Observant viewers, welcome to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. From October 10 to 21, 2011, the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was held in Changwon, South Korea.

One of three major United Nations environmental agreements, the Convention was adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and established in 1994 to address the issues of desertification, land degradation and drought and to promote sustainable development in the world’s drylands. During the Conference, approximately 6,400 scientists, experts, government officials and non-governmental organization staff members from 156 countries discussed strategies to halt desertification.

The term desertification refers to the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions due to climatic variations, human activity and other factors. Over 100 countries and 1.2-billion people are affected by the phenomenon.

Today, we’ll present the concluding episode in a three-part series featuring Supreme Master Television’s interviews with Conference participants.

Desertification is a very important thing. It’s not so visible as a mudslide or a landslide, but desertification is a reality. It’s affecting many people. People are dying of hunger because of desertification.

In Iran, we have about 32 million hectares of deserts of which 7 million hectares are in a critical state. And to date, we have investigated 10 million hectares of these desert regions and we have 2 million hectares of the critical regions under control. The primary reason for this is the geological structure of Iran. Apart from that, climate change and inappropriate water resource management, drying up of the wetlands and lowlands, and overutilization of arable lands are causing the increased desertification.

How can desertification be stopped? Countries are employing various means including investing in reforestation, promoting better farming practices such as vegan organic agriculture, supporting improved irrigation, and implementing programs to raise public awareness about desertification.

In our country, we are working on reforestation. Because the green cover in Lebanon has been reduced in 40 years about 20%. It was 33%. Now it’s 13%. So we are working on reforestation. In some places, we got floods. So we are working on flood-risk management.

Also we are working on the rural community. We are asking people to stay; not to leave their rural areas, because when they leave their rural areas, these areas will undergo desertification year after year. So we are trying to help them to stay in their regions, not to leave the region and come to the cities. And whenever they leave, no one will take care of the trees, no one will take care of the water.

In addition, we are working on water harvesting. Because sometimes we have a lot of rain, but this rain will go to the rivers and after the rivers, out to sea. Now we have a very big program to have hill lakes to collect the water for irrigation and for water as tap water. So this is in our plan. We have a five-year plan.

Professor Jonathan Foley, Director of the University of Minnesota, USA’s Institute for the Environment, estimates that to produce one kilogram of boneless beef, 30 kilograms of grain are needed. He also states that 35% of our planet’s agricultural lands are used to produce animal feed and that cattle and dairy farming occupy a staggering 3.38 billion hectares of land globally.

A Humane Society of the United States report entitled “The Impact of Animal Agriculture on Global Warming and Climate Change” concludes:
“The animal agriculture sector can also play a significant role in desertification due to overgrazing and trampling of rangelands by farm animals. Desertification tends to reduce the productivity and amount of vegetative cover, which then allows CO2 to escape. The FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] estimates that animal agriculture-induced desertification of pastures may release up to 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year.”

By ending this enormously harmful industry, we would spare our Earth a tremendous environmental burden and protect drylands from degrading and becoming permanent deserts.

There is no doubt that the livestock industry entails double cost and double pressure to the environment.

First of all, we have to really be very careful about all this industrialized meat, eggs, poultry and all these things. It’s not at all natural. If you are more vegetarian, you can feed more people.

Livestock raising for meat production is the single largest emitter of humane-produced methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. It has 72 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide measured over a 20-year period.

The problem with livestock is that they produce a lot of methane. They release a lot of carbon. So I think if we try to consume a more vegetable diet, rather than meat diet, I think that’s a good action. You can reduce the emissions of carbon.

Through a collaborative process and ultimately through legislation, following a few studies, we have now a government policy to reduce the number of livestock. The goal is to reduce the number of livestock from our arable lands by 3 million, and we need to replace the livelihood of farmers with alternative vocations.

A study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency found that the cost of lowering atmospheric greenhouse-gas levels by 2050 would be US$40-trillion. However the Agency concluded that with a worldwide change to a plant-based diet, the cost of mitigating global warming would be reduced by up to 80%.

I personally think it’s good to have plant-based diets. There’re a lot of complications due to an animal-based diet.

Vegan organic farming is of great benefit in enhancing soil fertility and retention, as it builds up the soil and enhances soil quality, thus reducing erosion from wind and water. Thus this method of cultivation is an excellent way to stem land degradation and desertification. As pesticides and herbicides are not used, vegan organic agriculture also helps to mitigate biodiversity loss. Moreover, the reduced consumption of surface and ground water with this farming technique minimizes soil salinization.

The Rodale Institute in the United States estimates that if all the world’s approximately 14 million square kilometers of tillable farmland were to be cultivated organically, the soil could store 40% of current CO2 emissions.

We didn’t start organic agriculture until recently, only in the last five years, and definitely this can create a big transformation in preventing land degradation and desertification.

We need to have certain subsidies, more like incentives, that will open new possibilities and increase the chance that people will convert from chemical agriculture to a greener agriculture.

We try really to spread the idea that organic, sustainable use of natural resources is the most important thing for fighting against climate change, and land degradation. What is sure is that using chemicals and fertilizer and herbicides is little by little polluting water and making the land and the soil unusable.

On a number of occasions Supreme Master Ching Hai has spoken about the dangers of desertification, as in this video message presented during a June 2009 climate change conference held in the Veracruz, Mexico.

According to the United Nations, desertification, which often results from felling too many trees and damages that occurs from such activities as cattle grazing, is affecting the well-being of more than 1.2 billion people in more than 100 countries at risk. Overgrazing by livestock, which occupies nearly a third of our Earth’s land surface worldwide, is a major cause of desertification and other damages, and is responsible for more than 50% of land erosion. Now, we must stop livestock grazing to protect our soil and protect our life.

We must be the solution and encourage others with all the convincing and supporting scientific, physical and moral data that is available to us so they do the same. Adopting a plant-based diet can halt as much as 80% of global warming, eradicate world hunger, stop war, promote peace, and it will free up the Earth’s water as well as many other precious resources, offering a lifeline for the planet and for humanity. In short, it will very quickly halt many of the global problems facing us right now.

Therefore, it is vital that we change our lifestyle – it’s very easy to do it – setting a noble example for others to follow, and do our part to bring to the public’s attention the urgent climate change issues and its solutions; the foremost being the vegan diet, to safeguard our precious planet. It is time to walk the talk, because there is not much time left now.

To close today’s program, we present a kind message from one of the Conference’s participants, His Excellency Gansukh Luimed, Mongolia's Minister of Environment and Tourism, to Supreme Master Ching Hai.

Well, many more people are doing good deeds for humankind. In my opinion, Master Ching Hai is one of the exemplary persons who is doing good deeds to make all humankind get enlightenment. May all of your work and all your good deeds be extended abundantly. Wishing you big success in your noble deeds which are dedicated to all humankind’s well-being. Thank you.

Our sincere thanks to all our interviewees for sharing your thoughts on halting desertification and to the parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification for your dedicated efforts to work together to address this urgent issue.

For more information on the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, please visit www.UNCCD.int

Thank you for watching this week’s Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. May all lives be filled with compassion and grace from Heaven.