Part 2: Issues in Sustainable Development

To the Instructor

The issues in this block share a common theme in that they are global in scope and require international dialogue to solve. In building sustainability on a local scale, the more relevant aspect is the need to adapt to changes such as global warming and hostile market forces. While these are unfortunately external forces for most African countries, it is important to be able to identify local effects with the global forces that caused them. It is even more important for the class to discuss how to overcome these problems.
In class, you can choose to introduce relevant local information about the impact of these external drivers. This may include trends in agricultural exports, weather, and national fiscal policy.


In this module, guide the students through an exploration of the pros and cons of trade liberalization, agricultural subsidies, trade barriers, reliance on primary commodities, and the effects of price swings on intra-African and international trade.

In class, you can have the students discuss how they would propose to solve the wage and trade problems presented in the Sustainability Strategies.

Trade Assignment Questions

  1. Trade: Explain some concerns associated with high dependence on primary commodity exports.

    • (from Africa Economic Development and Africa Environment Outlook) Primary commodities have low value added, which means that a greater share of the profit goes to processors and manufacturers in developing countries. Agricultural commodities result in high dependence on the weather. Other natural resources such as minerals are a concern because of their impact on the environment. Primary commodities in general tend to have highly fluctuating prices—for example, sharp falls in the price of coffee—and if a country’s economy is highly dependent on only a few commodities, it is vulnerable to sharp income shocks.

  2. Interconnections: Trade & Agriculture: Explain how agricultural subsidies in developed countries affect farmers in developing countries.

    • (from Trade Liberalization and Globalization) Agricultural subsidies allow farmers in developed countries to sell their products on the world market below the cost of their own production. Farmers in developing countries, who lack comparable support, are unable to compete, even though their actual production costs are lower. Even domestic consumers in African cities purchase cheap subsidized imports, rather than traditional food items.

  3. Trade: Summarize the advantages and disadvantages of ecotourism.

    • (from Tourism) Tourism can serve as an incentive to protect natural resources and as revenue to support conservation, all while creating many jobs. On the other hand, tourism has large costs for indigenous peoples and environmental costs from pollution.


Upon completion of this module, students should understand the basic principles of capital flows, foreign direct investment, sustainable small and medium enterprises (SMEs), microfinance, and microcredit. They should also begin to see how concerns for environmental and human development sustainability should be included in financing policy.

Finance Assignment Questions

  1. Finance: A basic relationship in the economic model of a closed economy is that total investment is equal to total savings, since the money available for banks to lend to investors is equal to the amount of money set aside in savings. What is the relationship between resource flows (also referred to as capital or financial flows) and investment? How does investment lead to economic growth? Describe the trends in capital flows into and out of Africa. How are capital inflows balanced between private (also known as FDI, foreign direct investment) and public investment (also known as ODA - official development assistance)?

    • (from African Economic Report) Where total saving is less than the desired investment level, capital flows must make up the difference, as is the case in Africa. Governments require financial resources (capital) to make investments in areas such as health services and infrastructure creation which increase economic growth. Private companies also require financial resources for investments (for building factories for instance) that lead to economic growth. Official capital inflows to Africa have increased recently, but are still lower than 1990 levels. As a result of interest payments on debts from official sources (a major capital outflow), net official capital flows are highly negative. Private capital inflows have also increased, although they are concentrated in a few countries, and highly concentrated in the petroleum industry.

  2. Finance: Summarize barriers to foreign direct investment in Africa. What changes can make Africa more attractive to investment?

    • (from Investors Start to Eye Africa) Bureaucracy and red tape need to be reduced. The lack of skilled workers is a disincentive to investment that points to the need for better education. Better responses to AIDS and improved transportation infrastructure investment would also contribute to a better investment environment.

  3. Finance: Explain the challenge of small and medium enterprises in relation to finance.

    • (from Innovative Financing for Sustainable SMEs) SMEs contribute over 50% of the GDP in many African countries. In terms of employment, they are the “bedrock of the economy.” Inadequate financing due to the perceived high risk of loans to such enterprises is one of the major impediments to their growth.


After this module, your students should possess basic knowledge about the science of climate change and its effects at the local scale. The following paragraph summarizes the fundamentals which students should be able to discuss.

Climate change has multiple impacts at diverse scales and affects ecosystems in particular, which in turn affect livelihoods and human well-being. Even a temperature rise of as little as 1°C will affect land, coastal and marine, freshwater, and forests and woodland resources. Biodiversity will also be affected, as will human settlements. New health challenges are expected as vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, are predicted to increase. Environmental change affects food production systems, contributing to malnutrition, famine and starvation, and insect ranges and numbers, increasing the incidence of diseases such as malaria. Climate change contributes to population displacement, undermining social cohesion and cultures. (Source AEO-2, page 58)

Climate Assignment Questions

  1. Interconnections: Climate & Agriculture: Describe the effects of climate change on agriculture in African regions.

    • (from Climate Change and Agriculture) Climate change will result in changes in precipitation patterns, including drier weather and more frequent droughts in Northern and Western Africa. Climate warming will decrease yields from crops such as maize. The increase in carbon dioxide will favor C4 weeds over C3 crops, such as maize, sorghum, sugar cane, and millet.

  2. Climate: List some of the necessary mitigation strategies for coping with climate change recommended in the African Environment Outlook reading. Explain those that are particularly relevant to your local region.

    • (from AEO Atmosphere) Early warning systems are necessary for better response to extreme weather events. Improvements food security and controlling infectious disease are necessary to respond to the increased burden of global warming, which will spread tropical diseases and decrease the productivity of rain-fed agriculture. Regional responses will vary.

  3. Climate: What are greenhouse gases? What role does carbon dioxide play in the greenhouse effect? How do scientists predict the global climate will be affected as a result?

    • (from Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change) Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane. They allow solar radiation to enter the earth’s atmosphere, but prevent infrared radiation from escaping outward. Since 1750, the concentration of carbon dioxide, one of the major greenhouse gases, has increased in the atmosphere by more than 30%, mostly as a result of burning fossil fuels, but also from land-use changes. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) estimates that over the last 50 years, carbon dioxide emissions and other human activities have been responsible for most of the observed warming of the global climate by about 0.2 degrees on average.
    • (from Climate Change and Agriculture) The IPCC predicts that average temperatures may increase by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees over the next century.

External Drivers Discussion Questions

  1. “National governments are more concerned about the welfare of their own citizens than sustainable development on a global scale.” Give examples supporting and opposing this view. What types of institutional or cultural change could increase responsibility for global sustainability?