On June 17, the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, look at your lifestyle choices and act to keep the land healthy and make development sustainable

Correct consumer choices can hold desertification at bay (Photo by Simon Steinberger)

Are you overwhelmed by the depressing news coming at you daily? Conflict, forced migrants, famine, floods, hurricanes, extinction of species, climate change, threats of war — it’s a seemingly endless list. It might surprise you, but you can really make a difference on many of these issues.

Just like every raindrop counts towards a river and every vote counts in an election, so does every choice you make in what you consume. With every produce you consume, you strengthen the river of sustainability or of unsustainability. It is either a vote in favour of policies that spread social goods like peace and poverty eradication or social evils like conflict or grinding poverty.

We look up to governments a lot, forgetting that governments set up policies to encourage us to make specific choices. That’s how powerful our lifestyles choices are. Imagine, what would happen if the world’s over seven billion consumers committed, every year, to just one lifestyle change that will support the provision of goods from sustainably managed land. This is essential, because land degradation and drought are closely linked. Read: Recurring droughts are clear and present dangers

Every year, we make New Year resolutions about change. Why not include, as one of those resolutions, a change of habit that will lead to a smart sustainable consumer lifestyle? Without any government intervention, you can make choices that will help to end deforestation, soil erosion and pollution or reduce the effects of drought or sand and dust storms.

However, to make the right lifestyle change, each of us must first find out where the goods we consume are cultivated and processed. For instance, if they are linked to conflict in regions with rapidly degrading land or forests or polluted water or soils, then choose an alternative that is produced sustainably. It is a small and achievable change that can add up to a major impact.

Land footprint

Every country and product has a land footprint. What we eat. What we wear. What we drink; the manufacturer and supplier of the products we consume; the brands related to these suppliers that we would support. We can prioritise buying from the local small farm holders to reduce our global land footprint. Consumers have plenty of options.

But a vital missing link is the informed consumer. Through mobile phone apps, it is getting easier to track where the goods we consume come from. For instance, for information on how to track your land footprint, go to Fixing what the land is losing between the farm and your fork.

It is also getting easier to find alternative suppliers of our choice, as the private sector embraces the idea of ethical business. The information you need is literally in your mobile phone. But you must believe in your own power to change the world. The global effect on the market may surprise you.

You will reward the food producers, natural resource managers and land planners struggling against all odds to keep the land healthy and productive. This is the cheapest way to help every family and community in the world to thrive, and avoid the damage and loss of life that comes from environmental degradation and disasters.

Make June 17, the celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (2018 WDCD), your date with nature. It’s near the mid-point of the year and a good moment to review the progress you are making towards your New Year resolution of a sustainable lifestyle.

In 2030, when the international community evaluates its achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, you can point to positive changes that you have contributed in favour of present and future generations.

You are more powerful than you think. Take your power back and put it into action.

Monique Barbut is Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

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