At the Earth Summit, United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 1992) desertification was defined as "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry semi-humid areas, resulting from various factors, including climate variations and human activities. Desertification affects up to 69% of the world's agriculturally used drylands; in Africa the proportion is 73%. While people are the main agents of destruction, they are also its victims. Land degradation is the main reason why farmers leave the countryside for the cities, and recurrent droughts only exacerbate the problem. UNEP has estimated expenses for combatting desertification at between US$10,000 and 20,000 million per year for the next 20 years; estimates for the loss of production over the same period are $28,000 million.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
The 1977 UN conference adopted a Plan of Action to Stop Desertification and included establishing regional networks on desertification, helping governments draw up national action plans, formulating pilot projects, training professionals and technicians from countries at risk, running grassroots information campaigns, and creating technical information data bases. After 15 years, it was acknowledged as a complete failure. UNEP has argued that the plan failed because it applied technical solutions to socio-economic and socio-political problems, did not include local populations in drawing up solutions and failed to integrate these programmes into other development programmes. Negotiations started again at UNCED. Desert-stricken countries, primarily from Africa, negotiated with Northern countries to support the Desertification Convention in exchange for African governments' support for a forests convention. The International Negotiating Committee for the Elaboration of an [International Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought (INCD)] held a final negotiating session in Paris in June 1994. The non-government sector was actively involved and later in the year established a global network of NGOs and community-based organizations committed to minimizing the threat of desertification – known as RÃ©seau International d'ONG sur la Desertification (RIOD). There are three representatives representing focal points in each sub-region (East and Southern Africa, North Africa, West Africa, South Asia, East Asia, West Asia, Western Europe, Mediterranean Europe, North America, Latin America (North), Latin America (South) and Australia).
The Desertification Convention was opened for signature in October 1994, when 87 governments signed. As at January 1995, 95 countries have signed. (50 ratifications are needed for the Convention to come into force and it is expected these these will be received by 1997.) Various governments pledged to establish national action committees to interact with grassroot organizations, international agencies and donor agencies. Countries currently suffering from desertification vowed to enhance their government programmes. OECD countries announced at the signing ceremony that aid packages would be distributed to the poor African countries suffering from the severe effects of desertification. Pledges were promised by the USA, the EEC/EU, Germany, Canada, Denmark, France and Japan. These contributions are part of Urgent Action for Africa, the resolution calling on the affecting countries to prepare national and subregional action programmes; receive coordinated assistance from OECD countries; and establish partnerships with developed countries, economic organizations and NGOs.
The Convention aims to prevent further environmental threats such as mass migration, loss of plant and animal life and climate change. The main guiding principles are progressive and collaboratory in their approach, and they include the right of countries to exploit their own resources; collaboration on sub-regional, regional and international levels as well as cooperation among all levels of government, communities, NGO's and landholders; the participation of local communities in the design and implementation of projects; and attention to the particular requirements of developing countries. Several themes include a bottom-up approach, intensified coordination among donor agencies, and more effective horizontal activity around socio-economic factors such as land tenure.