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State of the environment and policy responses


Since 1972, the main driving force leading to pressure on land resources has been increasing food production. In 2002, food is needed for some 2 220 million more people than in 1972. The trend during the decade 1985-95 showed population growth racing ahead of food production in many parts of the world. While irrigation has made an important contribution to agricultural production, inefficient irrigation schemes can cause waterlogging, salinization and alkalization of soils. In the 1980s, it was estimated that about 10 million ha of irrigated land were being abandoned annually. Human activities contributing to land degradation include unsuitable agricultural land use, poor soil and water management practices, deforestation, removal of natural vegetation, frequent use of heavy machinery, overgrazing, improper crop rotation and poor irrigation practices. The 1992 Earth Summit took a step forward in focusing attention on problems associated with land resources. National needs at times linked with Agenda 21 have provided a basis for land resources policy, and the importance of land issues was reiterated in the review prepared for the UN Millennium Summit. This review identifies the threats to future global food security arising from problems of land resources.

Regional highlights: Africa
The increasing numbers of African countries facing water stress and scarcity, and land degradation, are major environmental issues in the region. The rising costs of water treatment, food imports, medical treatment and soil conservation measures are not only increasing human vulnerability and health insecurity but are also draining African countries of their economic resources. The expansion of agriculture into marginal areas and clearance of natural habitats such as forests and wetlands has been a major driving force behind land degradation. The loss of biological resources translates into loss of economic potential and options for commercial development in the future. These negative changes, however, have been tempered by Africa's impressive wildlife conservation record, including a well-established network of protected areas and the region's commitment to multilateral environmental agreements. African countries also participate in many regional and sub-regional initiatives and programmes. Notable achievements include the 1968 African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (currently being updated) and the 1991 Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Waste within Africa.