DAKAR, June 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - African governments have pledged to restore degraded land, invest in agriculture and create "green jobs" for young people in a drive to tackle youth unemployment, fight against radicalisation, and stem the tide of migration to Europe.
The presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and ministers from several other African nations met on Thursday in Ouagadougou to discuss sustainability and security on the continent, and the need to create land-based jobs for the booming youth population.
"We need to focus on policies that reinvigorate agriculture, to make it more attractive for young people," Noah Auta Dauda of Nigeria's interior ministry told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We want our youths to look inward, rather than towards Europe."
Climate shocks, deteroriating land and a lack of development are driving many young Africans to risk their lives trying to reach Europe, and pushing others into extremist groups, says the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Rising temperatures, increasingly erratic rainfall and growing desertification on a continent whose population is set to double to 2.4 billion by 2050 means the need to restore land and create rural jobs is more urgent than ever, experts say.
More than 60 million people could leave sub-Saharan Africa's desertified areas for North Africa and Europe by 2020, according to the UNCCD. And by 2050, 200 million could be permanently displaced environmental migrants, the U.N. body says.
"It is not just about creating jobs, but also focusing on approaches from early warning systems to better risk management to prepare for shocks like droughts and floods," said Abdeladim Lhafi, Morocco's high commissioner for water and forests.
One such project, the Great Green Wall, would see a 7,000 km (4,400 mile) strip of vegetation reaching west to east Africa, designed to trap the sands of the Sahara, halt the advance of the desert and restore 50 million hectares of land.
"We must first restore and preserve the land before we can develop and invest in it," he said by phone from Ouagadougou.
Humanitarian and development agencies are also helping African migrants who return from Libya and Europe by investing in agriculture projects for them and their communities at home, giving them parcels of land, and providing tools and training.
"Creating green jobs helps returning migrants to reintegrate, benefits their communities, and reduces the risk of them leaving again or becoming radicalised," said Lavinia Prati of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Niger.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, editing by Ros Russell.
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