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1. At the technical level
2. At the farmer level
3. At the national level
4. At the international level
The future need not echo the past. Most African countries have a number of options that, if applied wisely, could boost agricultural production and slow down land and environmental degradation. It would be both physically and technically possible to apply these options over the next 35 years, just less than a generation. It is, however, an important assumption that technical changes of this type cannot and will not be implemented unless far-reaching policy changes are introduced by African governments themselves, especially through a genuine democratization process.
The main technical options open to African governments are:
These options are closely related. For example, in most agro-climatic zones soil productivity has already been lowered by erosion or degradation. However, existing technology, and closer integration of crop, forestry and livestock production, could be used to increase productivity, conserve land and water resources, and open up new areas for cultivation in a sustainable manner. But these options must be put into their proper perspective since misleading claims have been made for them. In fact there are four myths about how these options can solve Africa's agricultural crisis. They assume that Africa has huge areas of surplus land, plenty of agricultural labour is available, there is a vast potential for irrigation, and that these can be married with the use of agricultural technologies that have been successful in Asia.
Africa has about 600 million hectares of land that could be developed for crop production, although some is only suitable for tree crops and most is already in use for forestry or grazing. About 75 per cent of these reserves are located in three subregions: Central Africa (255 million hectares), where development will be held back by low population densities, and limited road and rail access; and East and Southern Africa, where two-thirds of the reserve have marginal soils and/or unreliable rainfall and are located mainly in four countries - Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
In most other countries, reserves are small relative to current population growth rates. Even so, they are still large enough for most countries to be able to double their rates of arable land expansion over the next 25 years, providing that producer incentives are increased, governments are committed to the expansion, and donors are prepared to assist.
The physical potential for irrigation is large and, with the exception of North Africa - where irrigation has already been introduced in about 70 per cent of the potentially irrigable areas physical resources exceed likely needs over the next 25 years. The main constraints are likely to be economic and institutional, notably the high construction and operation costs prevailing in Africa, and the shortages of trained manpower. Consequently the grassroot technology approach appears as the most appropriate solution to irrigation problem.
Rehabilitation and development could expand Africa's total irrigated area from 9.5 to about 14.5 million hectares by 2010. Rehabilitation could provide about 25 000 ha/year. Small-scale and traditional irrigation could be expanded by about 150 000 hectares or some 3 per cent a year, but financial and other constraints would limit the growth of modern, fully-controlled irrigation to about 1 per cent a year. Collectively, these developments could have a marked effect on agricultural production in arid and semi-arid areas.
The traditional responses to soil degradation vary from one ecological zone to another. In the humid zone traditional, agricultural practices ensure that soil degradation is kept to a minimum. The mixed crop canopy protects the soil from physical destruction and keeps organic matter up. These traditional farming systems maintain a vegetation with properties similar to the native forest and thus effectively protect the environment. The systems are maintained by:
It should, however, be pointed out that not all traditional practices have had favourable impact on the soil situation in the continent. A number of traditional practices have, on the contrary, encouraged soil degradation. These include the creation of bush fires, the use of trees for fuelwood, overgrazing and destruction of pasture lands.
Besides over-grazing of the available pastures, branches of evergreen trees are often lopped off to provide fodder for livestock during the dry season journeys. This practice results in further degeneration of the already scanty vegetation of the zone.
The dominant farming system throughout much of the continent is shifting cultivation, which is essentially a zero-input form of agriculture because it makes maximum use of the resources available within the system. During cultivation, the soil is usually covered by a mixture of crops which utilize soil nutrients from different depths and provide a varied canopy to shelter the soil surface. At the end of the cropping cycle, the natural system of resting the land restores the nutrients removed by the crops and the opportunistic pests and diseases are driven out. So long as the fallow period is long enough, the system is stable and sustainable.
The impact of droughts in Africa is to be seen in a proper global context. The overall observation is that most semi-arid lands tend to be naturally, alternatively plagued by prolonged droughts, followed by periods of plentiful rainfall, thereby presenting agricultural planners with a challenge. The real issue then is how the people who live in these areas perceive the climatic element in their environment, and what appropriate arrangements they make to "manage" the "climate resource".
The farming systems of Africa and the techniques used are very varied, having evolved to meet the needs of the people in a wide range of environments.
Most African governments have seen irrigation as a solution towards food self-sufficiency, for import substitution or as a source of foreign exchange earnings from export crops. Tenants or small farmers on major schemes have been therefore usually required to concentrate on commercial production of the crops given priority by the government and to sell them to the state. Due to the novelty of modern irrigation in most cases, and the remoteness of many sites, governments have often had to supplement already costly irrigation works with extensive production, marketing and social support services. High yields and double cropping are needed to pay for these high investments. By contrast, traditional irrigation is more often used to provide subsistence food. It is normally less costly, and often integrated with rainfed and livestock farming as a means of spreading climatic risks.
The current strong interest in irrigation in Africa arises from the growing incapacity of much of the continent to feed itself. Food production, predominantly under rainfed conditions, has risen at a rate of only 1.4 % p.a. in the period 1970 to 1990, less than half the rate of population growth which is estimated at 3.0 % p.a. Recurrent droughts have accelerated the rising trend of cereal imports which amounted to 28 million tons in 1984 and 31 million tons in 1992. Irrigation through intensification and stabilization of production has appeared to many to offer a good solution. However, any successful irrigation scheme must involve the beneficiaries and must be managed by them for the interest of the communities.
Africa has an estimated 9.5 million ha of irrigation, of which 6.1 million ha of modern irrigation, mostly under major government schemes and 3.4 million ha of small-scale and traditional flood, swamp, surface and low-lift irrigation developed without government support by individuals or local groups. Egypt, the Maghreb countries and the Sudan account for 82 % of modern irrigation. Other countries with important irrigated areas are Nigeria and Madagascar, with the bulk of irrigation, however, in the traditional sectors of both countries.
For eight countries (Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Somalia), containing some 11 % of Africa's population, lack of rainfed potential and/or rising demographic pressure on rainfed land are likely to make irrigation an essential element of future food strategies in the short and medium term. Eventually, some large-scale schemes may be justified in these countries but there is need to take advantage first of the scope for cheap rehabilitation wherever possible, and in some cases expansion of existing schemes. Simple improvements to traditional swamp and flood irrigation, although giving smaller yield gains, could in aggregate also make an appreciable contribution to food supply.
Another 14 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have some of their territory in drought-risk zones where small-scale irrigation based mainly on small dams, direct pumping from rivers and groundwater could do much to reduce rural hardship and the need for costly disaster relief.
For the remaining countries in Sub-Saharan African, first priority is more likely to be given to rainfed development, which is usually simpler to organize, cheaper and can give quicker benefits. Nevertheless, few of these countries can afford to discard any existing schemes where rehabilitation is feasible, and in most there is scope for improvement and possibly expansion of traditional and small-scale irrigation.
In North Africa there is limited potential for expansion, and irrigation efforts will need to be directed towards completion of irrigation projects where major works have already been constructed, a continuation of rehabilitation of modern schemes and of renovation of traditional irrigation. However, the major effort would be in further intensification and more efficient water management in existing areas.
There are at present many constrains to these developments. Social, institutional and economic factors appear more important than technical limitations. To improve the future performance of irrigation in the region, governments would have to make difficult policy and institutional changes. Planners must recognize that, to become established, modern irrigation requires long periods of social change and adaptation, in a consistently favourable policy and budgetary environment. Financial returns from irrigation need to be raised to improve the commitment of irrigators, and to encourage the emergence of private sector agricultural services. Government irrigation agencies need to shed excess staff, and abandon unprofitable activities and wasteful methods. Manpower development is needed at all levels, especially for managers. This will only be possible with substantial international support to governments through policy discussion, loans, grants and technical assistance programmes. The most profitable irrigation scheme must be at the community level with the full participation of the beneficiaries, involving technologies they can easily absorb and manage on a sustainable basis. Participation of small arable farmers and pastoralists in resources conservation and development etc. will require intensive promotional effort.
Looking towards the Year 2010 and assuming reasonable success in making such changes and adequate external support, the pace of construction of new, modern schemes could average some 70,000 ha/year, while the rehabilitation of existing schemes might reach 35,000 ha/year and expansion of traditional and small-scale irrigation could amount to 180,000 ha/year.
Combined with yield increases, this could allow irrigated cereal production in Africa in the Year 2010 to reach twice the present figure. But due to population growth and increased demand, the contribution of irrigation to cereal demand would remain broadly at the same level. The total for the continent hides divergent trends between North and Sub-Saharan Africa. In the former, irrigation's contribution to cereal demand would decline in relative terms from 45 % of food demand and 33 % of total cereal utilization to 34 % and 20 % respectively. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the relative contribution of irrigated cereal production would rise from 11 % of food demand and 9 % of total cereal utilization to 13 % of food demand and 11 % of total utilization. Cereal output from irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa would be more than triple from 4.6 to 15 million tons.
Government support for small-case schemes has suffered many of the problems of larger schemes, unless based on simpler approaches closer to those of the traditional irrigator, and with an obvious appeal to the beneficiaries. The future is more in the direction of small case schemes, entailing popular participation and mainly managed by beneficiaries.
Over the centuries African farmers and graziers developed farming systems which were compatible with their environment. These systems permitted a steady, if rather low, level of production which did not entail land degradation. The dominant forms of land use were shifting cultivation in the humid tropics and nomadic grazing in the semi-arid areas.
Yields with these systems were generally low so that relatively large areas were needed to support a small population. Problems began to arise in recent times as populations increased rapidly. More pressure was placed on the resources to produce more food, fibre and fuel while, for the most part, the old systems of land use were maintained. For example, shifting cultivation was still practiced but the fallow periods were reduced. Nomadic grazing was maintained but with a higher human and animal population density. For the most part, the land has not been able to bear these sudden, increased pressures and the result has been "mining" of the resource base and the spread of land degradation.
African farmers do not need to be considered the ideal husbandmen and women for one to realize that they have always been conscious of the fact that their survival depends on the land. Through a system of empirical trial and error they have worked out how to balance their-demands on the natural resources around them and the ability of these resources to satisfy their basic needs.
Prolonged and devastating droughts, such as those which struck southern Africa in 1992 and the Sahel region in the mid-1980s, coupled with poor soils and erratic and precipitate rainfall, makes much of sub-Saharan Africa a difficult environment for agriculture. Traditionally, peasant farmers have coped with Africa's fragile ecology by leaving soils fallow for long periods, and developing complex inter-cropping systems, designed to minimise risk and maximise sustainability. Today, these systems are breaking down in the face of a range of mutually reinforcing local, regional, and international pressures.
In the savannah, one of the best ways of maintaining soil organic matter is by following. First a variety of short-lived herbs appear. These early colonizers tolerate the daily extremes in temperature and water stress and provide the conditions for the establishment of other plants including legumes. Once legumes appear in the system, both nitrogen and organic matter increase. Left alone, the sequence of plant appearances would continue until a stable climax vegetation is established.
The savannah farmer, according to Allan (1967), has a complete knowledge of his environment. He can relate the fertility status of the land and its suitability for one or another crop to the vegetation which covers it and the physical characteristics of the soil. He can also assess the staying power of the soil i.e. the number of seasons for which it must be rested before good crops yields can be obtained again. It is mainly population pressure that has caused this system to break down, resulting in devastating soil degradation given the terrifying name of desertification.
The tropical highlands, as in Ethiopia, Lesotho and Cameroon, have rainfed agricultural systems based on small-seed cereals, pulses and oil crops often. Animal power is often used for land preparation. Soil degradation is a major problem for these mountainous environments. Traditionally this is tackled by a combination of crop rotation involving legumes, the application of animal nature and allowing animals to graze harvested fields, as well as following usually for one or two years.
To compensate for the falling yields caused by soil erosion, farmers in the highlands have cleared forests on steeper slopes, accelerating land degradation in the process. With population growing at around 3 per cent a year, and the population density in some of the most vulnerable rural areas increasing even faster, the dangers posed by this cycle of increasing poverty, deforestation, and accelerating land degradation are readily apparent.
River valleys and swamps depend on regular soils renewal to keep their high fertility. These systems are mostly used for continuous cereal cultivation. In Egypt, for example, the silt of the Nile laden with rich organic matter replenished the soil and makes continuous cultivation possible. Similar systems exist today in the Niger delta in Mali and along the Nile in the Sudan.
In the semi-arid zone, a sizeable proportion of the population are full-time herdsman, who have a strong tradition of regarding livestock, particularly cattle. as a form of savings rather than a productive unit. Thus the rate of off-take from cattle herds is very low. Moreover, there has been an increase in the animal population in this zone resulting in critical ratios of biomass to animals and consequently to overgrazing. During periods of drought, livestock have to be herded for long distances in search of water and suitable pasture, resulting in serious trampling due to the increased traffic by animals. As a result, there is seasonal migration of nomadic communities. These migrations are associated with soil deterioration, particularly around water holes.
The inhabitants of the semi-arid and arid zones of Africa depend largely on firewood as fuel for cooking and heating of homes during the cold harmattan nights as well as for the construction of houses. There is, therefore, an intensive exploitation of the scanty vegetation to meet the ever-increasing demand for firewood. Even roots of plants are dug in search of fuel and grasses and crop residues, which should be returned to the soil, are used for 'roofing, heating, fencing and feeding animals. In the highlands, women and children scour the fields at dusk for dry animal droppings, mix these with straw and mould them into fat pancakes for burning. The slow rate of tree growth in the semi-arid zone makes it impossible for the regeneration of forest vegetation to cope with the rate and intensity of exploitation. This leads to an increase in the deterioration of environmental conditions.
Nomadic herdsman regularly and intentionally set fires to promote the growth of new shoots of fodder for their starved livestock. Hunters also use fire frequently to drive wild game into the-open while farmers sometimes use fires to clear land for preparation before planting. Fires may even be started from sheer habit or wantonness. These fires, which are uncontrolled, burn the grass down to ground level and trees lose their remaining leaves resulting in wind erosion.
The central theme of both the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) and the United Nations Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development (UN-PAAERD), replaced by the United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s (UN-NADAF), must be strongly reiterated: the primary responsibility of reversing the actual trend of Africa's socio-economic decline is that of African governments. Thus, African governments must effectively put into practice their proclaimed commitments. It is obvious that the most important factors which impede the sustained development of the agricultural sector in Africa are rural poverty and land degradation. Though population pressure has tended to compound the adverse effects of these factors, population growth should only be seen as a dependent factor which will only be controlled through an equitable socio-economic development. The response to the threat should thus include poverty alleviation and a practical commitment to environmental conservation and rehabilitation.
Individual African countries have also established institutions for environmental management, which have yielded some good results. The following examples do not constitute an exhaustive list of success stories, but area meant to illustrate what has been done using local resources.
(a) Burkina Faso
An OXFAM project in Burkina Faso worked with villagers to improve on the local technique of building small dams called digguettes. It was found that if the stones are aligned properly along the contour, the dams hold rain water back and make a pool stretching from four to fifteen meters uphill, giving the water plenty of time to infiltrate into soil. The lines of digguettes are easy to make. A trench 5-10 cm deep is dug to provide a foundation, and the earth piled uphill. Then medium-sized stones 15 cm in diameter are heaped up to a height of 15-21 cm in a band 20-30 cm wide. The lower part of the wall on the uphill side is plastered with the excavated earth to prevent run-off water from seeping underneath the stones and under-cutting the wall.
In Egypt, where the coastal dunes form a narrow strip along the Mediterranean sea, the top layer is usually very dry during the summer. This acts as an insulator which protects the sand in the lower layers from desiccation. The temperature is very uniform, preventing evaporation and retaining water underneath the surface. Mechanical fixation of the dunes is followed by afforestation. The main activity is to establish shelter belts to protect the newly reclaimed sandy soils on the fringe of the western desert.
In Ethiopia, the amount of human labour that has been mobilized for soil conservation practices is unrivalled in Africa. Soit conservation programmes in Ethiopia started through food aid from the World Food Programme in 1973 in the northern regions of Eritrea, Tigray and Wello. In 1980 it was expanded to cover 44 densely populated catchment areas seriously affected by drought, land degradation and food shortage. The programme combines forestry, soil conservation and water resource development. Land with slopes above 35 per cent is stone-terraced and planted with eucalyptus. Harerghe was also one of the first regions where such large scale soil conservation was undertaken.
Kenya has a Presidential Commission on soil conservation and afforestation which was set up in 1981. It co-ordinates the many government agencies, donors and voluntary groups involved. It also reviews performances, policies and legislation and recommends new measures and projects. Soil and water conservation and afforestation committees have also been created at every level of government from district to locality with similar roles of co-ordinating and selecting priority activities.
Kenya leads Africa in tree planting. In 1983, four out of five households had planted trees in the preceding 12 months and two out of five had their own tree nurseries. In 1971, the rural afforestation scheme was launched by the Kenya Forestry Department. The scheme aimed at providing one extension worker for each district to supervise community and government nurseries. It also recommended the planting of trees along terraces. This was followed by the creation of a Ministry of Energy in 1979. Furthermore, presidential directives in the early eighties directed all local government offices to be planted and terraced. Schools must have a tree nursery and an agroforestry plot; and in 1985, the presidential tree fund was set up to encourage tree planting. There have also been many examples of successful soil conservation and reclamation projects in the country. In one village, checkdams were built to slow the water flow in a 9 Acacia cyanophylla, a creeping leguminous tree that flourishes on degraded soils, was planted in the bed. The banks were protected by lines of eucalyptus. A small earth dam that now irrigates about 60 hectares of land was also built to collect the run-off from the hill. By 1988 about 1,000,000 ha of land had been reinforced or terraced with about 20;000 ha of forest re-planted annually and 200,000 km of earth or stone terraces constructed.
In the Niger Republic, CARE, with the help of the inhabitants, fixed 22 dunes with 45,000 trees and 50 km of palisades was constructed from millet stalks. In 1978, CARE, with the assistance of the local forestry department, set up tree nurseries growing seedlings of eucalyptus. Long palisades of millet stalks one and a half meters tall were erected with their bases buried 30-40 cm into the sand to act as windbreaks to protect the young trees. The seedlings were planted at the beginning of the rains so they would need to watering to get established. The villagers provided labour for fencing and digging the holes for the seedlings. The palisades were spaced ten meters apart. For every hectare of fixed dune, one kilometer of millet windbreak was used. The Guesselbodi experiment is another example of soil conservation using small-scale, low-cost rehabilitation measures which could provide immediate results. According to Harrison (1987), some of the methods involved were as follows:
Organized tree planting campaigns and annual tree-planting dates go back to the early 1940s in the Katsina province of northern Nigeria. This spreads to Kano and Sokoto provinces (now States) so that by 1972 the number of seedlings distributed free of charge by the Forestry Service to the local population exceeded one million annually. The tree species planted are Azadirachta indica (neem, eucalyptus and other such economically useful species such as Parkia clapertoniana, Adansonia digita (baobab), Butyrospermum parkii (shea butter tree) and Ceiba pentandra (kapok). Several other species, including Acacia nilotica, Zizyphus spp.; Prosopis chilensis (mesquite) and Anacardium occidental (cashew) have also been reported, but results have shown that only neem and sometimes Acacia nilotica are sufficiently drought-resistant for the environment. Acacia albida is also commonly planted as a valuable fodder during the dry season.
Forests which have produced 58 m³ of wood-ha have been planted for coastal dune stabilization. Acacia is usually planted first followed by pine after 20 years. About 30,000 ha of productive forest have been established on the sand dunes in this manner. The government has plans to treat a further 7,000 ha of sand dunes in a similar fashion.
Groups of countries affected by a common drought problem have organized themselves to fight the threat. For example, the Permanent Inter-State Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) was established following the severe drought which affected the Sahel in 1970/1973. The countries of Eastern Africa have, in a similar manner, responded to the drought in the sub-region by creating a coordinating office (IGADD) based in Djibouti. The South African Development Co-ordination
Conference (SADCC) which has now become the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and is being transformed into the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), has also adopted three broad strategies for resource management including conservation, utilization and environment monitoring.
Co-operation at a broader, international front has also taken place. The United Nations General Assembly, by resolution 38/1 61, has established the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has long warned its member States and the international community of the necessity of making developmental projects more environmentally sustainable. In 1979, the Economic Commission for Africa organized a regional seminar on "Alternative patterns of development and life style" whose recommendations were considered in chapter IX of the Lagos Plan of Action. As a follow up, UNECA prepared a document on the importance of environmental degradation in the African crisis. This document was approved by the UNECA Conference of Ministers in 1984. These actions in promoting environmental protection and rehabilitation led to the formal constitution of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) in Cairo (Egypt) in 1985. The first conference adopted a Programme of Action and gave priority to halting the degradation of Africa's resource base and its rehabilitation with the fundamental view of achieving self-sufficiency in food and energy by mobilizing Africa's human and technological resources.
The FAO's catalytic action has been strongly supported by other United Nations' agencies, particularly the UNEP and UNECA. UNEP, being an Africa-based worldwide institution, focuses its efforts on Africa and supports AMCEN as well as the African NGO Environment Network (ANGEN). The organization has also established a Senior Women's Advisory Group on Sustainable Development (SWAG). UNEP's Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) has been operational for more than 10 years. Besides its leading role in the development of food and agriculture in developing countries within the United Nations System, FAO has recently compiled and published a monograph on "The Conservation and Rehabilitation of African Lands - an International Scheme". The framework for action proposed by FAO is very comprehensive and takes into account the preoccupation of the above-mentioned organizations and that of African governments. It proposes actions at three levels:
- improving land use;
- encouraging participation;
- developing national institutions.
- catalyzing regional programmes.
- co-ordinating international action.
Besides this framework for action aimed at conserving and rehabilitating African lands, FAO has launched a comprehensive project for preserving the tropical forests which, by its nature, will also significantly contribute to land conservation. The ECA endorses the FAO framework of action as it conforms with some of the recommendations of the Lagos Plan of Action and AMCEN.
Besides the Untied Nations System, a great number of aid agencies and voluntary organizations (NGOs) have contributed to a better knowledge of the physical and socioeconomic environments of Africa and have provided valuable services and financial support to African member States.
It should, however, be noted that the overall funding of the land conservation and anti-desertification programmes in Africa is far from encouraging. UNEP has estimated that anti-desertification programmes in developing countries require a minimum of US $ 4.5 billion a year for a period of 20 years to make a significant impact. In 1990, UNEP found that the maximum funds which could be realized each year for such programmes amounted to only US$600 million, far less than required.
In many cases efforts to combat soil erosion have failed, because aid donors and governments do not recognise that soil conservation requires an investment of labour and capital. Apart from the fact that these are typically in short supply, the potential benefits, in terms of increased soil potential benefits, in terms of increased soil productivity, are not realised for several years. These were among the important early lessons which we learned from discussions with farmers in the Hararghe area of Ethiopia's Eastern Highlands - a site of particularly severe soils erosion. Another important factor which has been neglected in the economic, natural resources and environment sustainability, is the accounting for natural resources and environmental degradation due to economic activities, natural and/or man made calamities. We will succinctly approach this important issue in the next section.