Past, present and future perspectives


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Figure 2f.1: Map of land cover and use in Africa


Stretching 7 680 km north to south and 7 200 km from east to west, Africa is the second largest region in the world, accounting for 20 per cent of the world's land mass (2 963 313 000 hectares (ha)) (FAOSTAT 2001). Some 66 per cent of Africa is classified as arid or semiarid, and the region experiences extreme variability in rainfall (UNEP 1999a). Climatic regimes are roughly symmetrical around the equator, and are mirrored in the pattern of vegetation. Thus, dense tropical forests are found in the high-rainfall equatorial belt, with a gradient to both north and south, through savannas, grasslands and deserts. Approximately 22 per cent of Africa's land area is under forest (650 million ha), 43 per cent is characterized as extreme deserts (1 274 million ha), and 21 per cent (630 million ha) is suitable for cultivation (FAO 2001a, Reich, Numbem, Almaraz and Eswaran 2001, UNEP 1999a). By 1999, it was estimated that about 200 million ha (32 per cent of the suitable area) had actually been cultivated (FAOSTAT 2001). At the same time, it was estimated that 30 per cent of the total land area (892 million ha) were being used as permanent pasture (FAOSTAT 2001).

Africa has abundant natural terrestrial resources and potential for economic, social and environmental development. Patterns of land use in Africa are equally diverse and complex, extending beyond agriculture (which, in this context, refers to both cultivation of crops and rearing of livestock). However, many of these have been discussed in other sections of this chapter, and the key issues identified for this section are land quality and productivity, and land tenure, as they relate to food production systems and food security. Figure 2f.1 shows the different types of land cover and patterns of land use in Africa.

The contribution of agriculture to the formal economy and to employment in many African countries, although substantial, does not take account of the significant contribution of small-scale cultivation and livestock production to livelihoods

The people of Africa are largely rural, and they traditionally practice small-scale cultivation, or pastoralism, which is more common in the more arid areas of northern, eastern and southern Africa. Pastoralists herd cattle, camels, sheep and goats, and migrate according to the seasonal abundance of fodder for the livestock. Although men and women both play important roles in agriculture, the production and preparation of food for the household is the main activity for most rural women (FAO 2001b). Cultivation is also an important means of supplementing diets and incomes in urban areas, and urban agriculture is growing faster in Africa than in any other region of the world (Asomani- Boateng and Haight 1999, Mougeot 1998). Other land resources are also widely used, both at the household level and commercially. These include: medicinal products; raw materials for construction and crafts; bushmeat; and wood for fuel. Together, they contribute up to 50 per cent of household food requirements and up to 40 per cent of household incomes (for example, Ashley and LaFranchi 1997, Cavendish 1999). This direct dependency of most Africans on land, and the heavy economic dependence of many African countries on agricultural (as well as mineral) resources, create a unique regard for land in Africa, as well as unique production pressures and competition for resources.