HAVANA (CUBA) – While twenty Heads of State and over 110 Ministers gather in Havana, Cuba, for a key United Nations conference on Desertification, Friends of the earth international alerted them today on the potential impacts of the trade negotiations on drylands that are currently taking place within the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Desertification and land degradation are global environmental problems that devastate the livelihoods of millions of rural people, especially small-scale farmers. It is estimated by the Secretariat of the Desertification Convention that the degradation of land is costing the world community up to 40 billion USD per year. Yet, official development aid to rural communities, where the majority of the world’s poor lives, has been declining over the past decade. Meanwhile, droughts and other climatic extremes caused by climate change are taking a particularly heavy toll on dryland populations.

Agricultural trade liberalization as currently proposed by the US and European Union (EU) at the WTO will place an additional burden on dryland populations. Most dryland communities consist of small farmers who are unable to compete on a world market. Even the local markets of these small producers are nowadays rapidly being taken over by subsidized agricultural products from the EU, the US and other industrialized countries. The trade proposals by the EU and US leave their direct and indirect support structures for export-oriented agriculture virtually untouched, while they would force developing countries to open up their agricultural markets for these subsidized products. The results would be devastating for dryland producers and for the lands these communities manage.

Water privatisation triggered by the General Agreement in Trade in Services under the WTO will put an additional burden on dryland populations. Water is a very precious common good in many arid zones, and few rural farming and pastoralist communities are able to pay for privatized water services. Water privatisation schemes have already lead to disastrous effects in countries like Niger and Northern Mali, where rural people living in deserts and drylands have been faced with water bills that are taking up between 12 and 70% of their income.

Friends of the Earth International calls upon the Heads of State and Ministers gathered in Cuba to ensure that desertification concerns, and the rights and interests of dryland communities are put in the frontlight during the upcoming Ministerial meeting of the WTO in Cancun.


George Awudi, Friends of the Earth-Ghana, tel: +537-2041606
Calixte Aldrin, Friends of the Earth-Haiti, tel: +537-2041606
In Amsterdam: Simone Lovera, Friends of the Earth International: +31-6-10897827