The governance of land has social, economic and environmental dimensions which are interlinked and, therefore, require careful considerations of all available options to minimize potential conflict among people and across economic activities. Given that Africa’s land is critical to agriculture, mining, wildlife conservation, urbanization and infrastructural development, governance issues and policies are complex, often requiring juggling acts to balance and satisfy competing interests. Land-use management, therefore, has implications at disparate levels from household to community, from community to national, from subregional to regional, and finally to international.
Governance has social and economic dimensions, and inequitable gender relations often place women at a disadvantage. Poverty in Africa has strong gender dimensions. Women often have weaker land and natural resources rights than men, which, coupled with inequitable education, lessens the opportunities available to women. In Cameroon, for example, women have only user rights and not ownership rights to the land.
Property rights are often at the core of available opportunities. Existing property regimes often favor the rich and other established sectors. This has been particularly evident in land and natural resource tenure. The enforcement of property rights, without due consideration of equity and justice issues, may exacerbate conflict among users at different levels including the local and national, and possibly beyond this. It has been argued that land ownership makes poor people less reliant on wage labor and increases opportunities available to them, thus reducing their vulnerability to shocks. Providing poor people with access to land, together with building their capacity to effectively use the land, is central to reducing poverty. It also empowers the poor and communities. Improving land productivity needs to be part of a multi-pronged economic strategy that amongst other things promotes industrial development and diversifies options.
Effective land-use management, which takes into account equity and access issues and tenure rights, is critical to sustainable development in Africa. Ineffective land-use planning and management can only lead to overexploitation of the resource, contributing to increased land degradation, salinization, pollution, soil erosion and conversion of fragile lands.
Legal and institutional frameworks
A disparate body of legal and institutional frameworks exist at national, sub-regional, regional and international levels to deal with the different dimensions of land.
Many resource-rich countries in Africa face special governance challenges related to weak and poorly enforced law and policy. Countries dependent on oil, gas and mining and that have weak political institutions often have higher levels of inequality and poverty than non-oil and -mineral economies at similar income levels. Such countries often lag behind in overall development, with higher levels of child malnutrition, lower educational outcomes, and even shorter life expectancy. To maximize the benefits of increased economic growth, countries must build stronger governance structures and strengthen accountability and transparency as well as eliminating graft.
In terms of agriculture, ministries or departments of agriculture administer different laws and policies aimed at enhancing food production for national consumption as well as for export. The fact that food production in Africa has been declining over the past few decades is arguably an indicator of inefficiency, although there are other root causes. An opportunity which policymakers should pursue in terms of food production is the expansion of irrigation, particularly in sub-regions and countries with the most potential. The adoption by Africa of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) is also an opportunity to turn around agriculture and livestock production in the region.
Africa has played a significant role in various international conferences of the past two decades, including the 1992 Earth Summit and the 1996 World Food Summit. These conferences, as well as the follow-up international conferences such as the World Food Summit +5 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), have given Africa the opportunity to put forward its concerns and to have the global community take them on board.
The region has also ratified various multilateral environmental agreements, whose objectives vary from biodiversity and biotechnology, climate change and desertification to persistent organic pollutants and other chemicals initiatives. Several of these are directly relevant to the challenges of land.
At the regional level, the New Partnership for Africa's Development-Environmental Action Plan (NEPAD-EAP) adopted in 2002 and endorsed by the African Union (AU) in July 2003, has become the blueprint to help address, among others, land issues in Africa.
UN Convention to combat desertification
One of the main challenges facing Africa is desertification. Both the global community and Africa have specifically recognized the need to address this issue. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the key global instrument addressing this issue. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has declared 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification. Regarding land degradation and desertification, Africa collectively as a region and individually as countries has been in the forefront of implementing the UNCCD. All 53 African countries have ratified the Convention and are in various stages of implementing its provisions. In 2005, the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC) reviewed the status of implementation in Africa, and concluded that countries are moving from planning to action.
The African Union (AU), and its predecessor the Organization of African Unity (OAU), have played a key role in the implementation of the UNCCD, which the OAU described in 2002 as "an umbrella Convention for Africa for environment and natural resources management."
The AU – the region’s highest policy-making body – has been involved in the preparatory activities for national, sub-regional and regional action programs and in desertification and land degradation control activities in many parts of Africa (SEAF). In 1998, for example, the OAU granted US$300,000 from its Special Emergency Assistance Fund for Drought and Famine in Africa (OAU/SEAF) to the UNCCD Secretariat to implement transboundary projects to combat desertification and land degradation, and to fight hunger in the Sahel and Maghreb border regions.
Between 1998 and 2001, the OAU/SEAF provided grants totaling about US$4 million to Sudan, Chad, Tanzania, Cameroon and Niger to fund activities to combat both the causes and impacts of desertification and land degradation. Funding was also made available for transboundary projects on desertification, land degradation and food security in the Sahel and Maghreb border regions.
Sub-regional organizations and economic groupings have been involved in implementing sub-regional action programs as well as supporting the implementation of national action programmes (NAP) in various subregions. A total of 32 African countries had by November 2005 finalized (see Table 2), validated and adopted their NAP and two others had working drafts. The United Nations (UN) system has played a critical role in the implementation of the Convention in different regions. For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has, through its Drylands Development Centre (formerly the Office to Combat Desertification and Drought (UNSO)), made considerable investment, financial and otherwise, and spent since 1995 a total of US$18 million to support 29 countries in Africa, 22 in Asia and 19 in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop national action plans to combat desertification and drought. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Joint Venture with UNSO also provided funding to desertification control projects in the Sudano-Sahelian region over the years from 1979 up to the mid-1990s. The Joint Venture also provided extensive support to governments to develop National Action Plans to Combat Desertification (NPACDs) of which many seem to have been converted into NAPs, for example, the Tunisia NPACD which was already in its second phase of implementation in the mid-late 1990s.
Programs and projects by UNEP and its Division of Global Environment Facility Coordination (DGEF) on land and land degradation, such as the Desert Margins Program in nine SSA countries, People, Land Management and Environmental Change (PLEC) in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, and Guinea, Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands (LADA) in Fouta Djallon, Senegal-Mauritania and Niger-Nigeria, and the Kalahari-Namib Action Plan, have been key policy interventions. The implementation of the UNCCD has also facilitated strategic coordination at different levels including at the national, regional and international levels. For example, at the regional level, governments adopt common positions through various fora. At a preparatory African Ministerial Conference in mid-2003 to the sixth session of the UNCCD Conference of the Parties (COP 6), the ministers urged the parties to take appropriate measures to strengthen access to the world market for agricultural products from arid, semiarid and dry sub-humid areas of Africa. The linkage between African agricultural trade and desertification is obvious because in many African countries, combating desertification and promoting development are "virtually one and the same due to the social and economic importance of natural resources and agriculture." Networks such as the FAO-UNEP Global Land Cover Network (GLCN), which has already been implemented in over ten Eastern African countries, and the present expansion of GLCN to Western, Southern and Northern Africa are major efforts to harmonize land-cover classification, and data and information in Africa. They will help to create a comparable land-cover database which is usable across scales and users/operators in different sectors of society. In terms of climate change, which has been projected to have a major impact on Africa, a total of 52 countries have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and nearly all of the countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which came into effect in late 2004.
- Baye, F. M., 2002. Rural Institutions, Access to Primary Assets and Poverty in Two Villages in Cameroon. Pakistan Economic and Social Review. 40(2):121-52.
- OAU, 2002. Report of the Organization of African Unity on Activities undertaken to assist the Implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Organization of African Unity.
- UN, 2004. Livelihoods of Over One Billion People at Risk from Desertification, Secretary-General Says In Message On International Day. Message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, 17 June 2004. Press Release.
- UNCCD Secretariat, 2003. Cotonou Declaration (Unofficial translation of the French version). Proceedings of the African Ministerial Conference preparatory to the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP.6) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Cotonou, Benin. 30 June-4 July.
- UNCCD Secretariat (undated). Combating Desertification in Africa. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
- UNDP, 2004. Human Development Report 2004: Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World. United Nations Development Programme, New York.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2
- World Bank, 2003. Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction: A World Bank Policy Research Report. The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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