Past, present and future perspectives


The history of social, economic and environmental development presented in Chapter 1 demonstrates that African countries have risen to the challenge of environmental degradation. They have developed a collective will to address environmental and related issues, and have created institutions to translate that will into concrete results. Some milestones in this process are recapitulated below.

In addition to the regional and sub-regional initiatives mentioned above, there have also been country level efforts, a summary of which is presented in Annex 1. In their efforts to address environmental degradation, African countries have focused on a range of policy responses. These are examined individually below. Some failures and weaknesses in their implementation are analysed in Annex 2.


Governments use policies to influence the structure and operation of economies, with the aim of attaining goals and targets for development and economic growth. To do this, they use economic, financial, legal and institutional instruments to encourage or to discourage particular types of economic activities at macroeconomic or sectoral levels (Mogaka and others 2001). For example, macroeconomic policies are used throughout Eastern and Southern Africa to manipulate exchange rates, money supply and interest rates in order to achieve economic growth, to stimulate employment and investment, and to generate foreign exchange. Agricultural policies in the sub-regions, on the other hand, have long made use of combinations of subsidies, taxes and credit arrangements to promote the goals of food security, increased export earnings and rural income generation (Mogaka and others 2001).

African states have endorsed poverty reduction as a priority goal, the foundation of which is sound macroeconomic policies and strategies, ensuring both sustainable broad-based economic growth and macroeconomic stability. They have also become more outward-looking and have put in place trade liberalization policies, structural reforms in agriculture, and monetary policies that aim at maintaining low inflation, a stable exchange rate, lower interest rates and fully convertible currencies. Collectively, these responses are aimed at making Africa a part of the global village. The perceived benefit of greater globalization is the reduction of poverty in Africa.

Food insecurity is a measure of poverty. Table 5.2 shows that many countries have improved their daily per capita calorie intake, although some sub-Saharan countries have done the opposite. The situation is similar for per capita protein and fat supply, further strengthening the argument for greater attention to poverty reduction.

Table 5.2 Food security and nutrition

Daily per capita calorie supply

food production index

Daily per capita protein supply Daily per capita fat supply
Country/region 1970 1997 (1989-91 = 100) 1970 % 1970.97 1970 % 1970.97
Seychelles 1 930 2 487 143 79 +52.2 72 +112.7
Mauritius 2 355 2 917 109 72 +43.2 87 +72.0
Tunisia 2 255 3 283 122 88 +55.0 93 +45.6
South Africa 2 831 2 990 97 77 +2.9 77 +12.8
Gabon 2 183 2 556 111 73 +18.7 55 +44.4
Ghana 2 242 2 611 144 49 -0.4 32 -20.5
Kenya 2 187 1 976 105 52 -19.0 47 +40.2
Sierra Leone 2 449 2 035 101 44 -11.3 58 -13.6
Sub-Saharan Africa 2 271 2 231   53 -4.1 46 +2.8
All Developing Countries 2 145 2 663   67 +27.5 59 +79.6
World 2 358 2 791   74 +19.7 72 +42.2
Source: UNDP (2000)


Box 5.3: Macroeconomic policy impacts on the forest sector in Tanzania-the case of structural adjustment and the agricultural sector

About 40 per cent of Tanzania's land area is covered by forests and woodlands.Macroeconomic reforms introduced over the past two decades have impacted on these forest and woodland resources. Research on this subject has led to the conclusion that deforestation in Tanzania is not linked to issues of forestry alone; it is intimately related to questions of public policies, and economic and social forces.

The effects of structural adjustment on Tanzania's forests and woodlands have been particularly intense. In the late 1980s and 1990s, a series of economic reforms was introduced in response to a series of economic crises. These reforms aimed at restoring balances in the economy and at creating a basis for sustainable growth by liberalizing key markets from excessive state control. The agricultural sector was a major focus of these reforms. The role of the state in the marketing of outputs and inputs was diminished considerably with the private sector assuming an increased role. At the same time, an increasingly liberalized economic environment was accompanied by a devaluation of the local currency, and a considerable increase in inflation rates. These and other conditions led to a decline in per capita income and a rise in the cost of living, making it increasingly difficult for both urban and rural dwellers to make ends meet. They also had major impacts on the way in which land and other natural resources were used. Examples are given below.

  • Devaluation increased the price of imported inputs, agro-chemicals and machinery. As these became more expensive, farmers reduced or abandoned their use, accelerating extensive agriculture which required the clearing of woodland and forest to increase production.
  • Removal of price controls and parastatal subsidies created more space for trading in crops, which translated into a greater market demand for crops, and greater production. Since the private sector has failed to assume many of the more extension-based roles of government, many farmers remain uninformed about sustainable farming practices and agricultural expansion has often occurred at the expense of the environment.
  • Falling yields, linked to poor extension and farming practices and to relatively higher costs of inputs, have encouraged farmers to expand production through extension, often into forests and woodlands.
Source: Shechambo, 1999


Click to enlarge

Industrial sector activity is often accompanied by risks to the environment.


Some macroeconomic policies have had negative effects, exacerbating poverty instead of reducing it. For example, during the 1980s, most of the countries of Eastern and Southern Africa faced economic stagnation, declining growth, and increasing public sector and trade deficits. These worsening economic conditions, and the economic stabilization and structural adjustment measures introduced in the 1990s to overcome them, resulted in considerable contraction of the economy, a decline in rural living standards, and a fall in income and employment (Mogaka and others 2001). As is often the case, increased poverty made people more reliant on natural resources to meet their daily needs or to generate income, and this increased pressure led to overexploitation of resources. In other words, macroeconomic policies exacerbated poverty in the two sub-regions and contributed to further environmental degradation. This was certainly the case in Tanzania, where structural adjustments had a negative impact on the forest sector (see Box 5.3).

In addition to macroeconomic policies, African states have introduced sectoral policies aimed at stimulating output, employment and income and, hence, poverty reduction. However, using economic instruments to stimulate sectors can be accompanied by risks to the environment. There are incidences of this in Africa, including promotion of the energy sector and urban development, with a risk of overexploitation of forest resources; promotion of the agriculture, mining and infrastructure sectors, leading to woodland and forest clearance; and promotion of industrial and manufacturing sectors, which generate wastes and pollutants that undermine environmental quality. Table 5.3 illustrates sectoral economic policy incentives and disincentives for sustainable forest utilization and management in Zambia.

Economic instruments in support of agricultural policy goals are, arguably, those that have had the most detrimental effect on the environment. Agriculture has long been promoted as a key sector for development and growth in Africa, and for pursuit of national goals of food security, rural income generation and export earnings. The range of economic instruments used in support of the sector is well-documented, and has mostly involved manipulating of fiscal, financial, price and market mechanisms. Examples are: imposition of relatively lower tax rates on agricultural land uses (Barnes and de Jager 1995); subsidies to inputs; government intervention in marketing; preferential credit arrangements; relief on taxes and duties; and high spending on research, extension, development and marketing (Mogaka and others 2001). Use of such mechanisms has led to an artificial inflation of the profitability of agriculture and has often encouraged the spread of farming activities at the expense of the environment (Mogaka and others 2001).

Table 5.3 Sectoral economic policy incentives and disincentives for sustainable forest utilization and management in Zambia


Economic incentives Economic disincentives Gaps and omissions

Incorporation of sustainable development concerns

Liberalization of forest prices and markets

Empowerment of private sector and communities

Continuing promotion and protection of sectors reliant on forest land and resources Poor recognition of the role of forests and trees in national income, employment and economic growth

Land and environmental conservation and restoration

Promotion of sustainable farming practices

Punitive and restrictive approach to natural resource conservation

Main focus on optimizing agricultural production

Lack of consideration of role of trees in agricultural systems

Lack of recognition of dangers of agricultural conversion of forest land


Definition of land tenure and ownership

Provisions for land management

Punitive and restrictive approach to natural resource conservation

Main focus on optimizing agricultural production

Unclear rights and tenure over trees and forests

Unclear role of traditional authorities in natural resource management

Lack of land use policy and guidelines

Little mention of forests or trees, their tenure or management

Focus on increasing water abstraction and use

Under-priced water

Lack of consideration of upstream catchments  
Energy Improvement in woodfuel supply, production and marketing   Lack of consideration of role of forests in hydropower
Authority and decision making Enforcement of controls on forest use and conversion

Failure to empower communities and minimize group's and individual's rights over trees and forests

Allocation of land and resources based on goals other than sustainable forestry

Insufficient emphasis on role of forests in livelihoods and development
Source: PFAP (1998)

Use of such mechanisms- subsidies to inputs, perferential credit arrangements, etc.- has led to an artificial inflation of the profitability of agriculture and has often encouraged the spread of farming activities at the expense of the environment.

Therefore, when African states introduce macroeconomic and sectoral policies aimed at reducing poverty, they must take care to ensure that none of the planned improvements in economic growth are at the expense of the environment. This is particularly relevant as African governments embark on the modernization of agriculture as a means of reducing poverty and for overall modernization of their economies.

Apart from macroeconomic and sectoral economic policies, social policies can also have significant consequences for environmental management. For example, the underlying cause of much of Africa's widespread poverty is the high rate of population growth, and it is poverty that forces people to overexploit their natural resources and thus degrade their environment. Social policies that tackle the underlying cause of poverty therefore indirectly support environmental improvement. Family planning and other population growth control strategies have been introduced in some African countries and are beginning to yield positive results (UNDP 2000). Better education can also provide a way out of the poverty trap, and there are efforts in African countries to ensure 'free education' for the young to attain the goal of universal literacy.

In some countries, the health policies introduced have emphasized preventive rather than curative strategies. Figure 5.1 and Figure 5.2 show the impacts of policy responses that improve accessibility to safe water and sanitation services. In both cases, there is a direct inverse relationship between infant mortality and the increasing percentage of the population that has access to safe water and sanitation. Removing unhealthy environmental conditions can therefore contribute to reducing vulnerability to disease (see Chapter 3).