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03 March 2014

Africa urged to accelerate transition to green economy to boost food security .

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on Monday called on Africa to speed up transition to green economy to boost food security in the continent.

Speaking at the celebrations to mark Africa Environment Day and Wangari Maathai Day in Nairobi, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted that diverse pathways to greener and more-inclusive economies are already being pursued across the continent.

"This transition must be accelerated to stay ahead of the many challenges, from climate change to land degradation, that the continent is increasingly facing," he added.

More than 200 young people and high-level experts meeting in Nairobi on Monday to review key environmental issues impacting Africa, including illegal wildlife crime, forest conservation and food security.

The event, which coincides with Wangari Maathai Day, a celebration of the life and work of the Green Belt Movement founder - is organized by the UNEP, Kenya government and the Green Belt Movement.

Professor Maathai was Africa's first female Nobel laureate, a champion of grassroots environmental activism and a fervent defender of biodiversity.

Steiner said the late Maathai showed the kind of visionary leadership that will be required to win this crucial race.

"I hope that, on this day commemorating her work, other leaders will be inspired to pick up the baton and ensure that Africa's rich natural resources can be conserved, and thus serve as the foundation for a sustainable future and food security for all on the continent," he said.

Maathai was also the inspiration for the Billion Tree Campaign, which UNEP began in 2006. Eight years later, 13.8 billion trees have been planted under the campaign, which is now run by the Plant for the Planet Foundation.

The Africa Environment Day seeks to accelerate action on the numerous pressing environmental challenges facing the continent.

"Taking the value of ecosystem services into account in national planning is a vital part of the Green Economy transition, which will slow down degradation, assist nations and communities to adapt to those changes that are inevitable, and ensure a healthy, wealthy and sustainable continent," Steiner said.

The focus of Africa Environment Day echoes the theme of the January 2014 African Union Summit, and demonstrates a coordinated effort on the part of African leaders to emphasize the detrimental effects of land degradation to Africa's food security aspirations.

The 2014 is the Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa and the continent is currently undergoing strong economic growth.

UNEP is already working with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to enhance cooperation in controlling land degradation and the resultant desertification in Africa.

Ecosystem-based approaches as part of a wider transition to a Green Economy can also assist in providing food security, and late last year the first African Food Security and Adaptation conference backed these tools.

According to the UNCCD, 4 to 12 percent of agricultural Gross Domestic Product in Africa is lost due to deteriorating environmental condition and 135 million people are at risk of having to move from their land due to desertification by 2020.

According to World Bank estimates, wealth accounting and the valuation of ecosystem services are expected to be critical to Africa's future growth: in low-income countries, natural capital makes up around 36 percent of total wealth.

The World Bank's Africa Pulse projects that economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to reach more than 5 percent on average in 2013-2015 as a result of high commodity prices worldwide and strong consumer spending.

However, the continent still must overcome challenges related to climate change, desertification and land degradation, loss of biodiversity to the illegal trade in wildlife and timber, management of waste and chemicals, and marine pollution.

One of the most pressing challenges is ensuring food security. The UN Population Division estimates that Africa's population will reach 2.4 billion by 2050, and to feed this population the ecosystems that prop up agriculture will have to be kept healthy.



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