AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives
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The elephant is a 'main attraction' in the growing market for ecotourism-just one of many reasons why communities need to be aware of the link between their own economic welfare and their region's wild animals and biodiversity.

UNEP

DEBT-FOR-NATURE SWAPS

Pioneered by Kenya in 1988, debt-for-nature swaps (DNS) were aimed at curbing the runaway debt burden of the region. DNS, which involves the cancellation of external debt in exchange for the debtor government's commitment to mobilize domestic resources to fund conservation programmes, were meant to achieve two outcomes at once: to reduce external debt and to enhance environmental management. Between 1987 and 1998, more than 30 developing countries, including some in Africa, had benefited from DNS, which generated US$100 million in funding for the environment (UNSO 1998). According to the United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office (UNSO), for African countries affected by deforestation, bilateral debt is the most promising source of DNS. This is because, in 1998, commercial debt represented 2 per cent of external debt for these countries and, also, multilateral debt had not been the subject of debt swap transactions. The hope is that since multilateral creditors have accepted the principle that multilateral debt can be written off via the HIPC Initiative, DNS involving multilateral debt could take place. Of the 41 countries which may be eligible for the HIPC Initiative, 15 HIPC-eligible countries in Africa are severely affected by desertification (UNSO 1998).

A recent analysis of DNS concluded: 'The debt-for-nature swaps mechanism has been very modestly used until now partly because of the threat it poses on macroeconomic stability of the indebted country, partly because of the complicated dealings involved and finally because of free-riding of northern countries in environmental terms.

'Nevertheless, in its latest version, DNS have become simpler and more significant both in terms of the amount of debt involved and the financial support it provides for environmental projects without inducing macroeconomic instability in the countries involved. Still, DNS has a more important role to play in the environment rather than the debt arena.' (ECLAC 2001)

DNS is only one way of tackling Africa's debt burden, and this has been recognized by African leaders, who want to see the region achieve and sustain an average GDP growth rate of more than 7 per cent a year for the next 15 years (NEPAD 2001). One of the goals is to implement national strategies for sustainable development by 2005, in order to reverse the loss of environmental resources by 2015.

INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS

Box 3.20 IKS foundation of Africa's future

'If we want a strong Africa in the future we must lay its foundations on our indigenous knowledge in all areas of our lives.We will borrow ideas and skills from others since we live in an interdependent world, but if we are in possession of our minds, what we borrow will come to enrich and embellish what we already have and not supplant it.'

Source:Opoku 1999
Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), which were discouraged during colonialism, are being revived throughout the region in order to promote humannature linkages and to help communities to adapt to their changing environment. The Hausa of northern Nigeria, for example, developed a wealth of indigenous knowledge to cope with vulnerability to drought and famine in the sub-humid to arid regions of the Sahel (Milich 1997). These included: inter-cropping with nitrogen-fixing legumes; intensive manure application; soil conservation works; poly-cultural production of different cereals to cope with variable soil-moisture regimes; and exploiting different ecological niches to support wet and dry season production respectively. Other household and communal coping strategies included: wild food substitutes; increasing petty trading by women; selling livestock; craft production; outmigration to find work; and a strong communal ethic of sharing food with the hungry.Pastoralists, such as East Africa's Maasai, exploit the opportunities of the natural system by migrating with their flocks to areas where pasturage has grown following rain. Other coping tactics include splitting herds to minimize risk and setting aside areas as grazing reserves. One important coping strategy throughout Africa is 'communal action based on social capital'. In this strategy, traditional societies in rural Africa draw on the collective strength of the weak to cope with stress in order to decrease vulnerability and insecurity, for example, through informal communal institutional processes, such as barter and trade.

In Southern Africa, for example, various activities have been undertaken to raise awareness among the people. There is a growing realization by governments and civil society that IKS has a lot to offer in natural resource management (Matowanyika 1999). The role of indigenous communities is recognized in Agenda 21, which acknowledges their role in developing 'a holistic traditional scientific knowledge of their lands, natural resources and environment' (UN 1992). Advocates of IKS say that the future of the region depends on people acknowledging the important role of their culture in development (see Box 3.20).