J. Francois Barnard – 14 November 2019
(This is an essay submitted to the Discussion Forum for ENVS 1301, Introduction to Environmental Sciences, for Week 1 of term 2, 2019 – 2020.)
I live in Africa, and for thirty years, our family owned a private nature reserve in the Limpopo Valley on the border with Zimbabwe. Protecting the environment is a topic close to my heart, and I despair when I see how we as Africans, mostly in ignorance, damage our beautiful continent.
“Living off the land” is my description of how the millions of peasants live in Africa. But if the land cannot produce enough for them, they fall into poverty. Also, many people urbanize to find jobs but find none. Children born in cities lose the skills to “live off the land” and sink even further into poverty.
Poverty is one of the key areas addressed by UNEP in Africa. UNEP has a “Poverty-Environment Initiative” (PEI) deployed in nine African countries: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
Another huge concern is plastic waste pollution. UNEP helps countries to establish packaging regulations and standards. Its effect can be seen in the marine environment as waste dumped into rivers and streams finds its way to the oceans.
My family has a 300-year history in Africa. Over the last 50 years, we have seen a growing gap between rich and poor people. Africa is one of the richest continents of the world, blessed with vast resources. Yet it is the poorest. It has the most corrupt governments in the world.
So no, I am not surprised to find poor people in Africa. I see people who are ignorant about the environment and polluting it at a high rate.
Education is key to get children aware of the environment and the impact that society has on it. The problem in Africa is that most people on the continent do not know their history and where they come from. Many cannot recall their own family history for more than three generations.
It is difficult for a child to take pride in his/her heritage if they do not know what it is. Millions of Africans have been illiterate until fairly recently. As the economies of African states grow, education grows too. Nelson Mandela was quite positive about it in 1994: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
I found an interesting article on the UNEP website about the Youth and Education Alliance (YEA!), which describes an initiative to get universities and youth movements such as Scouts and Guides to work together in educating children about the environment. There are currently 850 universities part of this alliance.
Another interesting fact from the statistics page is that the poorest countries in Africa have a huge GDP growth rate. According to UNStats, the 2014 GDP growth for these countries were:
- Botswana 4%
- Burkina Faso 5%
- Kenya 5%
- Malawi 6%
- Mali 7%
- Mauritania 6%
- Mozambique 7%
- Rwanda 7%
- Tanzania No data
Growing from a very small base makes it easier to show significant growth, but these countries are going in the right direction. The GDP growth of South Africa for 2014 was a very poor 2%.
My personal opinion about caring for your environment is that it goes deeper than establishing policies, procedures, laws, and regulations. Yes, we should have all of that in place. But if I care about the threesome called “Me, Myself and I,” and I love those three, I want to see myself in an environment that is cared for and properly sustained.
Because I care for my house, the house is clean and swept. The garden is tended and neat. When I drive to work, I keep my waste in my car and dispose of it at the next stop in a bin. I do not throw it out of the window. In my office are many carton containers of computers that we set up for the NGO employing me. Afterward, I discard this packaging properly and have old computers recycled. Why? Because that is what you do if you respect yourself and love yourself enough to care for your immediate environment.
Our global environment displays on a macro-scale how we care for ourselves on a micro-scale. And from where I am standing, Africa does not give a shit about itself.