Poverty eradication, sustainable economic growth and environmental sustainability are the key pillars of development plans in most African countries. There is consensus that natural resources, especially those of land, soil, water, forest, plant and animal diversity, vegetation, renewable energy sources, climate change and ecosystems services are fundamental for improving livelihoods and achieving sustainable development in Africa.
This is especially so if emerging market opportunities for adding value to natural resource goods and services can be accessible to the poor. However, how best to manage Africa’s natural resources to improve livelihoods, reduce poverty and advance economic growth while maintaining and enhancing the sustainability and resilience of the natural resource base remains an elusive goal and daunting challenge for research, teaching, development practice, community actions and policy. Understanding and tackling this complex challenge demands creative, integrative and holistic approaches by multiple stakeholders, to bring multiple and complementary perspectives, knowledge and skills to facilitate a socially equitable, economically efficient and environmentally sound development.
The terms natural resources and environment are used interchangeably. The term environment generally refers to a natural resource base that provides sources and performs sink functions. We shall explore an overview of the different perspectives on the linkages between NRM, poverty and development. The the concepts of sustainable development and sustainable livelihoods are presented as a way of thinking about the objectives, scope and priorities for NRM to serve development purposes.
NRM, Poverty and Development Linkages
Natural resource management is defined here as a scientific and technical principle that forms a basis for sustainable management (conservation and use) and governance of natural resources such as land, water, soil, plants and animals, with a particular focus on how management affects the quality of life for both present and future generations. It is widely recognized that natural resources contribute significantly to development in different ways: as an economic activity and source of growth; as a livelihood, by providing jobs for people; and as a provider of environmental services that can have both good and bad outcomes (NEPAD, 2003; Comim et al., 2009; Khan, 2008; IAASTD, 2009; Chowdhury and Ahmed, 2010). Chapter two discusses the linkages between ecosystem services and human well-being: the bundle of positive benefits that people obtain from natural resources.
NRM and the Millennium Development Goals
In 2000, the United Nations (UN) adopted the eight (8) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as the broad comprehensive and specific development goals the UN set for the world to achieve by 2015. They provide a framework for the entire international community to work together towards a common end – making sure that human development reaches everyone, everywhere.
The MDGs are both global and local, customised by each country to suit their specific development needs. There is a specific MDG focusing on environmental sustainability (MDG7) that advocates for the integration of the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes to reverse the loss of environmental resources. MDG 7 has direct links and is critical for the attainment of all other MDGs. Sustainable management of natural resources contributes to poverty alleviation, helps reduce diseases and child mortality, improves maternal health, and can contribute to gender equality and universal education.
Non-sustainable use of natural resources, including land, water, forests and fisheries, can threaten individual livelihoods as well as local, national and international economies. The environment can play a significant role in contributing to development and human well-being. It can also increase human vulnerability, causing human migration, insecurity and other health effects. Environmental scarcity can foster cooperation, but can also contribute to tensions or conflicts (UNEP, 2007).
There is evidence that NRM influences health, maternal health, child mortality, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. It is estimated that at least 30% of the 18 million people who die annually, most of them women and children, are due to poverty-related causes (IDRC, 2010). In sub-Saharan Africa, about 35% of the total burden of disease is caused by natural resource degradation. Degradation of natural resources fosters conditions for disease outbreak and transmission. Deterioration of fresh water resources decreases water quality. This leads to increase in water-borne diseases, a significant cause of child mortality. Land degradation, soil erosion, droughts and floods directly contribute to food shortage and malnutrition, and all the direct and indirect effects on child mortality, maternal health, and other diseases such as malaria, decrease of immunity that exposes people to a host of infectious diseases.
A number of studies conducted in Eastern and Southern Africa, have unveiled the complex, multi-factoral and bidirectional pathways and negative feedback loops between HIV/AIDS and NRM. Reviews of studies conducted in 10 African countries including Uganda, have reported that the fisher folk are both highly dependent on natural resources (fisheries) for their livelihoods and are highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, with rates ranging from 4 to 14 times more than the general population. In Kenya and Uganda, fisher folk had 5 times higher rates of HIV/AIDS than truck drivers and sex workers, two high-risk groups. While degradation of natural resources enhance vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS in turn increase reliance on natural resources to meet increasing household needs that arise from having to cope with the effects of HIV/AIDS, as HIV/AIDS leads to loss of human capital, depleted financial and physical capital, increased vulnerability of community-based NRM institutions, and affects funding of NRM initiatives to HIV/AIDS related costs.
One of the challenges in Africa’s development is related to the rapid rate of degradation of natural resources due to a complex combination of factors. Such degradation reduces the natural resources both quantitatively and qualitatively thereby compromising development activities based on these resources.
For example, declining biodiversity may have an impact on the functioning and resilience of ecosystems. Loss of biodiversity will decrease the species diversity of the plant and soil organisms, reduce structural diversity of vegetation, which in turn will cause loss of nutrients and affect soil structure. This could lead to reduced nutrient cycling, cause land degradation and soil erosion. Land degradation and soil erosion are some of the key factors that contribute to productivity decline and food insecurity. Soil erosion also reduces carbon sequestration above and below ground and increase CO2 emissions, therefore accelerating climate change. Climate change could lead to increased costs caused by flood damage, mudslides, drought, fire and pests. In addition, loss of services such as water provision, nutrient cycling and pollination may impact on human welfare. Loss of ecosystem function and resilience is of particular concern in the light of predicted global warming and the anticipated, but largely unknown, impact this will have on climate, local weather conditions, sea level and human health.
Biological diversity can be thought of as an insurance cover. Given the possibly significant impact environmental degradation has on human welfare and the economy, it would be rational to exercise caution when development decisions are made which may have an impact on biodiversity. The impacts of climate change are now inevitable and are expected to affect people in African countries the most. Climate change will particularly affect ecosystems, food and fibre supply, coastal settlements, health, and water supply.
To fight poverty, promote security and preserve the ecosystems that poor people rely on for their livelihoods, governments must place pro-poor economic growth and environmental sustainability at the heart of our economic policies, planning systems and institutions (UNEP, 2009). Drawing upon recent analytical work prepared inside and outside it, the World Bank (2007) identifies key lessons concerning linkages between poverty and the environment. With a focus on the contribution of environmental resources to household welfare, the analysis demonstrates how specific reforms and interventions can impact on the health and livelihoods of the poor people.
P.C. Sanginga, W. O. Ochola and I. Bekalo