation in decision making, and for the creation of tightened information loops between local knowledge and Western science. National officials charged with mitigating desertification generally need “approximately correct” precautionary signals and cannot afford (or need) to wait for great precision of measurement. Although accurate scientific monitoring of the biophysical processes that createconditionsofdesertificationanddrylanddegradationisdesirable,it cannot“solve”theproblem alone,unlessthereisresponsiveandeffectivecapacity—andpoliticalwill—todelivernewmeasures to assist the rural poor of the world’s drylands.