Eradicating poverty is the greatest challenge facing Africa and the world today, and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.

Since the Brundtland Commission, there has been growing recognition of the close relationship between poverty and environmental problems, as both cause and effect, and thus the futility of approaches that do not take a broad perspective and address the factors underlying world poverty. The WSSD refocused attention on this relationship and the need to improve opportunities through increased investment in human capacity, technology and industrial development, as well as the need for equitable and adequate access to water and energy (UN 2002).

Many policies now deal directly with the relationship between environmental use and equity at the global and national level. UNCED, for example in the CBD, links the issues of sustainable use and conservation closely to the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. Agenda 21 focuses on the need to combat poverty, with the long-term objective of enabling all people to achieve sustainable livelihoods. This requires policies to address issues of development, sustainable resource management and poverty eradication simultaneously (UN 1992). The 2005 World Summit in New York emphasized the importance of peace and security, development and human rights as the basis for human well-being.

It is widely acknowledged that better environmental management systems which promote human well-being can be an important tool for eradicating poverty. Poverty has many facets and is not restricted to income levels and includes, among other factors, health and education dimensions. Addressing poverty requires actions in multiple areas as identified in the MDGs. Inequity at multiple levels, including in gender, has implications for successfully addressing poverty.

Box 5: Aquaculture in Zanzibar, Tanzania
Diversifying livelihood options and increasing values of natural resources may improve the socioeconomic status of small-scale fisheries and reduce pressure on fish resources. In Tanzania, various initiatives are geared towards doing this, including coastal aquaculture development. Seaweed has a high carrageenan content which is extracted for use in cosmetics and in the pharmaceutical industry.
   Wild seaweed, of the red algal species of Eucheuma denticulatumand Kappaphycus alvarezii, used to be collected from the intertidal zone of coral reefs around Zanzibar and dried for export to France and Denmark. This practice was replaced in 1989 with seaweed farming, mainly carried out by women. This form of aquaculture is relatively harmless to the environment as it does not pollute the environment with feeds, wastes or other chemicals. Although there are some negative interactions causing inhibition of surrounding biota, these appear to be relatively mild.
   The socioeconomic impacts of seaweed farming were initially overwhelmingly positive. Annual production reached 7 000 tonnes, providing income to the women involved and constituting an important earning of foreign exchange. However, over time, monopoly control by a few international corporations has led to reduced prices being paid to producers, despite recent trends showing that the demand and market price for carrageenan is increasing.
   Seaweed farming represents an opportunity for prosperity and increased food security for coastal communities, and especially women, to improve their incomes and is thus important for poverty eradication. If production is planned and managed to a greater degree, and policies implemented to ensure equitable access to markets, training and capacity-building, it has the potential to provide a sustainable livelihood for the people involved.

Source: Bryceson 2002

Global inequity has important ramifications for the economies of Africa and the opportunities available to it, and thus its ability to eradicate poverty. Trade and increased local entrepreneurship are widely seen as essential to stimulate Africa’s economy, and it is acknowledged that natural resources can be used to extend trade opportunities internationally and domestically (Katerere and Mohamed-Katerere 2005). However, as the Brundtland Commission stressed nearly 20 years ago, the international economy will only promote growth if the sustainability of the resource basis is guaranteed and if trade is equitable. Growth was then, and continues to be, stifled by depressed commodity prices, protectionism, intolerable debt burdens and a declining flow of investments (WCED 1987). For example, the European Union’s (EU) and United States’ agricultural subsidies make it difficult for farmers in developing countries to compete effectively. The EU, while demanding African countries liberalize 90 per cent of their markets over ten years, refuses to reform its highly protectionist Common Agricultural Policy (Griffith and Stuart 2004).

At the regional and sub-regional level, policy and programmes have also been developed to take these concerns on board. The Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) policy for environment and natural resource management, for example, linked the need for growth with equitable sustainable development within the sub-region. The empowerment of the poor, including women, through increased access to resources fosters social inclusion and promotes growth. This cannot be achieved without taking on board the environment dimension, especially in Africa where most countries’ economic mainstay is the natural resource base.