Grim omens on sus­tain­able liveli­hoods in Africa (1)

Business a.m. - - COMMENT - OLUKAYODE OYELEYE Oyeleye is a pol­icy an­a­lyst, jour­nal­ist and vet­eri­nar­ian

GREAT LIFE­TIME OF OPPORTUNI TIES are about to be ir­re­triev­ably missed in Africa if the con­ti­nent crosses cer­tain thresh­olds in the stew­ard­ship of nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment and ex­ploita­tion. This will not be be­cause such re­sources are ex­ploited at all, but will be mainly be­cause they are poorly man­aged, with­out ad­e­quate con­sid­er­a­tion for the fu­ture im­pacts of to­day’s ac­tions. The costs and con­se­quences will be too enor­mous to quan­tify. We will start with ru­ral liveli­hoods and nat­u­ral re­source base. Al­though there are wide vari­a­tions all across the con­ti­nent in terms of abun­dance and di­ver­sity of re­sources, cul­tural dif­fer­ences and na­tional govern­ments, one common sim­i­lar­ity is that all the coun­tries are still climb­ing the lad­der of de­vel­op­ment and the ru­ral set­tings share a lot in common. Most of Africa’s coun­try­side is agrar­ian and now – more than ever be­fore – here lies a ma­jor prob­lem.

The ru­ral Africa is un­der­go­ing ne­glect from cen­tral plan­ners, politi­cians, pol­icy mak­ers, pol­icy im­ple­menters and en­forcers. This con­di­tion per­sists, not be­cause there are no di­ag­nos­tic stud­ies, re­search works or find­ings by de­vel­op­ment ac­tors, or that there are no talks about the is­sues in of­fi­cial quar­ters, but in part be­cause of lack of real un­der­stand­ing of the full im­pli­ca­tions of cer­tain ac­tions and in­ac­tions on the side of the govern­ments and the peo­ple. Since all pol­i­tics re­main ul­ti­mately lo­cal, gov­er­nance re­mains lo­cal and re­sponses – highly de­pen­dent on both – re­main a chal­lenge de­pend­ing on the ex­is­tence or ab­sence of rel­e­vant func­tional in­sti­tu­tions. Thus far, much of the per­ti­nent con­ver­sa­tions are led, sup­ported and im­ple­mented with the help of donor and de­vel­op­ment agen­cies, mostly com­ing from out­side Africa. With­out say­ing it loud, African na­tions ap­pear to be liv­ing in de­nial of the un­fold­ing re­al­i­ties within the con­ti­nent. We thus gloss over ob­vi­ous re­al­i­ties and omi­nous por­tents that need ur­gent and de­ci­sive ac­tions.

The gap be­tween pol­icy mak­ers, im­ple­menters and the pub­lic re­mains ever widen­ing in Africa. This is dis­cernible in the scant prac­ti­cal ac­tions in spite of the num­ber of con­fer­ences, procla­ma­tions and vol­umes of pub­li­ca­tions. The pri­or­ity ac­corded such is­sues also re­mains low. Re­cently, the United Na­tions Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion for Africa (UNECA) raised alarm on the pos­si­bil­i­ties of en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis in Africa. Ac­cord­ing to UNECA, “cli­mate change has sig­nif­i­cant and un­equiv­o­cal im­pli­ca­tions for Africa’s de­vel­op­ment, and poses com­plex and chang­ing chal­lenges for Africa’s peo­ples and pol­icy mak­ers. Ad­dress­ing cli­mate change has be­come cen­tral to the con­ti­nent’s de­vel­op­ment agenda. It is proven that poorer coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties will suf­fer ear­li­est and hard­est from global warm­ing be­cause of weaker re­silience and greater re­liance on cli­mate sen­si­tive sec­tors like agri­cul­ture.”

UNECA warned fur­ther that cli­mate vari­abil­ity lies be­hind much of the pre­vail­ing poverty, food in­se­cu­rity, and weak eco­nomic growth in Africa to­day. It as­serted that cli­mate change will in­crease this vari­abil­ity, adding that the “sever­ity and fre­quency of droughts, floods and storms will in­crease, lead­ing to more wa­ter stress. Changes in agri­cul­tural, live­stock and fish­eries pro­duc­tiv­ity will oc­cur, and the con­ti­nent will face fur­ther food in­se­cu­rity as well as a spread of wa­ter re­lated dis­eases, par­tic­u­larly in trop­i­cal areas. Tem­per­a­ture in­creases and changes in mean rain­fall and evap­o­ra­tion are likely to be­come ever greater and more dam­ag­ing to liveli­hoods through the 21st cen­tury.” It is im­por­tant, at this junc­ture, to ask whether African lead­ers are mod­el­ling the sce­nar­ios for pos­si­ble proac­tive in­ter­ven­tion and pre­ven­tive mea­sures.

The ques­tion of liveli­hoods is thrown up here. While the in­crease in pop­u­la­tion in Africa over the years is widely ac­knowl­edged, there seems to be a scant con­sid­er­a­tion for the re­la­tion­ship be­tween pop­u­la­tion growth, its spread and so­cial strat­i­fi­ca­tion and the ul­ti­mate im­pacts on liveli­hoods and the en­vi­ron­ment. In some cases, as in Nige­ria, pop­u­la­tion is re­garded as a po­lit­i­cal tool, in which case it is ma­nip­u­lated and used to sway po­lit­i­cal out­comes of some part of the coun­try over the oth­ers. Africa’s op­ti­mism must be based on facts, proven data and anec­do­tal ev­i­dences to guide pol­icy direc­tions. One of the Septem­ber edi­tions of The Econ­o­mist mag­a­zine wrote on Africa’s pop­u­la­tion thus: “The 21st cen­tury, in one way at least, will be African. In 1990, Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa ac­counted for 16 per cent of the world’s births. Be­cause African birth rates are so much higher than else­where, the pro­por­tion has risen to 27 per cent and is ex­pected to hit 37 per cent in 2050. About a decade later, more ba­bies will be born in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa than in the whole of Asia, in­clud­ing In­dia and China.” The Econ­o­mist noted that, “the real prob­lem is that too many ba­bies sap eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and make it harder to lift Africans out of poverty.”

We are of­ten told of Africa’s pop­u­la­tion ad­van­tage as a big mar­ket for con­sumer goods. But we are not told of where such goods orig­i­nate from, or how pro­duc­tive the con­sumer base is. Quite in­struc­tive is the fact that, in 1950, Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa had just 180 mil­lion peo­ple, the pu­ta­tive pop­u­la­tion of Nige­ria to­day. By 2050, Africa will have a pop­u­la­tion of 2.2 bil­lion peo­ple, three times as many as Europe. “Piec­ing to­gether the poverty puz­zle,” a World Bank re­port re­leased ear­lier in Oc­to­ber to mark the World Poverty Day, showed that the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in ex­treme poverty in Africa has in­creased from 405.1 mil­lion in 2013 to 413.3 mil­lion in 2015. The mix of the poor and the grow­ing num­ber of rich peo­ple should not be al­lowed to be­cloud the pop­u­la­tion land­scape and present a rea­son for false sense of se­cu­rity. There are con­found­ing vari­ables that need to be put into con­text.

A ris­ing mid­dle class, ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tion and stag­nant lo­cal agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion are driv­ing up Africa’s food im­ports. At the same time, weather-re­lated dam­age, pest and dis­eases in crops and an­i­mals, and some agro­nomic prac­tices – plus post-har­vest losses – are af­fect­ing agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity. A 2012 pub­li­ca­tion of the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO), ex­plain­ing Africa agri­cul­tural and food trade deficits, noted that, over the past three decades, agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity has fallen and, in the pe­riod, Africa lost its status as a net ex­porter of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts in the early 1980s when prices of raw com­modi­ties fell and lo­cal pro­duc­tion stag­nated. Since then, agri­cul­tural im­ports have grown con­sis­tently faster than ex­ports and by 2007 reached a high of $47 bil­lion, yield­ing a deficit of $22bn. The value of agri­cul­tural ex­ports from Thai­land, which has less than 10 per cent of Sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa’s pop­u­la­tion, is reck­oned now to be greater than for the whole of Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

Africa’s ru­ral econ­omy de­serves at­ten­tion. The wide ram­i­fi­ca­tions of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and liveli­hoods de­mand a shift from lip ser­vice and mere pol­icy pro­nounce­ments to ac­tions. As rec­om­mended by UNECA, the evolv­ing global cli­mate gov­er­nance regime re­quires that Africa develop ever more nu­anced and so­phis­ti­cated re­sponses to guide the con­ti­nent’s en­gage­ment at all lev­els of the cli­mate re­sponse. Ul­ti­mately, the fu­ture pros­per­ity, well­be­ing and food se­cu­rity of Africa will be in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to the level of to­day’s com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship. With­out hav­ing to rein­vent the wheel or be­gin from ground zero, there is a lot of pol­icy, tech­ni­cal and in­tel­lec­tual re­sources Africa can draw upon to fash­ion out a more promis­ing fu­ture on ru­ral poverty re­duc­tion, sus­tain­able liveli­hoods and in­creased food se­cu­rity, which – in essence – could mean re­duc­tion in Africa’s de­pen­dence on food im­ports.

Many African coun­tries have fine-sound­ing poli­cies, but very few act on them. This leaves coun­tries in a quandary while poverty pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow and peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly the re­source-poor be­come more and more food-in­se­cure.

And, since poverty begets poverty, the only log­i­cal way for­ward if si­t­u­a­tions are not rec­ti­fied is that of more poverty. World Bank Group Pres­i­dent Jim Yong Kim said: “But if we are go­ing to end poverty by 2030, we need much more in­vest­ment, par­tic­u­larly in build­ing hu­man cap­i­tal, to help pro­mote the in­clu­sive growth it will take to reach the re­main­ing poor. For their sake, we can­not fail.” Our re­sponses, in form of ac­tions or in­ac­tions, will de­ter­mine whether the dark fore­casts on poverty and food will turn out to be self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cies or just ef­fec­tive warn­ing posts to avoid catas­tro­phe.

The real prob­lem is that too many ba­bies sap eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and make it harder to lift Africans out of poverty

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