Children walking near the forest landscape restoration nursery in Kasese District, Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. (AfDB)
Children walking near the forest landscape restoration nursery in Kasese District, Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. (AfDB)

Africa’s ecological footprint is getting bigger. The continent’s growing population is placing greater demand on its natural resources. A new report calls on African nations to adopt a more sustainable approach to development to ensure long term economic growth.

De Capua report on Africas ecological footprint

The Africa Ecological Footprint Report is a joint effort by the African Development Bank and the World Wide Fund for Nature. It’s being released in advance of the Rio+20 Summit – formally known as the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development.

Simon Mizrahi, the bank’s director for Quality Assurance and Results, said, “Africa’s footprint is very small in comparison to other parts of the world, but certainly the kind of resources demands that we’re making on these resources in Africa exceeds the planet’s ability to regenerate them. So I think that’s a very important finding that we need to bring to light.”

Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. WWF has helped 574 far
Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. WWF has helped 574 farmers in the region plant 700,000 trees in its 5-year programme to replenish the bare hills.

The report weighs the health of the continent’s ecosystems. Mizrahi says the aim is to raise awareness about greener development as resource consumption grows.

“That reflects two things. First the size of the African population is increasing quite considerably and the other reason, which is good news, is that there’s an increasing size of the middle classes in Africa with stronger consumer power. So patterns of consumption and levels of consumption are changing quite considerably across Africa,” he said.

Choices to be made

He said that going green will enhance economic growth, but adds Africans need to be convinced.

“There is a sense in many African countries and many African people that transitioning to a green economy will be putting brakes on Africa’s prosperity. And they are very rightly are concerned about that. But I think what we’re arguing is that is not necessarily the case. What we can be doing is helping African economies deal with climate change; deal with the consequences of increasing pressure on bio-capacity differently.” He said.

The report said Africa’s ecological footprint is expected to double by 2040 if no action is taken. But the continent has choices available.

“There are smarter ways of producing energy than relying on fossil fuels, in particular, in Africa where we have a tremendous potential for generating electricity through solar energy and through hydroelectric plants. And what we do at the African Development Bank is provide solutions to African countries so that they can, if they wish, adopt a smarter development trajectory, a smarter development path,” said Mizrahi.

Another opportunity to go green is building and upgrading Africa’s infrastructure, including roads, rail and communications.

“In mobile telephony,” he said, “there is an opportunity here to move directly to smarter technologies, smarter ways of growing African economies.”

He added that developed nations would themselves benefit by assisting African countries achieve these goals because going green helps the entire planet.

Wildlife targeted

The rapid rise in consumer consumption is not the only “alarming trend” mentioned in the report. It also warned of a 40 percent decline in Africa’s biodiversity in the last 40 years. Information from the World Wide Fund for Nature showed a fragile, but important link between wildlife and the economy.

“First of all the wildlife does generate revenues for African economies. And one of the numbers that is quoted in the report that I find particularly interesting is that, for example, if you look at mountain gorillas – each mountain gorilla, not the population, but each mountain gorilla – generates about one million dollars per year in tourist revenues for the Ugandan economy,” he said.

But wildlife is in danger. Several months ago, poachers killed about 300 elephants in Cameroon and Central African Republic. Rhinos are also being slaughtered.

“Rhino poaching just in South Africa has increase by 3,000 percent between 2001 and 2007. This needs to be seen as organized criminal networks that create risks and put in jeopardy wildlife in many countries, not only in South Africa,” said Mizrahi.

The African Development Bank official said the Rio+20 Summit could help spur a “green infrastructure for Africa’s ecological security.”

“I think it would be a tremendous disappointment for everybody, including the African Development Bank, if we were to walk away from this great opportunity with no tangible solutions in hand. We do hope that we will see that Rio will be a resounding success,” he said.

The Rio+20 Summit will be held from June 20th to the 22nd in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.