Nearly 19 percent of Central Africa’s total area of about 536.6 million hectares (ha) is used for agriculture, although, there are variations between the countries. Irrigated agriculture is limited due to high, reliable rainfall in the humid zone which is conducive to rain-fed agriculture. Only about 88,000 ha are irrigated. São Tomé and Príncipe has the smallest land area, covering 96,000 ha, while total land cover in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is nearly 234.5 million ha. The subregion has extensive forest and woodland resources; about 240.33 million ha is forested.
Endowment and opportunities
(Source: G. Planchenault/IFAD)
In 2004, Central Africa led economic growth in Africa with 7.3 percent. This was fuelled by high oil prices supported by higher oil production in all oil-producing countries of the sub-region except Gabon. Chad and Equatorial Guinea recorded the fastest growth in the continent in 2004: although oil was the principal factor in Chad, cattle and cotton production also contributed to the impressive growth.
Agriculture contributes significantly to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the sub-region, with Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad registering 44, 55 and 39 percent respectively during the year 2000. Agropastoralism is the main agricultural activity, while major crops in the sub-region include cassava, cocoa, coffee, cotton, groundnuts, maize, millet, palm oil, rubber and sorghum. In 2000, Cameroon was the main exporter of cereals and pulses, which accounted for US$141 million and US$860,000 respectively. However, Central Africa is a net importer of food. Due to the vast resources available, there is a glaring opportunity for the countries to diversify agricultural production so that they fully achieve their potential to become net food exporters. The sub-region has made great strides in improving its cereal yields, with as much as 56 and 30 percent improvement having been realized in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, respectively, since 1989.
Central Africa is also endowed with considerable oil reserves, particularly in Cameroon, Chad and São Tomé and Principe. São Tomé has untapped off-shore oil reserves estimated at 6,000 million barrels. Cameroon is Sub-Saharan Africa's (SSA) sixth-largest oil producer, with reserves estimated at 400 million barrels, while Chad has 900 million barrels.
Challenges faced in realizing opportunities for development
Land degradation, which includes erosion and soil compaction, is the main threat to the sustainable use of land resources. The main causes of land degradation are vegetation removal through commercial logging and tree cutting to provide domestic fuel, as well as clearance of forests for commercial or subsistence cultivation. During the period 1990-2000, the sub-region experienced extensive forest loss, ranging from 0.1 percent in the Republic of Congo to 0.9 percent in Cameroon. Its soils are exposed to salinization, through inundation and saltwater intrusion to in irrigated land.
Declining productivity and soil structure in the Sahelian zones of Chad and Cameroon are exacerbated by unpredictable rainfall and drought, resulting in extreme degradation and desertification. Chad is highly vulnerable to desertification, with 58 percent of the area already classified as desert, and 30 percent classified as extremely vulnerable. Armed conflict is also a threat to the sustainable management and use of land resources. The sub-region has experienced considerable conflict over the past two decades, displacing people and causing land degradation through deforestation.
As part of efforts to address the various threats to the land resources, a number of institutions and policies are in place, and they include the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC); the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS); the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC); and the African Timber Organization (ATO). The primary aim of these organizations is to promote economic cooperation and sound environmental management in the sub-region.
Central Africa is challenged to improve food production and cut down on food imports. A comprehensive, integrated approach to improving food security and land quality is an environmental and developmental priority.
Land tenure and access to land resources are two important factors influencing land and natural resources management. An improvement in tenure arrangements has a direct effect on people’s security and on their investment in land resources management. In particular, there is a need to harmonize customary and statutory laws in order to avoid conflicting situations that can lead to disputes over access to land resources.
- ECA, 2005. Economic Report on Africa 2005: Meeting the Challenges of Unemployment and Poverty in Africa. Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa.
- Energy Information Administration, 2005. Country Analysis Briefs: Chad and Cameroon Country Analysis Brief.
- FAO, 2005. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
- FAOSTAT, 2005. FAOSTAT – FAO Statistical Databases. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- Reich, P. F. et al, 2001. Land Resource Stresses and Desertification in Africa. In Responses to Land Degradation. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Land Degradation and Desertification. Khon Khaen, Thailand, 25-29 January 1999. Oxford Press, New Delhi.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2
- WRI in collaboration with UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank, 2003. World Resources 2002-2004 – Decisions for the Earth, Balance, Voice and Power. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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