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Expert Group Meeting on Sustainable Land Management as a Best Practice to Enhance Rural Development in the ESCWA Region

The ESCWA region has limited fertile land that is subject to different levels of degradation. With few exceptions, it is also considered a land scarce region. Land resources are being increasingly degraded and over-exploited. The degradation of agricultural land in the region to a large extent is caused by human induced factors, but natural factors such as, low and erratic rainfall and droughts are also playing a part. Land resources in the region are becoming increasingly scarce, and the quality of such resources is decreasing, mostly as a result of poor management. Pressures on the resource base due to high population growth rates, rapid urbanization, and lack of suitable land use plans further aggravate the situation for agriculture in the region. Furthermore, unsustainable cultivation practices, over-cultivation of marginal lands, overexploitation of water and land resources, and insufficient support given to the integrated management of land and water resources are also adversely affecting the productivity of agriculture. The low levels of agricultural productivity and competitiveness, along with the degradation of natural resources in the region are further aggravated by the absence of proactive policies for encouraging the efficient and sustainable use of land resources.
The available land resources have to be better managed so that they could sustain the livelihoods of both the current and future generations. Only a few countries currently have land resources available for agricultural expansion, and in most cases the lands cultivated today are the same lands that must be protected for the future. In the past, it was possible to open new lands of good quality to cultivation. But this often resulted in over-exploitation of land. Today, however, we must move increasingly towards better management, conservation and steward-ship of land resources.
The degradation of natural resources (land, water, biological diversity) is endangering the livelihoods of the poor, particularly in rural areas, where there is more reliance on such resources. The loss of livelihoods and natural resources leads poor farmers to adopt non-sustainable survival strategies that further deteriorate their resources base. Increasing poverty, also limits the range of available options with regard to the sustainable management of these finite resources. There is a strong correlation between population growth, land degradation, food insecurity and poverty. As such, promoting the sustainable use and management of the region's limited natural resources in agriculture is a great challenge that requires immediate consideration.