Cover Image
close this bookSustaining the Future. Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 p.)
close this folderPart 2: Environmental issues and futures
close this folderTowards sustainable environmental and resource management futures in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe concept of sustainable development and its implications
View the documentDriving forces
View the documentLevels of environmental effects of human activities and sustainability concerns
View the documentConstraints on sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentRecommendations
View the documentReferences


Sustainable development in Africa can be achieved only where appropriate policies, strategies, and priorities in research and development are carefully chosen and adhered to with the continuous commitment and allocation of resources and the creation of an enabling environment by governments. The elements of necessary ingredients for such sustainable development are briefly summarized below.

The adoption of a holistic or systems approach in planning, policies, and R&D

Sustainable development applies to the conservation, management, and rational utilization of natural resources in such a way as to maintain the integrity of each ecosystem, support all life, ensure no loss in biodiversity, and prevent environmental degradation. This calls for compatibility in sectoral development programmes in such a way that activities in any one sector do not have adverse environmental impacts, which would make it difficult to achieve the desired sustainable management of resources in any other sector now and in the future. For this to be successful it must involve the interaction of relevant disciplines in the planning and policy formulation stages, and in all stages of research and development (R&D) activities at local, national, regional, and global levels.

Conservation and development

There is need in all countries to adopt an environmental perspective in the management of natural resources in development programmes so as to ensure that conservation goes hand in hand with development in order to enhance sustainability. Conservation is defined as "the rational use of the earth's resources to achieve the highest quality of living for mankind" (UNESCO/FAO 1968), with the additional qualification that the quality of life also should apply to humans and to other organisms since this is the way to ensure conservation of biodiversity. When environmental quality is good for the survival of humans and other organisms then it is obvious that the environment is being given the due consideration it deserves in development if the earth is to function largely as a self-regulating planet.


Sustainable development calls for the adoption of a holistic and integrated approach in natural resource management. Opportunities for this exist in the following situations:

Land use

The adoption of an integrated land-use plan in which integrated watersheds as units for planning and development are a component entails the development of a master plan that provides for all the competing multiple land-use options, ranging from land for wildlife reserves and forest plantations to land for mining and human settlement, at least at national and regional levels.

Traditional and modern systems and technology

The integration of traditional, modern, and emerging resource management systems and technologies is one way of ensuring the relevance of technologies to the farmer's needs and circumstances, thereby facilitating rapid and widespread adoption. It involves the integration of desirable compatible elements of the different technologies in order to achieve sustainability. This approach also ensures that systems of production and their component technologies are ecologically sound, economically viable, and culturally acceptable.

Cropping systems and animal production systems

The integration of production systems involving, for example, the integration of arable (field) crop production with agro-forestry species in hedgerows and sometimes also with livestock into agrisilvopastoral systems can achieve a wider spectrum of objectives than can any of the systems alone.

Pest and disease management systems

Reliance on environment-polluting pesticides and chemical control in pest management can be minimized by mixing different strategies that interact synergistically to produce the desired effects. The combination of compatible chemical, biological, physical, and/or cultural methods in the control of pests and diseases aims to reduce reliance on any one method that, when used alone, may have adverse environmental effects - e.g. using a resistant variety and a few sprays of dilute chemical pesticide, instead of high concentrations and several sprays of more pesticides, which causes environmental pollution.

Species of crops and/or animals

Growing different species of crops or using different species of animals can ensure higher and more stable yields over time than growing only one commodity.

Alternative energy systems

It is necessary to develop alternative energy systems because reliance on fuelwood as the main energy source will not only lead to depletion of fuelwood resources and deforestation but also cause erosion and desertification.

Monitoring of resources and environment

For sustainable development to succeed, there must be monitoring of the status of various natural resources and analyses of the data in order to predict the likely consequences of environmental change in the future. Related to this is the inventorying of natural resources so as to determine changes in biodiversity causes and remedial measures.

Regulatory and guidance measures

Monitoring provides the basis for legislation and enforcement measures for protecting the environment. The results can also be used to guide actions to be taken or to enforce related laws and regulations.

Education, training, and orientation priorities

The existing educational curriculum needs to be modified so as to facilitate the provision of environmental education at different levels and the provision of training in environmental monitoring and assessment, in addition to orientation of the public so as to enhance popular participation in sustainable development projects. Any effort aimed at combating the development of inappropriate attitudes or standards as a result of the influence of the media can best be achieved through the educational system, formally or informally.

Other strategies

The above strategies are by no means exhaustive. It would be necessary to take appropriate measures to see that there are in place policies, strategies, technologies, systems, and other actions that are needed for combating or eliminating any of the constraints identified above.