The future status of land resources has important development and human well-being implications. Therefore, the substantive analysis of land-use patterns and their implications for sustainable development is crucial. Such analysis requires a long-time frame and needs to incorporate uncertainty. Fundamental uncertainty is introduced both by our limited understanding of human and ecological processes, and by the intrinsic indeterminism of complex dynamic systems that characterize the environment. Outcomes are predicated on policy choices, which are yet to be made, and natural occurrences that are out of the control of humankind. Nevertheless, there is a huge amount of temporal, spatial and socioeconomic landuse information that can form the basis of such analysis.

There are many environmental, technological and socioeconomic factors driving changes in land resources. How these factors evolve will shape the regional and sub-regional development and future opportunities. Box 2 presents a summary of the most important factors that influence the state of land and land-use change in the region. An analysis of how these factors will prevail under each scenario forms the basis of the narratives in this section. Among the factors that are especially important in Africa are agriculture, forestry, demography, market developments, environmental conditions, social context (including the history of a sub-region) and policies related to land-use planning.

Box 2: Factors influencing land-use change in Africa used in the scenario analysis
  1. Former and current land-use systems and changes
    • Forestry and agriculture
    • Protected areas
    • Land tenure and ownership structure
    • Traditional land use
  2. Economic context
    • GDP contribution (agriculture, forestry, industry and others)
    • Contribution to employment (agriculture, forestry, industry, others)
    • International market links and opportunities
    • Local markets for agricultural and forestry products
    • Production structure
    • Land holding size (including farms, forests and protected areas)
  3. Environmental conditions
    • Climate, topography, soil characteristics and water availability
    • Environmental quality, including pollution
  1. Social context
    • Demographic factors
    • Attitudes and values
    • Resource use conflicts
    • Regional and sub-regional geopolitical conflicts
  2. Institutions
    • Development plans
    • Legal frameworks (land-use planning, land-use policy)
    • Policies (subsidies, taxes, agricultural pricing policies, special short-term measures, incentives for forestation, environmental incentives, etc.)

Sources: Raskin and others 1999, MI 2002

Chapter 3: Land considers the current state and major trends affecting land resources. These trends include:

  • An increase in agricultural land, both arable and marginal, over the past three decades and a corresponding decrease in forest cover;
  • A sharp increase in heavily degraded lands from a combination of drivers and pressures, including desertification, climate change, chemical pollution from industry and agriculture, and armed conflict;
  • A diversification in the uses of land resources, including tourism and mining, with demonstrated increased earnings from these sectors.

Other land-use changes, such as increased urban and infrastructural development, have been minimal but will continue to play a significant role in land-resource availability and condition in many parts of Africa. Widespread problems also concern decline in soil fertility, soil contamination, land management and conservation, gender imbalances in land tenure, and conversion of natural habitat to agricultural or urban uses. The threat to land resources posed by invasive alien species (IAS) remains a challenge (see Chapter 10: Invasive Alien Species). Inequitable land distribution patterns remain a problem, as discussed in Chapter 3: Land and Chapter 12: Environment for Peace and Regional Cooperation, and this has implications for environmental management and human well-being. Land tenure policies will continue to have an important effect on environmental change. Assessing how these trends will be played out in future, and identifying appropriate responses to mitigate negative impacts, requires considering the major drivers and pressures. The core driving forces include demography; technology; economy; political and social institutions; climate and environment; culturally determined attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour; and information and its flow.

The most critical issues for scenario analysis include identifying opportunities for Africa to meet the MDG targets and effectively implement NEPAD-EAP programme areas, addressing desertification and food security. One such opportunity is the expansion of irrigated land, and this resonates well with attempts by Africa to achieve enhanced food security, eradicate poverty and increase the productivity of land-use management. These narratives focus on the opportunities of increasing irrigated land. The key threats addressed, as the storylines unfold, include land tenure and ownership, land degradation (soil fertility, water scarcity, desertification and erosion vulnerability, and salinization), poor agricultural practices, IAS and inundation of habitats as a result of damming.

Box 3: Imagine... extreme land degradation in Western and Central Africa...

Over 60 per cent of Western and Central Africa’s population depends directly on the land for survival. Extreme land degradation in the two regions may result from a complex interaction of several natural and anthropogenic processes: deforestation, rangeland deterioration, wildlife depletion, soil erosion, declining soil fertility, salinization, solution and desertification. The available cultivable area in the region would be greatly restricted. The issues which may hasten land degradation in the two sub-regions include unsustainable agricultural and livestock production practices, deforestation, land tenure systems and unsustainable land use and demographic pressures.

The effects of the degradation of agricultural land would include:

  • Increased agricultural labour demand and material input for given levels of productivity;
  • Declining animal productivity in the Sahel;
  • Scarcity of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as fruits, nuts and mushrooms;
  • Shortage of fuelwood;
  • Landlessness in some areas;
  • Declining water supplies with consequences for irrigated agriculture;
  • Food shortages and famine in drought years;
  • Disease and ill health; and
  • Migration to urban areas or to more fertile farming areas.

The net effect of all the above is poverty and frustration. Future outcomes will be shaped by the policy paths these sub-regions choose, and whether they are able to address the environmental issues of land degradation and its root causes. A range of policy options are possible. One set could include policies such as:

  • Reforming land tenure based on a refined understanding of the socio-cultural conditions and local politics of individual countries to ensure land security and encourage investment;
  • Intensifying agricultural production systems through sustainable production practices;
  • Pursuing rational population policies that realistically address issues such as birth control, primary health care delivery systems and population movement in order to ease pressure on land;
  • Promoting alternative employment policies to reduce overdependence on land and land resources while addressing people’s inadequate capacity to embark upon alternative livelihood activities; and
  • Creating enabling social, economic and political environments for all reforms to operate and facilitate environmentally sensitive economic liberalization and good governance.