REGIONAL SYNTHESIS

ENDOWMENT AND OPPORTUNITIES

Africa has priceless land resources which provide environmental goods-and-services from local to global levels. Land resources are terrestrial features that exist above the mean sea level. They include landforms such as plains, valleys, plateaux, mountains, deltas and peninsulas, islands and basins; soils; and plants and animals. In terms of economics, land resources also include mineral and fossil fuel deposits, natural and farmed timber, crops, animals and fish (Hamblin 1998).

Land resources are
terrestrial features
that exist above the
mean sea level. They
include landforms
such as plains,
valleys, plateaux,
mountains, deltas
and peninsulas,
islands and basins;
soils; and plants and
animals. In terms of
economics, land
resources also
include mineral and
fossil fuel deposits,
natural and farmed
timber, crops,
animals and fish.

Hamblin 1998

Land is a critical factor in natural and human- managed production systems, influencing the level of natural capital, and social and economic development. These resources are just as important at the household level as they are at national and global levels. In Uganda, for example, land constitutes between 50-60 per cent of the asset endowment of the poorest households (World Bank 2003a).

Land in Africa is used for many activities: agriculture and forestry; urban expansion and infrastructural development including transportation; mining and oil extraction; tourism and recreation; and also as a sink for domestic and industrial waste. It is critical in the cradle-to-grave cycle of both living and non-living things, providing habitats and other ecological goods- and-services, sustaining investment and human livelihoods, and absorbing solid and liquid waste, pollutants and pesticides.

Land is critical to all aspects of human well-being. It provides material resources for livelihoods, food and health, provides security against environmental shocks and future uncertainties, and underlies many social and cultural systems. Access to land and the resources it offers is at the core of enhancing opportunities and choices, particularly for those who depend more directly on it.

Africa’s significant land resources can contribute to sustainable development, and to achieving the targets under all the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). (The MDGs and their targets are set out in Annex 1). Whether in pristine condition or degraded, land resources provide vast opportunities for investment for internal and external investors. The degraded lands can be restored in some cases or converted to other land uses, and thus still contribute to development. Through careful planning, degraded lands can be used and thus avoid the need for conversion of well-conserved land to other uses, such as settlement.

Box 1: Land use issues key to sustainable development
Land lies at the heart of achieving sustainable development:

  • It is a multidimensional store of value capable of yielding a stream of economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits indefinitely into the future.
  • People are central, including those who “own” the land or property rights.
  • Source: IIED and WBCSD 2002

    Land-use decisions from the household to the national level, in rural and urban areas, have a major role to play in sustainable development, influencing environmental governance and thus resource sustainability. Tenure regimes, access and equity issues, poverty alleviation and gender dimensions all shape governance and the opportunities available at different levels. Governance today will have important implications for the opportunities of future generations, either enhancing or foreclosing choices.

    Land and its value are closely related to the environment, with the sustainability of one being a product of the other. The value of land resources is not only monetary but also includes values such as ecosystems function and non-use values. Such non-use values, as shown in Table 2, include intrinsic significance in terms of culture, aesthetic, heritage and bequest. Some of these values are shown in Table 2. A broad methodology for the valuation of environmental goods-and-services is described in Chapter 1: The Human Dimension.

    Table 2: Land and land-based ecosystems
    Direct values

    Consumptive and non-consumptive use of resources:
    Indirect values

    Ecosystem functions and services such as:
    Option values

    Premium placed on possible future uses, including:
    Non-use values

    Intrinsic significance in terms of:
    Domestic use Land quality Pharmaceutical Culture
    Industrial input Soils Agricultural Aesthetic
    Commercial use Micro-organisms Industrial Heritage
    Mining Water flow Mining Bequest etc.
    Oil extraction Water storage Tourism  
    Growing crops Water recharge Forestry  
    Human settlements Flood control Human settlements  
    Wood fuel Storm protection Leisure etc.  
    Wild plants Nutrient retention    
    Wild animals Moisture retention    
    Tourism Microclimate    
    Waste disposal etc. Natural sink etc.    

    Source: Adapted from Hirji and others 2002