Cover Image
close this bookAfrica's Valuable Assets - A Reader in Natural Resource Management (WRI, 1998, 464 pages)
close this folder11. Links Between Environment and Agriculture in Africa
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAgriculture's Effect on the Environment
View the documentEnvironment's Effect on Agriculture
View the documentStrategic Implications

Strategic Implications

A strong link exists between the environmental and the agricultural development agendas. Indeed, one cannot survive without the other. Program links between sectors, for example, livestock-husbandry promotion as part of agribusiness programs, can help in areas that need manure for soil enhancement, and balance in resource allocation in programs is crucial. Neither the environmental nor the agricultural pressures in Africa can be addressed in isolation.

To survive, large numbers of rural people are already changing production techniques away from traditional low-input systems. But that change can be toward or away from sustainability. The least sustainable path, labor-led intensification, leads to soil exhaustion and the destruction of the commons. Unfortunately, ample evidence indicates that this is the path most commonly taken at present. The other path, sustainable intensification, focusses on maintaining soil fertility and protecting soils through improved NRM, including conservation investments and improved practices.

If sustainable intensification is to succeed, the decline of agricultural support services in Africa needs to be reversed. Specifically, large increases in the use of fertilizer, seed, and animal traction are needed in conjunction with soil conservation investments (in bunds, alley cropping, terraces, etc.) and organic matter application (composting, mulch, manure). This double strategy is at the heart of sustainable intensification. In turn, these investments build capital on the land and a key transition occurs: natural resource capital becomes financial capital.

If the agriculture agenda is to serve both its own and the environment's needs, it must thus be focussed on sustainable intensification in the more favorable agro-climatic zones, on growing much more on the same good land. In this setting, input use is not an environmental problem. Herein lies a hope: Closing the huge gap between current and potential yields by investing more in soil fertility inputs and conservation will mean that Africa's people and environment will both be far better off than they are now.

Investment can also bring back into production the more fragile land in less favorable agro-climatic zones that has been rendered unproductive by overgrazing and overcropping. Rapidly increasing yields in these zones is likely to remain difficult, but soil conservation, alternative income sources (to reduce stress on land), and modest sustainable increases in productivity based on the low use of external inputs are the keys. In particular, growth in alternative income opportunities is essential to relieve pressure on resources and rural production in the medium-to-long term. Promoting rural-urban market and employment links will contribute to this growth.

Policy and programs have an important role, both in helping rural people manage their commons and in helping farmers along the path of change that leads to sustainable intensification. Policies that reduce fertilizer tariffs, along with public investments in transportation, that lower the cost of and increase farmers' access to fertilizer and seed, will help. So will linking requirements for soil conservation investments with programs that increase access to fertilizer equipment.

The intensification of cropping alone cannot, however, guarantee the inviolability of biodiverse wildlands. Access to some protected areas must be restricted too. The local acceptance and practicability of such restrictions will depend on policies and programs that make rural people at least as well off with the restrictions as before them. (Currently, this net-gain approach is often not taken.) Alternative income sources need to be major and sustainable, since the poorest typically rely most on protected areas for food security and fuelwood.

Reforms in land- and resource-tenure regimes will be important in efforts to give local communities the means and the incentives to make land improvements and to intensify production on their own lands instead of pushing into the commons. Complementary public infrastructure is also essential to promoting income alternatives to overusing the commons. Also key is making private investments in soil enhancement and conservation, such as wells and culverts, or in trucks to move rocks for bunds affordable and attractive. And innovative ways to finance and administer such investments top the agenda in this era of restricted budgets.