Land resources in Africa are priceless, as they support the majority of the people, particularly in terms of agriculture and livestock production. Land is an environmental, social and economic good and is a key resource for the realization of development opportunities. Trends show continued degradation of the resource, particularly due to desertification and climate change, but also as a result of poor management and planning. Such degradation undermines productivity and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially those pertaining to hunger and poverty.
Although land degradation is usually defined by reference to productivity, its effects may include diminished food security, reduced calorie intake, economic stresses and loss of biodiversity. Land can be degraded or lost through unplanned and badly planned activities related to agriculture, forestry and industry, as well as urban sprawl and infrastructure development. Natural disasters, such as cyclones and floods, result in land loss and deterioration in the functional capabilities of soil. Industrial pollution is increasingly contributing to land degradation as well. An estimated 500 million hectares (ha) of land in Africa have been affected by soil degradation since about 1950, including as much as 65 percent of the agricultural land. This includes 25 percent or 320 million hectares of Africa’s susceptible drylands, and the degradation-drought-famine linkage exacerbates vulnerability to livelihood insecurity. Recurrent droughts increase soil degradation and this soil degradation then magnifies the effects of drought. This situation, therefore, has implications for the attainment of many of the MDGs and the NEPAD goals.
Increasing population pressure on land combined with reduced fallow periods, inequitable land tenure regimes and poor land-use planning contribute to overcultivation. While overgrazing is a common problem in countries with large livestock populations, the conversion of traditional grazing land into protected areas, use of perverse subsidies that encourage overstocking, poor siting of watering points and the imposition of sedentary agriculture or ranching on pastoral communities also contribute to overgrazing.
These factors have negatively impacted on the capacity of Africa’s biologically productive land to sustain its population at current consumption levels. This is referred to as its ecological footprint. The estimated per capita productive land available in Central and Eastern Africa varies from the low of 0.69 ha in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 0.75 ha in Burundi, 0.85 ha in Ethiopia, 0.88 ha in Uganda, 0.89 ha in Cameroon, 0.90 ha in Rwanda, to 1.12 ha in the Central African Republic, 1.15 ha in the Congo and 2.06 ha in Gabon. Other things being equal, increasing consumption levels will definitely put severe pressure on the ecological footprint.
Africa is extremely dry, in both percentage terms (43 percent of the land area is classified as drylands), and in total available moisture (5 000 m3 per capita per year). These drylands are unevenly distributed in the region. For example, the percentage of total land area considered semi-arid and arid is low in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (3 percent), Burundi (5 percent), the Central African Republic (12 percent), Cameroon (17 percent), Rwanda (19 percent) and Uganda (25 percent) and high in Chad (no percentage given), Ethiopia (74 percent) and Kenya (87 percent). The percentage of the country populations having to derive their livelihoods from such lands are 2 percent in the Democratic Republic of the the Congo, 4 percent in Burundi, 9 percent in the Central African Republic, 10 percent in Rwanda, 16 percent in Uganda, 23 percent in Cameroon, 39 percent in Kenya and 42 percent in Ethiopia.
Countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya have hotspots within their drylands where a combination of land degradation and grinding poverty seriously undermine income and food security, exacerbating human vulnerability. These hotspots present serious development challenges, requiring a thorough understanding of the poverty-environment nexus to implement programmes which enhance human wellbeing and effective environmental management. Opportunities exist for investment in drylands to fight poverty and promote sustainable human development. For example, focusing on high-value crops, such as fruit and vegetables, can intensify cash crop production. New opportunities for livestock production can be found, including the range farming of game animals. Ecotourism with fair and equitable benefit-sharing arrangements with local communities can be promoted in wildlife reserves to the benefit of both people and biodiversity. Small-scale irrigated agriculture can more equitably expand the frontiers of opportunity for the poor in the drylands of Africa.
In Africa’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS) heavy pressure on land has resulted in the conversion of natural vegetation, clearing of forests, loss of productivity and soil erosion. In Mauritius, for example, land degradation is a major problem such that only 1.5 percent of the original native vegetation cover remains. In addition, agricultural trade in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) has declined and continues to be threatened, mainly due to the fact that they are small, vulnerable and remote, and also as a result of the changing international trading environment.
The issues of land tenure and land-use management are critical in ensuring that land is effectively used to benefit poverty reduction and sustainable livelihoods in Africa. In many countries this will require fundamental land-tenure reform. A related issue is that of land conflict, which, if not properly managed, can have adverse consequences for livelihood security.
Africa’s main policy responses to the land issues highlighted above have included reforms in landtenure policies and laws, and the translation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification into strategies and plans for sustainable land management. Tenure reforms have yielded mixed results with access and control as issues of contestation. Rarely have efforts been made to take due account of the links between land and water rights, yet that link is fundamental to land productivity. While progress has been made on the formulation and implementation of the National Action Plans to Combat Desertification (NAPs), their effectiveness has tended to be undermined by the failure to integrate the NAPs into national policies and strategies and/or other relevant action plans such as those for biodiversity conservation and adaptation to climate change.
Given the slow development of the industrial and service sectors in many African countries, huge sections of the population will continue to depend directly on land for their livelihoods. Overall, land degradation is likely to continue in the short to medium term. The worsening poverty situation, sustained high rates of population growth, and negligible growth in the industrial and service sectors will combine to perpetuate extensive rather than intensive land use with little or no application of productivity-enhancing inputs. The upshot of this is likely to be increasing costs on people, economies and the environment. Climate change and desertification will also continue to be limiting factors well into the future.
The adoption of integrated planning that embeds the NAP requirements into the budget and land reforms, which are pro-poor and rationalize the protection of both land and water rights, may attract technological investments in agriculture, improving the prospects for productive land use with positive effects on reducing poverty and hunger. Countries that adopt measures to promote agricultural and rural development, especially the policy action on doubling the area of arable land under irrigation by 2015, might also accelerate the attainment of the MDGs on poverty and hunger. The Africa Water Vision 2025 sets a target of a 25 percent increase in irrigated land by 2015 and a 100 percent increase by 2025.
The UN Millennium Project (2005) has highlighted the need to focus on rural development, and to achieve a 21st century revolution in agriculture as well as strategies to make Africa’s fast-growing cities more productive, through a focus on labour-intensive exports. It noted that many countries in the region “require a big push in public investments to overcome the region’s high transport costs, generally small markets, lowproductivity agriculture, adverse agroclimatic conditions, high disease burden and slow diffusion of technology from abroad.”
In practical terms, policymakers could consider the following actions in the light of the realities facing them:
- Ensure that land tenure policy and law provide for equal opportunities to access land and protect the property rights of vulnerable groups, including but not limited to, women, children and the elderly, through effective land registry and control mechanisms, based on adequate information to enable efficient and sustainable use of land resources.
- Institute effective mechanisms for implementing land policies and laws towards effective land use as a means of reducing land degradation and desertification.
- Formulate and implement adaptation measures to minimize the impacts of climate change on land and freshwater resources, taking advantage of resources available under the Montreal and Kyoto protocols.
- Expand the area under irrigation to reducedependence on rain-fed agriculture, while ensuring that promotion of irrigated agriculture does not yieldundue social and environmental problems, such aserosion, salinity and siltation.
- Develop and/or strengthen measures to facilitatepeaceful resolution of land-related conflicts whichwill promote social stability and economic growthand protect natural resources.
- Promote market access for products in drylandareas to broaden the opportunities to improve income and livelihood security.
The success of these and other policy reforms not only depend on governments but other stakeholders as well. These include civil society, farmers, the private sector, research organizations, banks and the international community.
Result and target date
The UN Millennium Project suggested 2005 as the start of “a decade of bold action” for governments to ensure the success of the MDGs. In the nine years left to 2015 – the MDG target year – strategies should be in place to address land degradation, improve food production and cut down food imports, and enhance household and national resilience in the face of natural disasters. Such strategies would not only be in line with the provisions of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, but also with the MDG and NEPAD targets. In fact, such strategies would help strengthen the NEPAD priority programme to combat land degradation, drought and desertification. Some of the actions identified above would extend beyond the next nine years, but the foundation should be laid during this period.
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This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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