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Effort to green Africa gains new member amid mounting challenges

© Rod Mast

People need nature to thrive, and nowhere is that more evident than in Africa. The last large source of arable land, minerals and fossil fuels, it is also one of the least-equipped to manage and protect its resources sustainably. The continent’s population and economies are growing, but often at the cost of its natural capital — the forests, fresh water, soil and wildlife that its people rely on.

Enter the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainable Development in Africa (GDSA), formed in 2012 with a commitment to put nature at the center of decision-making.

As news of the GDSA’s progress spreads, more countries are seeking to join the initiative. Little over a week ago, the Kingdom of Lesotho became the 13th member of the group, with five additional countries expressing interest.

Human Nature sat down with Kim Reuter, senior technical director for the GDSA, to discuss the Group’s progress.

Question: What challenges are African nations facing today?

Answer: Of the world’s top 20 countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, 16 of them are located in Africa. Eighty percent of the African population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods and the African population is rapidly growing.

Like many areas in the world, the GDSA countries face the difficult task of needing to conserve the nature on which their economies depend, while working towards a future in which the climate is changing and their populations are growing. The conservation issues are numerous and include everything from illegal wildlife trade to under-resourced protected areas.

Q: So what does the GDSA intend to do?

A: By coming together as a group, the member countries are sharing the lessons they’ve learned and access to technical expertise that would have been otherwise difficult to obtain. It’s about power in numbers. If one country tries something that works well, the GDSA gives them the venue to share that with the rest of the countries. The same goes for if another method doesn’t work. Member countries can tell others not to try that in the future.

In the last five years, the GDSA countries have made tremendous progress in their sustainability programming. Not only has the GDSA expanded to include countries covering more than 30% of the land area of sub-Saharan Africa, but almost USD$120 million in funding has been mobilized explicitly to undertake work on GDSA-related topics. In addition, we recently examined the impact of the first five years of the GDSA, and found that our member countries are significantly more likely to have started considering the value of nature in their decision-making compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Q: How did the GDSA first come about?

A: The GDSA was formed in 2012 when 10 heads of state came together in Gaborone, Botswana, and created a vision for sustainable development in order to make meaningful progress across the continent. They agreed to pursue three different goals. The first was to value and account for their natural capital (the forests, fresh water, soil, wildlife and other elements of nature that people rely on) in decision-making. The second was to prioritize sustainable development. And the third was to increase their technical abilities to measure and ensure that they were on the right track.

Q: What exactly does the GDSA have to do with climate change?

A: Most people in Africa are already being impacted by climate change. This isn’t an abstract idea for these citizens. Communities have less water than before. The cows are dying. People can’t get fish. There’s plastic in the waterways.

How countries protect their natural resources — the nature that people depend on — over the  next 20 years will shape the way that the Earth looks for future generations. The member countries of the GDSA recognize this, and they’re working together as a group to address the challenges of development, over-consumption and resource use in the face of climate change. A couple decades ago, there may have been more resistance to the vision of the GDSA. Now, we don’t have a choice. Countries are driven by these challenges and a commitment to the future, and they’re taking action.

Q: What’s next?

A: The next year is shaping up to be truly impactful. As more countries join the GDSA, the organization becomes even more influential in convincing officials to add nature into their decision-making processes.

We also just received funding to undertake at least five exchanges between the GDSA countries, which will allow groups of people to travel to other countries and learn about the sustainability work that they are doing at the local level. It’s the kind of learning experience that is truly priceless — and the kind of work that makes all of our hard work worth it. I’m excited to see how we end 2018 – hopefully with more countries committing to sustainable development and more partners putting resources towards the implementation of the GDSA.

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer at Conservation International.

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Top photo: Two lion cubs in Botswana. (© Rod Mast)