The prophet Isaiah once spoke about new things God is doing: a way in the wilderness, springs in the desert, streams in the wasteland, a new season of blossoming and fertility. But is this really feasible in dry places like North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia? Luc Gnacadja believes so. “Drylands are a mission field, an opportunity for transformational business models and prosperity,” he says.
Gnacadja is the former Minister of the Environment for Benin. He brings his Christian faith to his campaign against land degradation, promoting global sustainability through care for land and soil. For the past seven years, he was the executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. He is a passionate advocate of Zero Net Land Degradation by 2030 for the sake of healthy and productive land for future generations.
Gnacadja believes desertification is the main cause of the surge in migration into Europe. Already this year 110,000 illegal migrants have been caught trying to cross the Mediterranean on boats, compared to 20,000 in all of 2012. Most of these refugees are coming from North Africa and the Sahel, the Middle East and Central Asia. They are trying to flee from the effects of decades of environmental degradation which have been compounded by escalating climatic shocks such as droughts. These regions are today’s most human-insecure and conflict-prone globally, but also the majority of the world’s unreached peoples live here.
'Christians should be prophetic. Drylands are a mission field.'
Perhaps it’s a responsibility for Europe to address the ‘push-factors’ of forced-migration, Gnacadja suggests. “Drylands are not marginal regions, they represent one third of the world’s land mass and population, nearly half of the world’s food production, half the world’s livestock and are home to the largest diversity of mammals.”
Driving his point further still, Gnacadja unpacks the concept of ‘land footprint’, the area needed for any region’s food production. ‘Virtual land’ describes the foreign land needed for the region’s imports and exports. In the case of the 28 European Union member states that is over a quarter of the globe, creating a huge virtual land trade imbalance. Asia, Africa and Latin America are Europe’s main ‘virtual land‘ suppliers. Yet another related concept is that of ‘water footprint’, and again Europe’s footprint, and therefore ecological responsibilities, extend far beyond her geographical boundaries. Africa’s problems are therefore also Europe’s problems, and Europeans should seriously consider how best to invest in renewable energy, education, health, water, woodland and re-forestation projects in that continent.
There might be a role for Christian professionals and entrepreneurs here, says Gnacadja. “Drylands are a mission field, an opportunity for transformational business models, a new frontier to engage in co-prosperity. Christians should be prophetic. Jeremiah chapter 12 talks of wasteland and parched ground mourning God. We have a mission to restore the people and their land, and thus mitigate the push-factors of forced-migration.”
'One of the world's most successful approaches to restore the land came as an answer to prayer.'
Mission agencies in Niger are already experiencing remarkable results in making man-made barren land to thrive. “When you understand desertification,” Gnacadja says quoting Australian Tony Rinaudo, “you can restore the land.” Rinaudo, also a Christian, developed ‘farmer-managed natural regeneration’ (FMNR) literally as an answer to prayer. This approach has been recognised as one of the most successful and cost-effective regenerative agro-forestry schemes in the world.
Tony Rinaudo with a farmers' family in East Timor.
Rinaudo realised that beneath what seemed to be arid desert were hundreds of tree stumps buried in an ‘underground forest’. Instead of destroying the growth from these stumps as was standard farming practice, this indigenous growth needed to be nurtured. Seemingly treeless fields could contain seeds, living tree stumps and roots with the ability to sprout new stems and regenerate trees. Biodiversity could be increased, soil structure and fertility improved, wind and water erosion reversed and dried up springs coaxed to reappear.
Already five million hectares of land in Niger had been regenerated in this way, feeding 2.5 million people with 500,000 tonnes of new cereal production. In this video
and this interview
Rinaudo, who currently works as a natural resource management advisor for World Vision, explains the approach. Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) is explained in detail here
Source: Luc Gnacadja, Jeff Fountain