Because of their environmental impact and non-renewable nature, natural resources are not an ordinary economic asset. They are a factor endowment, a gift from nature not dependent on man’s effort or merit. In this they are different from consumer goods, which can be produced in great numbers through the productive combination of factors. So unlike ordinary economic assets, which can be infinitely multiplied with the development of techniques and know-how, natural resources are finite in quantity.
These specific characteristics of natural resources should lead to the establishment of specific regimes of governance that demand justice in the distribution of profits from resources, raise the issue of their exploitation by ‘indigenous’ companies and include local communities in their exploitation, in terms of both protection of resources and the environment and learning for the future. To set up these regimes of governance, we must call upon the support of African and international public opinion—which is increasingly appalled by the practices of unscrupulous economic operators—and require traceability of all the natural resources that are exploited, as well as knowledge of how they are used.
Consequently, with a dual concern for sustainability and fair trade, the exploitation of Africa’s abundant natural resources should be subject to a body of commonly agreed rules, defined and controlled by Africa with the support of the international community.
Africa has often been depicted as a sparsely populated continent with abundant land resources. Yet truly arable land is becoming scarcer at a time when famines and food crises have become endemic, and are threatening social peace and political stability as they did during the ‘hunger riots’ of the past decade. Africa is the last of the world’s continents to experience a true demographic explosion, along with a notorious under-valuation of all types of land. It is the only continent to wallow in the replication of foreign institutions and standards, thus undermining traditional land regulation mechanisms, which were characterised by the subtlety and diversity of the usage rights that agricultural societies attributed to this basic asset.
Traditional and modern land management regimes are often juxtaposed and in contradiction. Conflicts between farmers and herders have increased in number and intensity in many regions of Africa and are sometimes the cause of bloodshed. More recently, Africa’s political and economic weakness have made it tempting prey for non-African countries and foreign companies anxious to acquire large swaths of land to develop immediately, and thus meet the needs of their own economies and geo-strategic positions. This phenomenon has reawakened the spectre of a ‘recolonisation of Africa’. Finally, in a number of African countries, competition between rich and poor for the control of increasingly scarce land is the economic substratum of social conflicts.
The governance and securing of land resources is thus a major component of governance in Africa, and a true challenge to the development of the continent and the food security of its populations. It is urgently necessary to list the governance regimes best suited to urban and rural land rights management, in particular by examining a set of innovative approaches that could combine the pertinence of customary law with the requirements of modern law.
In Africa as elsewhere, water is a valuable asset that is growing rarer as a result of increasing consumption and the various threats weighing on it. For African populations, particularly in rural areas, gaining access to this natural resource can also be a real problem. Agriculture, the strategic foundation of African development, requires a timely and sufficient supply of water, dependent as it is on rainfall.
Coastal areas and African ocean fronts also present problems: overfishing, damage to the environment and competition between small-scale fishermen, who are the source of the livelihood of entire sectors of the population, and industrial fishing fleets from other countries, that provide the State with foreign currency.
Yet humanity has a vast amount of experience in managing water, both in Africa and the rest of the world, because water management is practically at the origin of governance and of the State. To understand this, one need only look at ancient Egypt. Everyone in the world talks about “integrated water management” but most of the time, in Africa and elsewhere, it remains just a slogan. There are, in fact, many difficulties to be overcome.
Water is another natural asset that calls for a special, tailored regime of governance. The various levels of governance—from the village or neighbourhood to the cross-border river basin—must be well-articulated and the various administrations that manage infrastructure, water treatment, use, hygiene or health aspects, education, etc. must be capable of cooperating. There must also be just and efficient mechanisms for distributing the use of water between herders and farmers, cities and rural areas, agriculture and household use, economic needs and the needs of everyday life, etc.
Good water management is impossible without the input and cooperation of the various types of users; good management of coastal ecosystems is impossible without the participation of fishing communities. Yet this entire rich and complex system of water governance has too often been shunted aside in the name of dogmatic principles such as privatisation of public water supply services and the reduction of water to a simple economic asset. Water management should be based on the dual principle of social justice and efficiency. So it is important to provide an opportunity to look carefully at the experiences that have come closest to this integrated and equitable system of water management, and identify a number of shared principles.
The African economy will come alive and provide pertinent responses to African aspirations if the strategic sectors of agriculture and industry are connected in view of developing agri-food sectors. Food security, agricultural policy, the regulation of production, international trade…these are all important questions for Africa. The development of agri-food sectors is a major political challenge and a stepping stone towards a virtuous, green and life-giving African. The continent has a strong potential for economic and social autonomy, but the agri-food sector suffers from both a lack of vision and other factors such as too little equipment, insufficient quality management, problems with financing and insufficient training.
Africa talks a lot about sustainable development, but is not giving itself the resources needed to make the slogan a reality. One main problem is the very organisation of the rent-based economy. Resolutely turned to the exterior, this economy favours the export of raw materials and, increasingly, the implantation of foreign countries with no thought for economic, social and environmental considerations.
So supporting the development of agri-food sectors is a prerequisite to sustainable development in Africa. Only sustainable sectors—those that use energy and raw materials economically, provide for the equitable distribution of the added value produced by the entire chain of production, and respect the environment during all phases of production and economic exchange—will allow us to construct sustainable societies. Consequently, Africa owes it to itself to conceptualise and construct sustainable sectors; to examine African agricultural policies, the impact of international trade and changes in preferential regimes with Western countries, and to lay down the major guidelines for sustainable agri-food sectors.