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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 1: Economy and society: development issues
close this folderIntroduction to population, resources, and sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentInternal and international migration
View the documentNatural resources
View the documentHuman resources
View the documentPopulation, agricultural land, and food supply
View the documentPopulation, economy, and sustainable development
View the documentReferences

Natural resources

There are many different ways to classify natural resources. The classification used here is a simple ad hoc method related to the link between natural resources and population, beginning with land as the basic resource for agricultural production, which is the most important element in many Sub-Saharan economies.


Table 4.2 provides broad land-use categories, from which it can be seen that Sub-Saharan Africa is nearly 34 per cent pastoral, 30 per cent forest and woodland, and just under 7 per cent cropland (which also supports large numbers of trees) (World Resources Institute 1994: 284). Another 30 per cent is "other land" - a small part urban and roads, and the rest chiefly sand, rock, and poorly vegetated terrain. Because Africa as a whole has 16 per cent of its soil area without "serious limitations" (FAO 1980: 4) it would seem probable that the cropland area could be considerably expanded (of these soil limitations, the most serious in Africa was drought, affecting 44 per cent, followed by nutritional deficiency or chemical toxicity, affecting 18 per cent). However, the demand for cropland is highly variable and some countries have little room for expansion. The highest proportions of cropland and permanent pasture are in western and eastern Africa, and the highest percentages of cropland by country are in Burundi (52.3), Mauritius (52.2), Rwanda (46.9), Nigeria (35.4), and Uganda (33.7). These three countries, particularly Rwanda, have little scope for the expansion of agricultural production other than by intensification. It is worth noting that some of the countries with advanced commercial agriculture, e.g. Kenya and Zimbabwe, have only low to average proportions of cropland, although Kenya does have a considerable area with serious environmental limitations.

In many Afriean countries, small family farms are the basis of agricultural production and the amount of cropland per capita tends to be low. In 1991, Africa as a whole had an average of 0.27 hectares per capita - nearly twice the Asian figure and less than half that for North and Central Ameriea, but the same as for Europe. Botswana had most cropland per capita, with 1.10 ha, but very low figures were recorded in Kenya (0.10), Guinea and Somalia (0.12), Tanzania (0.13), and Liberia (0.14) (World Resources Institute 1994: 294-295). Pressure on land resources has led to increasing individual ownership of land in place of traditional use right systems and associated with the growing commercialization of agriculture (Migot-Adholla et al. 1991).

Atmospherie resources

Apart from the southern subtropical extreme and the more temperate conditions of the high plateaux and mountain environments, especially in Ethiopia and elsewhere in eastern Africa, temperatures are high throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and winter as such is nonexistent. Climatic types range from hot-wet to hot-dry; i.e. the main seasonal variations concern rainfall and humidity. The regularly arranged climatic regions each side of the equator have been a factor in north-south population movements and constitute a major resource on which most productivity depends. Sub-Saharan Africa has abundant sunshine throughout the year and therefore has substantial solar energy, utilized so far mainly by indirect means, chiefly in agriculture and in biomass energy sources such as fuelwood or crop plant waste. Solar energy is the greatest potential source of renewable energy in the region, providing the technology for its use can be developed.

Table 4.2 Agricultural and forest/woodland land use in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1989-1991

Regions/countriesa Land area ('000 ha.) Cropland (%) Permanent pasture (%) Forest/ woodland (%)
SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA 2,124,784 6.7 33.7 29.5
East Africa 604,892 7.6 46.1 27.6
Burundi 2,565 52.3 35.6 2.6
Djibouti 2,318 0.0 8.6 0.0
Ethiopia 110,100 12.7 40.8 24.6
Kenya 56,969 4.3 66.9 4.1
Madagascar 58,154 5.3 58.5 26.7
Malawi 9,408 17.8 19.6 38.6
Mauritius 203 52.2 3.4 28.1
Mozambique 78,409 4.0 56.1 18.2
Rwanda 2,467 46.9 18.8 22.5
Somalia 62,734 1.7 68.5 14.4
Tanzania 88,604 3.8 39.5 46.2
Uganda 19,955 33.7 9.0 27.9
Zambia 74,339 7.1 40.4 38.8
Zimbabwe 38,667 7.3 12.6 49.5
Central Africa 648,910 3.8 17.7 52.7
Angola 124,670 2.7 23.3 42.0
Cameroon 46,540 15.1 17.8 52.7
Central African Rep. 62,298 3.2 4.8 57.5
Chad 125,920 2.5 35.7 10.1
Congo 34,150 0.5 29.3 62.0
Eq. Guinea 2,805 8.2 3.7 46.2
Gabon 25,767 1.8 18.2 77.1
Zaire 226,760 3.5 6.6 76.9
Western Africa 605,211 9.1 27.5 13.9
Benin 11,062 16.8 4.0 31.4
Burkina Faso 27,380 13.0 36.5 24.1
Cote d'lvoire 31,800 11.6 40.9 23.1
Gambia 1,000 17.9 9.0 15.6
Ghana 22,754 12.0 22.0 35.5
Guinea 24,586 3.0 25.0 59.3
Guinea-Bissau 2,812 12.0 38.4 38.1
Liberia 9,675 3.9 58.9 18.0
Mali 122,019 1.7 24.6 5.7
Mauritania 102,522 0.2 38.3 4.3
Niger 126,670 2.8 7.0 1.6
Nigeria 91,077 35.4 43.9 13.1
Senegal 19,253 12.2 16.1 54.8
Sierra Leone 7,162 8.9 30.8 28.8
Togo 5,439 12.3 32.9 29.4
Southern Africa 265,771 5.9 5.9 12.7
Botswana 56,673 2.4 58.2 19.3
Lesotho 3,035 11.1 16.0 0.0
Namibia 82,239 0.8 46.2 22.0
South Africa 122,104 10.8 66.6 3.7
Swaziland 1,720 12.0 68.8 6.0

Sources: Calculations of percenlages based on data from World Resources Institute (1994:
284 285); FAO (1993).
a. Some island counlries included in table 4.1 have been omitted.

Although the more humid regions provide Sub-Saharan Africa's agricultural base and support most of its population, even they have been affected periodically by droughts that have brought severe livestock and crop losses, especially to the climatically marginal areas. Since the mid-1960s, Sub-Saharan Africa has been the major global region worst affected by drought, mainly in 1968-1971 in the Sahel, Ethiopia, the Sudan, and Somalia, in 1982-1985 in both the Sahel and southern Africa, and again in 1990.

Water resources

Sub-Saharan Africa has about 10 per cent of the world's annual internal renewable water resources for 18 per cent of the world land area and about 10 per cent of the world population. Estimates for Africa as a whole suggest that 6,140 m3 per capita was available in 1992, of which 245 (4 per cent) was withdrawn, mainly for agriculture (World Resources Institute 1994: 346). However, data are provided by only 17 Sub-Saharan countries and the rest have to be estimated from other related information. Some countries are mainly riparian users of water from external sources over which they have little or no control and for which they compete. Only 45 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa's population has access to safe water (UNDP 1994: 133) - the worst figures are for the Central African Republic (12 per cent), Uganda (15 per cent), and Congo (21 per cent). The prospects of increased water scarcity are considerable, given the evidence of poorer precipitation in the past three decades and the reduction in volume of several water bodies, associated with some evidence of worsening vegetation conditions or "desertification."

Energy resources

Sub-Saharan Africa has substantial mineral fuel resources, including oil, coal, and uranium. Nigeria is the biggest oil producer and exporter, with about 27 per cent of production in 1991. South Africa has over 90 per cent of the coal production and reserves and two-thirds of the recoverable uranium. There are also extensive renewable resources, including fuelwood and hydroelectric power. Locally, fuelwood is often the cheapest form of heat for cooking and readily available for the dispersed rural population. Where market and supply systems are well developed, kerosene can now be cheaper, apart from the capital cost of buying an oil stove. Hydropower is the greatest most readily available renewable energy resource, but, apart from very small schemes, can involve considerable capital costs, force the resettlement of rural communities, and cause the loss of agricultural land. It is not very economic for the supply of power to a largely dispersed rural population. Greatest hydro-power potential is in Zaire and Zambia, which also have the greatest installed capacity.

The biggest producer and consumer of energy in Sub-Saharan Africa is South Africa, which is the richest in developed commercial energy resources. Gabon, Zimbabwe, and Botswana come next. Some countries, such as Zambia and Kenya, saw a steep decline in energy use in the 1980s owing to rising fuel costs and falling demand.

Natural vegetation and deforestation

The extent of forest and woodland in tropical Africa is difficult to estimate owing to differences in classification and measurement techniques. The estimates for 1990 published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 1993) and the World Resources Institute (1994: 308) suggest that of the forested area of tropical Africa, including the tropical islands, 47.6 per cent is moist deciduous forest (mainly moist savanna woodland with 1,000-2,000 mm annual rainfall), 16.4 per cent is rain forest, with over 2,OOO mm, and 17.5 per cent is dry deciduous, with 500-1,000 mm. The rest (18.5 per cent) is very dry deciduous and desert, with less than 500 mm, and hill and montane forest (500 mm with about a three-month rainy season is marginal for tropical agriculture dependent on rainfall). More or less 80 per cent of the forest and woodland area, occupying rather less than a quarter of the area of Sub-Saharan Africa, is moist enough and with large enough trees to be threatened by agricultural clearance (subject to soil limitations), logging, and fuelwood cutting, apart from protected areas occupying less than 5 per cent of the Sub-Saharan land area.

Tropical rain forest, savanna woodlands, and subtropical forests are being depleted in Sub-Saharan Africa at a rate that many observers find alarming. The highest subregional rate of deforestation (percentage annual reduction) estimated for 1981-1990 was for western Africa at 1.0 and the lowest was for central Africa at 0.5 (World Resources Institute 1994: 308, using the WRI regional classification).

Other primary resources

In minerals, Sub-Saharan Africa provides one of the world's greatest resources in both production and potential. Southern Africa is a particularly rich metalliferous zone, with gold, diamonds, iron, nickel, lead, chromium, vanadium, and manganese, but central Africa is one of the world's greatest sources of copper and cobalt and western Africa of bauxite and iron. Mining has played a major role in developing African economies and, including the production of mineral fuels, has provided the chief basic financial resource for the richest African economies. It has attracted large numbers of migrant labourers and has produced the largest concentrations of urban and industrial population in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Wildlife resources are more important in Africa than in any other comparable global region. Apart from experiments in farming wildlife, aimed at a higher production of meat per unit area than from conventional livestock, wild animals are a valuable genetic resource and one of the most important elements in African tourism, especially in eastern Africa.