Land is always seen as a finite resource in Africa. Its use in many countries in the continent has been of great concern to every citizen at individual level and community levels. But even though every community associates wealth and well-being with land ownership, it is unfortunate that our cultural practices on land use are now turning this great resource into an existential risk.
A case in point is the Congo basin forests of which more than 60 percent are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). And it forms the largest oxygen manufacturing facility in the world.
However, this resource which is now linked to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, is in severe threat from logging fuelled by greed.
It is estimated that at least one million hectares of mature forest in DRC and five other neighbouring countries is being lost every year since 2014. The deforested areas are now being converted into agricultural land and are being used for firewood.
This is likely to have greater impact soon on the African Pygmies in Congo who might be exterminated. These forest people traditionally subsist on “a forager and hunter-gatherer lifestyle.” But as the forest is being depleted, it is leading to a decrease in biodiversity of this plush enclave. And it is eroding the rich soils into the Atlantic, bringing about serious impact of climate change.
In East Africa, the land merchants are buying land and sub-dividing to sell. In the process, they are destroying the environment and eventually undermining food security.
But despite the various environmental risks, families are also feeling culturally obliged to subdivide land to their sons. A practice that has turned some of the richest lands into barren deserts.
Governments are also subdividing large schemes of land and offering to desperate citizens thinking that a title deed is the certificate to a more prosperous future.
But for the region to prosper, governments should consolidate the land to address climate change. But this move might also not succeed, considering the cultural practices on caring for the dead.
Why is land such a critical resource for many countries in Africa?
A case in point is the top three densely populated countries in Africa namely: Mauritius (624 inhabitants per square kilometre, Rwanda at 44o inh/km2 and Burundi 402 inhabitants a square kilometre, indicating that Africa must be proactive to ensure sustainable livelihood.
Because of luck, such proactive actions, Rwanda and Burundi had been in perpetual conflict until they began land reforms. Mauritius, which has largely urbanised populations, took a bold step by creating large pieces of agricultural land for commercial production, building peace.
Recent studies on urbanisation and Human Development Index (HDI) suggest that the promotion of urbanisation is essential to achieving a higher level of HDI (composite index of life expectancy, education means years of schooling completed and expected years of schooling on entering the education system), and per capita income indicators).
But by confining people to small-scale land, politicians are undermining food security, enhancing poverty and also retarding human development.
It is better to address development through a proper planned process on how rural urbanisation can be achieved and also how we can free up land to be used for productive agriculture.
The sensible title deeds that people want should be linked to homes and apartments in planned cities and also be connected to all services.
There is a need to ban burials in agricultural land and provide cemeteries and crematoriums.
Time has come for us to interrogate man-land relationship to improve productivity. This also calls for our school curricula to focus on our dependence on nature and our human activity to nature in to achieve a sustainable future.