Back to search

The GEO 6 regional assessment recognizes Africa’s rich natural capital

The GEO 6 regional assessment  published in 2016 recognizes Africa’s rich natural capital - the diversity of soil, geology, biodiversity, water,landscapes and habitats- which if wisely managed, hold the promise to lead the region to a future where ecosystem integrity,as well as human health and well-being are continuously enhanced. It also observes that the economic growth of Africa hingeson the sustainable management of its natural capital that involves reconciling wise stewardship with human development fortoday’s population and future generations. This requires both the protection and valuation of these natural assets, as well as effectively communicating their importance.

Africa’s natural capital is challenged by competing uses, illegal off-take, weak resource management practices, climate change and pollution. This calls for forward looking, flexible, inclusive and integrated approaches in the formulation and implementation of policies. Africa has an opportunity to use its large young population to drive its growth. To that end, low-carbon, climate-resilient choices can develop its infrastructure, accelerate industrialization, increase energy and food production, and promote sustainable natural resource governance.

Land degradation, air pollution, and the provision of sanitation and safe drinking water are among the main problems on the continent. Many of the region's fisheries, both inland and marine, face overexploitation from illegal, under-reported and unregulated fishing. The continent has an opportunity to use it large young population to drive its growth. Low-carbon, climate-resilient choices can develop the continent's infrastructure, accelerate industrialization, increase energy and food production, and promote sustainable natural resource governance.

Land degradation

Africa's landmass of 30 million square kilometres makes the region the second largest continent in the world, after Asia. With maize making an annual contribution to the economy of nearly $21 billion in 2013 and livestock bringing in $65 billion, land is Africa's most prized asset for food production, nutritional health and economic development. Despite its importance, about 500,000 square kilometres of land in Africa is being degraded every year due to soil erosion, salinization, pollution and deforestation. This land degradation can adversely affect agricultural productivity, nutrition and human health.

The key drivers of land degradation include: urbanization the region has six of the top ten countries experiencing rapid urbanization; deforestation the forest cover in Africa is projected to continue shrinking, declining to less than 6 million square kilometres by 2050 due to the increasing conversion of forests to agricultural land to support the growing population and associated demand for firewood; unsustainable farming practices, such as over cultivation and overgrazing. In addition, the region will have about 450 million people added to its population by 2050, and these are likely to take up significant land away from agriculture and other uses to meet housing needs.The observed impacts of these trends include reduced agricultural productivity(for example the average maize harvest in Africa is less than one tonne per hectare compared to 10 tonnes in the United States of America), reduced food security that in turn can lead to migration with associated health impacts such as the spread of communicable diseases.
 

Land, forests and food
In Africa, which is the second largest continent in the world, land is the most prized asset for food production, nutritional health and economic development. Worryingly, about 500 000 square meters of land in Africa is being degraded due to soil erosion, salinization, pollution and deforestation. This land degradation can damage agricultural productivity, nutrition and human health. 
A growing population and a rise in the demand for firewood will mean that forest cover in Africa is likely to continue shrinking, declining to less than 600 million hectares by 2050. Over cultivation, inefficient irrigation practices, overgrazing, the overexploitation of resources, uncontrolled mining activities and climate change will further degrade land in Africa, the UNEP report states.
This will lead to reduced agricultural productivity, reduced food security, which can increase migration and spread disease, the destruction of infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, and high rates of poverty.