In today’s world, environmental conservation has taken centre stage. However, efforts to conserve the environment have often been hindered by development agendas, which are chiefly initiated and influenced by global politics. Most countries have chosen to address key environmental issues through policy formulations and international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol. Although these policies have achieved relative success, the actual goal and need for the formulation of such policies remains unaddressed. Rather than address environmental issues in their context, which links them to development agendas, current international trade and monetary regimes, countries explore strategies that are in line with their development agendas. Therefore, global politics have not only been an impediment but also serve to propagate development agendas which contravene the need for environmental sustainability. This essay shall focus on deforestation and its effects in Sub-Saharan Africa. It shall seek to establish the chief causes of deforestation and its effects on these countries. Finally, it shall propose several solutions which are based on realism.
Several landmark achievements have been detrimental to the environment. Notably, the industrialization era and the two world wars brought about a rapid devastation of natural resources. Despite having made great steps towards globalization through technological innovation, man has neglected or plundered resources that have been bestowed by nature upon him. Currently, there has been a raging debate about the causes and effects of deforestation. Whereas deforestation can be incorporated in the larger climate change debate, it is an outstanding issue that needs unique solutions since it is largely caused by cumulative human neglect which does not necessarily border technological advancements.
Deforestation is the cutting down of trees and removal of forest cover in order to use the land for other purposes such as agriculture or setting up an industrial hub. It does not necessarily imply that all trees and any forest cover must be removed entirely. Rather, the process may be a gradual encroachment on a forested area. Currently, the world’s land surface area under forest cover is below 14%. Furthermore, this area is shrinking rapidly despite elaborate conservation techniques. Both developed and developing countries have failed in formulating sustainable policies through which anti-deforestation techniques can be properly utilized (Mabogunje, 2002).
Despite the fact that there are several causes of deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa, it has been largely triggered and propagated by detrimental human activities. These include logging, setting up of ranches, urbanization, careless fires, mining and felling of trees for firewood and charcoal burning. In Sub-Saharan Africa, most observers have blamed deforestation on high poverty levels. However, it is evident that the development strategies in place in these countries are not environmental friendly. Logging involves feeling down trees for commercial use. In developing countries, efforts to fell down trees or clear forest cover in a pattern rather than indiscriminately have not been implemented mainly due to the rampant corruption. Wealthy groups are given the mandate to access and cut down trees in areas reserved and protected under the law as part of the country’s natural forest cover.
In recent times, developing countries have expanded their economies and so has their trade volumes. Countries such as Kenya and Botswana have expanded their cattle ranching industries to rival meat production in the United States and Brazil. However, developing nations face an inherent problem brought about by nomadic pastoralists. Pastoralist communities are forced to migrate with their cattle in search of greener pastures. Overstocking, overgrazing and the periodic dry seasons have resulted in encroachment of traditional green zones as well as areas under conservation.
Furthermore, illegal felling of trees for firewood and charcoal burning has been a major contributory factor towards rapid deforestation. The lack of alternative sources of energy, such as solar energy, hydro-power/geothermal power, or gas burners has led to over-reliance on charcoal and firewood. The fact that developing nations, especially those in the Sub-Saharan Africa, are facing a rapid increase in population has served to exert more pressure on the available forest cover.
Finally, forest fires are a common occurrence in Sub-Saharan nations. Despite the deployment of forest guards, these fires remain a constant threat to natural rainforests. Most fires are a result of carelessness. For instance, charcoal burners pose a constant menace. However, some fires are lit on the basis of cultural beliefs. Rain-makers feel that for in order to end a drought spell, a fire must be lit. Clearly, there is a need to educate communities on the dangers posed by these recurrent behaviours.
Evidently, these human activities are a direct result of poor or ineffective government policies which lead to rapid population growth, overpopulation, inequitable income and wealth distribution, poor urban planning, and increased poverty levels. These factors have exerted pressure on the available resources. Unsustainable development techniques pose an environmental problem that not only needs financial resources but also an inherent change in man’s behaviour.
However, developed nations have also failed in combating deforestation. Countries such as the United States rapidly cut down their forest cover for agricultural purposes during the 18th Century. In addition, the shift from an agricultural-based country to an industrial hub led to a large loss in biodiversity and forest cover. Hence, it is hypocritical for developed countries to formulate policies that ensure that developing nations save their forest cover.
Therefore, in order to curb the rising incidences of deforestation, we need to adopt realism. There has been a raging debate as to whether human activity is the direct cause of recent climatic changes. Whereas proponents for this cause state that humans have negatively impacted on their environment as stated in this paper, opponents have strongly suggested that some of the impacts on the environment were unavoidable and were as result of technological advancements meant for the greater good. Although man needs to utilize natural resources in order to innovate and come up with major technological advancements, exploitation of natural resources cannot be done indiscriminately. We need to have a sustainable strategy due to the fact that natural resources are limited.
As this essay has established, deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa is a direct result of human activities. Rather than dwell on the debate itself, man needs to factor in the tangible facts and use these observations in order to enact a sustainable resource implementation strategy. Detrimental human activities can be countered through several strategies. First, there is a need to restructure land ownership. In developing countries, especially in lands used for nomadic pastoral activities, land is owned communally. This land needs to be subdivided and owned individually. This will not only enhance investment but also security. People will be forced to invest and improve their land rather than plunder resources on communal lands. Secondly, there is a need to curb population growth. The rapid population growth means that more land shall have to be cleared in the near future for settlement and agriculture. Reducing population growth rates will ease the pressure on natural resources as well as a country’s financial and social resources. Finally, the masses need to be educated on the need for protecting our environment. This is the most powerful tool since it promotes environmental responsiveness. Most environmental hazards can be thwarted by a knowledgeable population. For instance, fires, which pose a huge menace to forest cover, can be prevented easily by collective responsibility. By understanding that our actions hold the key to our future, we control our destiny (Agyei, 1998).