IMPLICATIONS OF THE KUBUQI EXPERIENCE FOR DESERTIFICATION CONTROL
John Agyekum Kufuor
Former President of African Union Former President of the Republic of Ghana
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel very much honoured to be part of this event, and I am most grateful to Mr. WANG Wienbiao and sponsors of the “Kubuqi International Desert Forum 2015”for inviting me.
As President of Ghana I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful country a couple of times to participate in the multilateral Forum for China-Africa Relations. I also visited a few other times to discuss bilateral issues and to strengthen the longstanding friendship between Ghana and China.
My presence here today, I believe, is a continuation of that longstanding friendship. I have always admired China for her potential and remarkable achievements, which have been an inspiration for many of us in Africa. What I have seen here at the Kubuqi Desert these last few days have indeed heightened my admiration and appreciation for Chinese ingenuity.
This international desert forum is very important to me personally, as a UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. It is equally important to me as an African and a onetime President of Ghana. As a Sub-Sahara African country, Ghana is threatened by the Sahara Desert, and the subject of desertification is therefore of a major interest to me.
That is why I found it difficult to say no to your invitation, Mr. WANG, despite the overstay it required of me. As some of you may know, I came to Hong Kong almost two weeks ago to give the keynote address at the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Day, and I stayed on for one week to come here. I did so because I believe in the vision and objectives of this Desert Forum. Also, I suppose that my contribution, by way of sharing my experiences from Africa might assist in finding the way forward.
Globally, climate change has become a major concern and, indeed, a danger to the present and future generations. That is why as the UN Special Envoy, I have a special admiration for what Elion Resources Group has done to stem the menace of desertification in this region. Your success in bringing life and beauty to the Kubuqi desert area has been a major contribution to the global effort to addressing the ill effects of land degradation and climate change.
I now turn to the topic assigned to me to address, which is, The Implications of the Kubuqi Experience for Desertification Control in Africa. In other words, what lessons can be drawn from the successes of the Kubuqi experiment to address the problem of desertification in Africa?
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have learned that some 30 years ago, a few individuals, led by Mr. WANG, desirous and dedicated to changing the course of history started the Kubuqi story. Thirty years later, the Kubuqi model had succeeded in afforesting over 6000 sq km of deserts, rehabilitating 10,000 sq km and building more than 240-km-long green ecological wall in North China. Your achievement with the Great Green Wall of Trees is an excellent example for the rest of the world, particularly in Sub-Sahara Africa where desertification threatens the long-term survival of the people.
Being here I am sobered by what I have seen with my own eyes. The Kubuqi Story is sobering because it demonstrates the capacity of a determined people to restore harmony and balance in human habitat. It is also inspiring because it shows that with willpower, persistence and knowhow humanity can bring desertification and land degradation under control.
Most impressive is how the Elion Resources Group, the brain behind what I would like to call the Kubuqi Miracle, has turned the Kubuqi desert into an ecological haven, gotten industries to thrive, and enriched the lives of native dwellers. These achievements were made possible by a careful calibration of interactions among science and technology, private industry, and a redefined development concept.
So, what are the implications of the stunning Kubuqi success for Africa? With the Sahara and Kalahari, Africa perhaps has the largest desert expanse in the world.
Through the millennia the Sahara has become a hostile expanse to separate the Mediterranean economy from the economy of the Niger basin, partly due to human activities and natural climatic variability, among other factors.
A study by the United Nations University in 2013 indicated that the effects of desertification in Africa are shifting toward the East. The effects have been particularly acute in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya where a combination of weak government policies and irregular rains linked to climate change are driving desertification levels.
Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, current interventions to address the threat of desertification in Africa have not been too impressive. Approaches have been slow, old fashioned and lacked dynamism. For example, in the northern parts of my own country Ghana where the problem is becoming acute, interventions have included bush burning control techniques like fire belts, planting cover crops like legumes and drought resistant tree varieties such as the popular teak trees, and reducing overdependence on forest products – all have had varying degrees of success.
In other West African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Niger, the planting of grass and fast-growing trees is showing signs of stopping the advancement of the Sahara. The FAO has supported the restoration of lands with the Acacia genus through intensive capacity building of the local people in countries such as Sudan, Kenya, Chad, and Senegal. Although efforts in these countries to restore vegetation are made through the involvement of local people, encouraging them to take ownership of the reforestation has not been easy.
The Kubuqi Experience therefore has many lessons for Africa. The key lessons are the following:
● In the affected countries, governments' must prioritize the threat of desertification and have the will and commitment to combat it
● Combating desertification successfully requires strong, visionary, and tireless leadership, such as I see in Mr. WANG.
● The virtues of diligence, persistence, courage and ‘human-centeredness’ are necessary for success
● A private-public partnership is essential for success
● Desertification control requires the active role of the scientific community and the application of science and technology
Given the weak scientific and technological base of African countries, it is going to be challenging to replicate the Kubuqi success in the short term. However, Africa has the human resources and with the right leadership and commitment, many afflicted areas in Africa can begin to rise to the occasion.
But we must also consider that climate change and desertification are global problems requiring global approaches. We can therefore hasten Africa's progress in the fight against desertification by mobilizing global support. For example, the Kubuqi Experience, in terms of knowledge, skills and instruments, can be of great assistance.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen: The future of humanity requires all of us, retired or not, to seek to address climate change and its negative impact on human sustenance. Our world needs all talents and skills in advancing the common interests of humanity.
That is why, instead of resting quietly and peacefully after eight hectic years as President, I accepted the call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to serve as his Special Envoy on Climate Change. And that is why I have gladly accepted Mr. WANG's invitation to work with him on the new Global Alliance for Combating Desertification.
I have also established The John A. Kufuor Foundation to advance the wellbeing of the people of Ghana and Africa, and humanity at large. The Foundation has initiated a number of development activities, including a leadership program for young people, rural community projects, and advocacy program for biodiversity. And, very soon I will set up the Africa Climate Leadership Center on the campus of the premier University of Ghana.
I find that the objectives of the proposed Climate Leadership Center tie in neatly with the vision of the Elion Resources Group. It is therefore my wish to see the two bodies establishing a strategic partnership for shared ideas and action to combat climate change and desertification in our respective regions.
Mr. Chairman, I know that I have spoken at length and wish to bring my address to a close. But before taking my seat, I want to express my gratitude to Mr. WANG, once again, for this wonderful opportunity to share ideas and to see the beautiful outcomes of the Kubuqi Experience. I am grateful for the warm reception I have enjoyed since my arrival.
Thank you for your kind attention.