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From global politics to local land users: applying the United Nations Convention to combat desertification in Swaziland

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This paper explores the relevance of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and its related National Action Programmes (NAPs) to people affected by land degradation and change in Swaziland. Household data collected from three chiefdoms are examined, together with policy analyses and information from interviews with policymakers and NGO representatives, as the barriers that inhibit successful implementation of the UNCCD at the national level are explored. We demonstrate how the issues addressed by Swaziland's NAP do not always match the environmental challenges that most threaten the sustainability of rural livelihoods, despite the ‘participatory’ and ‘consultative’ approach taken in developing the policy. This is because the more powerful members of society restricted the public's access to policy space. We argue that local involvement in environmental policy and decision-making as prescribed from the international political arena is insufficient to ensure empowerment and democracy in dealing with land degradation in national and local contexts, particularly within highly centralized political systems. Although the UNCCD represents a useful global framework in which to situate local anti-degradation initiatives, in centralized political systems, its success depends upon changes being made to the ethos of national facilitating organizations. Only when the power balance is challenged and greater moves are made towards decentralization will local land users be able to assume a meaningful role in combating desertification.

Keywords: Swaziland; UNCCD; land degradation; participation; policy; power

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Institute for Development Policy and Management, School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, Email: 2: School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, Email: 3: Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Winter Street, Sheffield S10 2TN, Email:

Publication date: 2007-06-01

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