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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderIntroduction
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentEconomy and society: Development issues
View the documentEnvironmental issues and futures
View the documentEnvironment and resource management
View the documentInstitutional issues
View the documentEnvironment and development in Ghana
View the documentRecommendations
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Environment and resource management

The major issue in resource management is agriculture, which is still the leading productive sector by value and employment in most SubSaharan countries. It is also a source of concern, given the high rates of population increase and the evidence of widespread and recurring hunger, accompanied in several countries by dependence on food imports. Agricultural exports are also needed to repay debt, to pay debt service charges and import costs, and to pay in part the costs of investment. In the past two decades, increases in crop production and yields have been small, and modern intensive agricultural technologies have not been easily adopted by Africa's resource-poor farmers, many of whom are women, barely able to cope with highly variable rainfall, poor soils, and the damage inflicted by pests and diseases. Most success in developing sustainable agricultural production systems has been derived from the application of traditional methods that mimic natural ecosystems but that, for major yield increases, may need the support of biotechnology and investment in gene-related research.

The livestock industry has a smaller output volume and value than crop production, in part owing to the poverty of most African consumers, although, before the recession of the past decade and the financial restrictions of some economic reform programmes, demand had been rising in some areas faster than the increases in output. Increased production of meat and livestock products to satisfy future higher demand levels will require a more sedentary livestock-raising system and changes in land ownership, accompanied by lower stocking densities on open range land in order to create a more sustainable use of environment. There are, however, problems of social and cultural change in order that livestock owners can introduce the pasture plants developed by scientists and that are adapted to the agroecological zones of Sub-Saharan Africa. Other important changes required for sustainable, more sedentary systems include land tenure, infrastructures, and credit facilities. Genetic considerations are also just as important as the feed resource base. Whereas the objective of many governments is the sedentarization of herd owners in order to utilize the available technologies for increased intensity of production, the herd owners may have the different objective of developing their herds as capital and maximizing the numbers of their stock.

The rural population has to depend mainly on local resources, and the urban population, although consuming a high proportion of imported food, yet tends to depend on local wood fuels for its chief source of energy. The increasing demand for fuelwood is putting pressure on the producing rural areas and on the sustainability of farmed and forested environments. Policies aiming to reduce food imports and achieve food self-sufficiency, combined with policies to expand agricultural exports, are being achieved mainly at the expense of forest and woodland, producing fuelwood as a by-product, rather than by increased production intensity and higher yields. Rising urban fuelwood demand and rising prices have encouraged localized forest or woodland degradation. In the near future, with the poor prognosis for industrial expansion and the environmental pressures associated in many African countries with recession, greater demands on rural resources are likely, including increased dependence on agriculture to maintain employment, provide food and fuel, and achieve some economic growth.

One resource-based alternative to agriculture, pastoralism, and fuelwood production in order to provide an engine for development and economic growth is mining. In many Sub-Saharan countries, mining provides a vital export industry, although the hope of developing downstream industries for import substitution has failed in most cases. Environmental damage from mining activities has become an increasing problem, adding to operational costs at a time of competitive difficulty. Africa is endowed with enormous mineral potential, but in the past two decades has mostly missed the investment boom of international finance in mineral exploitation and development, apart from oil, and needs to attract the large mining companies back, encouraged by a more receptive attitude amongst African governments. However, the Republic of South Africa, with the most successful development of mining in Sub-Saharan Africa and a minerals industry sector that is the backbone of the rest of the economy, has a mining industry fully integrated into the domestic economy and largely without "enclave" or "offshore" transnational enterprises.