Ecosystem approach is the way forward

14 May 2009 | News story

The newly established IUCN drylands programme stepped out in style for the first time at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in New York by convening a Learning Centre on the ecosystem approach. It was the first outreach engagement of the programme at a large international meeting of the United Nations.

The Learning Centre on “The ecosystem approach for sustainable development made easy” used case studies from dryland areas in East and West Africa to illustrate the complexities or dryland ecosystems.

In line with this year’s CSD thematic focus areas of agriculture, Africa, drought, desertification, rural development and land use, participants debated the challenges of managing unpredictable climates and reinforcing adaptive capacities of drylands communities.

The objectives of the session were to provide a tool to analyse the functioning of agro-ecosystems, equip participants for better evaluation of sustainable development suggestions and formulate in semi-arid regions. and
increase knowledge of the functioning of ecosystems.

During the Learning Centre, Commission on Ecosystem Management member, Dr. Joost Brouwer, presented the SYSTANAL toolkit: a checklist for analysing ecosystems for the conservation of biological diversity.

Drylands are areas that have low rainfall, low infiltration, high potential evaporation and high transpiration. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, drylands, when all types of drylands are included, they cover almost half of the total land surface of the world.

Within the drylands, wetlands areas provide a concentration of water and nutrients and they are areas of high production potential and low production risk – especially in semi-arid regions. Wetlands can also be an extremely important resource to farmers, pastoralists, fishermen and collectors of natural products, as well as birds and other species.

In addition, wetlands make it possible to make more efficient use of dryland areas, both nearby and further away. Effective management of ecosystems means allowing for the knock-on effects of management in one element on another element.

“We are living in a time when the global interconnectedness of our natural heritage is dramatically demonstrated," said Dr. Jonathan Davies, Regional Coordinator of the IUCN drylands programme based in Nairobi, Kenya. "Yet at this very time we are neglecting vast areas of the land surface where low rainfall and dry conditions have historically led to low investment: areas where human development lags behind. The climatic challenges of the drylands have been historically misunderstood and carry a legacy of misdirected development interventions that have undermined resilience and left dryland communities exposed to new risks.

"To overcome this legacy we must learn from the knowledge and experiences of dryland communities around the world: communities whose sophisticated strategies can teach us much about development in the face of new climate challenges. It is only through building on local knowledge and strengthening local governance that we will effectively overcome the challenges of desertification in the developing world.”

The Learning Centre was coordinated through the Office of the IUCN Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mr. Narinder Kakar.


This image shows the courtship behavior of Indian Bull frogs (Holobatrachus tigerinus). During the monsoon, the breeding males become bright yellow in color, while females remain dull. The prominent blue vocal sacs of male produce strong nasal mating call.