Experts on desertification have formed a new alliance to combat land degradation and desertification in Africa.

The new alliance, called TerrAfrica, was formed by representatives of African governments, the World Bank, the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification taking part in the 17th annual session of the U.N. conference on desertifcation.

Kalonzo Musyoka, Kenya's minister of environment, welcomed formation of the group, which he said will fight one of the most serious problems facing Africa.  "Land degradation and a low productivity in the agricultural sector are inter-linked and important reasons for critical food shortages experienced in many of our African countries," he said.  "TerrAfrica represents a new and collective business model for addressing desertification and land degradation."

Mr. Musyoka expressed the hope that TerrAfrica can help African countries increase their food production.

It is estimated that 65 percent of the continent's population is affected by land degradation, which often is a byproduct of efforts by farmers to get more out of the land.   But when they clear land for farming, logging or other activities, the loss of tree cover eventually results in soil erosion that decreases productivity, forcing farmers to clear more land for agriculture and livestock.

Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Mathaai bluntly said TerrAfrica must do more than talk about desertification.  It must work with the peasants at the grassroots level.

"No matter how many policies we put in place, no matter how much we talk in these international [forums] until we can go down to work with those farmers, until we can stop the deforestation until we can stop those national forests on these very fragile environments, we can talk but I can assure you there will be another TerrAfrica in another 30 years," said Professor Mathaai.

Using the example of clashes that took place between rival groups in Kenya's Rift Valley earlier in the year, the Nobel laureate said many conflicts in Africa are a direct result of desertification.

"Those of you who are local you will remember that very recently there was a conflict between the farming community and the pastoral community, the masaai, and of course it is easy to say there goes the African tribe, always fighting each other," added Professor Mathaai.   "But the conflict in Mahi Mahu today is over resources.  This is how desertification is playing itself out in Africa eventually leading to such conflicts."

TerrAfrica has its headquarters at the Wold Bank head offices in Washington, DC and will work in partnership with several agencies, including the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the African Development Bank, the U.N. Development Program.