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Going Beyond Land Conscious Consumerism in West Africa

The region of West Africa has experienced significant changes in land cover during this century, ranging from deforestation near the Atlantic coast to desertification near the border with the Sahara desert.

Picture: A degrading land area in West Africa

The UN prediction indicated that over 50 million people will be forced to leave their homes by 2020 because their land has turned to desert. According to estimates, 319 million hectares of Africa are vulnerable to desertification due to sand movement. The assessment done by FAO and UNEP suggests that the desert is moving at an annual rate of 5 km in the semi-arid areas of West Africa.

Land is worth so much more than the economic value we attach to it. It defines our way of life and our culture, whether we live in the city or the villages. It’s surrounds us with beauty, feeds us and refines the water we drink. Nevertheless, we cannot meet the requirements and wants of the emergent population if the quantity of healthy and productive land continues to decline radically.

Understanding desertification

Desertification is when the Sahara desert is getting bigger and the grassland is getting smaller. It’s does not refer to the expansion of deserts, but rather the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, primarily as a result of human activities and climatic variations.

These climatic disastrous event happens in areas of dry land whicy are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. Dry areas represent more than 41% of land on the globe and they are home to more than two billion people.

Desertification in Western African countries is not a matter that only has to do with the environment, but also with food sovereignty and with the protection of the agricultural soil. Advacement in science and technology has given us the knowledge and tools we need for managing land to build resilience to drought and the impacts of climate change. West African governments and the communities whose lives and livelihoods depend on the land can take steps now to prepare for future drought.

The sustainable land management technologies needed to minimize and reverse many of these effects exists, but the policy instruments and investments to promote their spread are non-existent.

As a result, some of the most land-dependent communities are exposed to the growing powerful and adverse weather effects, such as recurrent droughts, unpredictable rainfall and disappearing ground water sources in West Africa.

The critical actions that consumers and the private sector can take to encourage land users and governments to save healthy land from further degradation and to recover nearly barren lands are stated below:

Degraded Land Management Sustainability Roadmap. Susafrica.com, 2020

1. Changing consumer behaviour and unsustainable production patterns: In numerous West African countries, the extraction of timber for local and international markets has had very serious consequences for forest cover. Land users manage their land for augmenting its biological productivity expressed by its products of use/economic value, directly derived from wild plants (trees-derived timber), or indirectly from free-ranging livestock (feeding on wild plants), or from cultivated plant (crops).

The management targets timber exploitation rates, livestock grazing pressure, and soil fertility (tillage, application of fertilizers, herbicides, irrigation water), respectively. With the increase in population mainly in urban centres and the high dependency on traditional energy systems based on wood or charcoal, this activity requires more attention to reduce overexploitation of wood.

While embracing wise consumption is important. The public needs to be empowered through information and enlightenment. If we know that the choices we make every day we can make a difference in terms of how to use our land, whether it is abused or nurtured.

2. Adopting more efficient land use planning: The population of West Africa was estimated in 2018 at over 397 million inhabitants, i.e. 38 per cent of the sub-Saharan population, and five per cent of the global population. It is characterised by strong cultural and sociological diversity. The annual population growth rate has been above 2.4 per cent since 1980. The annual population growth rate has been above 2.4 percent since 1980.

The rate of urbanisation is on average four per cent per year; in 2015 more than 43 per cent of the population over 366 million inhabitants lived in cities, compared with 86 million in 1960. This urban population is expected to reach 843 million in 2050, or nearly 63 percent of the total population.

Governments must create incentives that can encourage the private sector to see that sustainable management of the land and the restoration of degraded land is the socially responsible thing to do.

3. Creating mechanisms like the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Fund that will motivate the private sector to invest in land restoration: Funding remains the main cross-industry catalyst for growth. The demand for funding for the rehabilitation of degraded lands has been the subject of substantial state funding since the droughts of the 1970s.

There is a need for west African countries to formulate the targets to be achieved by 2030, which will signals a country systematic plan in order to ensure sufficient high quality land is available in the long-term in order to meet the demand for essentials like food and water.

The LDN-inspired projects and programmes if adopted will provide multiple benefits in terms of poverty reduction, food, water and energy security, green job creation, conflict reduction and environmental migration.

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