Sustainability…the Way Forward for Africa

By Charlene Hewat, CEO , Environment Africa May 2011

The planet as a whole has been facing a food, fuel and financial crisis over the past decade with much of this coming to a head in 2008 and 2009 as world economies crashed, food prices soared and conflict in the middle east and elsewhere gained momentum.

Africa, in the midst of all of this struggle and change, still holds a very large part of the planets untapped and essential natural resources, yet has the least say in how things are done. Whilst much of this points to the need for Africa to put its own house in order, many would also agree that an enabling environment process for participation, sustainable change and to redress the historical imbalance and injustices, is still overdue.

When public systems breakdown, governments often look to the private sector to save the day. In many developing countries, a range of services that were in the public domain – housing, water, energy, transportation and communication have been or are being privatized. This may lead to greater efficiency, but even the most die-hard neo-classical economist understands that it can also spell environmental and social disaster.

Public-private partnerships are a good way to divide responsibilities among different sectors of society. But they are fraught with danger, since they can become another way for the private sector to internalize benefits and externalize costs. So what is the answer for Southern Africa?

If we are to reorient the economy’s path to sustainability, what we really need is a totally new sector, perhaps termed the Community Sector, which would combine public sector objectives with private sector strategies. We need to create businesses, organisations and governments that have a heart.

Environment Africa (EAfrica) believes that there is need to focus on African solutions for the most pressing environment and development challenges, working with conservation and communities in a collaborative, innovative and action orientated way that promotes a sustainable future for Africa.

Environment Africa promotes the inter-linkages of the 4 pillars of Sustainable Development: Policy/Power, Economic, Social and Biophysical in a manner that takes in community involvement and participation. However, the Economic pillar of sustainable development seems to take prominence, especially in developing countries where the natural environment is often devastated in order to find short term economic gains.

Environment Africa has also developed a sustainable livelihood framework based on the 4 pillars of Sustainable Development which we currently use in our projects.

EAfrica has encouraged the government of National Unity to adopt a Sustainable Development Framework for Zimbabwe which will enable our country to utilize it’s natural and human resources sustainably for both now and into the future.

The environment sustainability statement is already in the new Government Medium Term Plan: “With regards to the current concerns about global warming, climate change and the need to ensure sustainable growth which safeguards the health of the environment, the Government has taken on board these issues with environmental sustainability being factored in as a cross cutting issue in all the Medium Term Plan (MTP) sectors.“

Extracts from a letter EAfrica wrote to the Minister of State encouraging them to adopt a Sustainable Development Framework:

“Our Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Honourable Ministers, the people of Zimbabwe, friends of the environment. There is only one Planet.

Zimbabwe has an opportunity to develop a Sustainable Development (SD) Frame work that will incorporate all sectors of society, whether it be industry, agriculture, communities, or government. This SD framework will guide our resource rich country in the future as we ALL utilise our planets natural Capital as a source for: food, fuel, soil and water as well as a large sink .

We need to look at empowering our communities to take ownership of their own lives and the environment that surrounds them and move from Aid to Trade. Lets put a stop to food handouts that are in the long term destroying our communities and making them dependent on AID.”

Food Aid in the long term does not work for Africa. Through our work, we have personally witnessed communities sitting at home whilst others are out working and their response is, “if we go out into the field and work we will not receive food aid.” Individual community members have also said, “please tell these Aid organisations to keep their FOOD AID and can you help us HELP ourselves. “ So the question is, should International organisations be allowed to come in and give out handouts or should they be more responsible and build communities capacities and work with and through local organisations who know their own people?

EAfrica believes in the saying, Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for life, however, we have amended it having noted that there may not be enough fish for all the community and have added to it by incorporating that it is most important to teach a man how to breed fish and in that way we create not only sustainable livelihoods but at the same time make sure our planet is conserved for the future.

One of the most important things to sustainable development is the approach to communities and there is a wonderful saying, “Go to the people, live with them and learn from tem and love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have and work with the champions. When the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, we have done this ourselves”. Lao 700BC.

Environment Africa has been working with the champion approach since it’s inception and has developed innovative ways of building sustainable communities. Incorporation of cross cutting issues within projects is critical such as Gender, HIV, Disability, Health, Culture, Rights of Children and Youth and the Environment. A holistic approach to sustainable development is needed in order to achieve real long term sustainability.

If we look at current trends, where organisations have been in areas for three to five years, implemented a programme and then leave the area, if one goes back to that same area after just one year, sadly, in many cases the project or programme has failed and very quickly the communities have reverted back to where they were before the intervention.

So how can we do things differently? How can we create sustainability in communities as well as in organisations? Mohammed Unice, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from the Grammene Bank says, “To me poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flower pot you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, it is the soil base that is inadequate.” To help lift poor people out of poverty, we need to create an enabling environment for them to become self sustaining in the long term in the most effective and efficient way possible.

EAfrica has initiated a new and innovative funding approach to conservation and communities in Southern Africa. This has been launched through the Africa Green Fund initiative under which smaller localised Green Funds have been established such as the Victoria Falls Green Fund and Vumba Green Fund. These localised Green Funds enable the implementation of projects at a local level in a sustainable manner that uplifts the livelihoods of the communities and protects the environment and increases ownership at a local level. This initiative truly promotes the concept of PPCP’s (Public, Private, Community Partnerships) as the way forward for Africa and unlocks the keys to empowerment and ownership at local levels, with the motto: Moving from AID TO TRADE.


  1. If what I’ve read is accurate, in 500 mililon years the Sun will have warmed enough that the inner boundary of the habitable zone will move out past Earth, which will then be uninhabitable.So, a lot sooner than 10 Billion years.And then there are the extinction level impact events, which will likely have occurred more than once in 500 mililon years.Expand off of Earth, or die.

  2. nhlonipho says:

    as long as Africa has to depend on international goodwill, technology and initiatives,sustainability shall remain a whistle in the dark. up to date all african countries are failing to manttain their own initiatives they started at independance. This should be adressed and solved before any more initiatives can be introduced

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