There has been so much talk about sustainable development in relation to Africa, and the consensus not to bother Africa with any carbon reduction obligations at this stage, and of course the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) whereby western companies are allowed to invest in cheaper carbon reduction measures as a way of offsetting their would-have-been more expensive approach back home. With all these caution and pampering, I am tempted to wonder if the idea of sustainability and care for the environment is alien to Africa.
This question immediately takes me back to the village with my grandmother in those days when the long school holidays were spent proudly helping out with subsistence farming and all the other household activities that surrounded it. Despite not being familiar with the “big” environmental terminology and not following any sonorous slogan, the idea of waste was incomprehensible. Take, for example, the home production of palm oil which I helped out with. Every part of the plant was put into use either for food, animal feed or for construction. It was even so much fun chewing the very final part of it- the palm nut which had to be cracked out of the shell. I even remember a childhood friend feeding the milky liquid from this to his cat. The same was the case for other plants such as cassava and yam with the peeling fed to the goats and the goats droppings used as manure.
Even in the cities, people took bottles for exchange to shops when buying a soft drink and we rarely forgot to take a shopping bag along when going to the market. Old clothes were turned into rags for cleaning until they reached their limit while rainwater collection was the order of the day. With my present job here in England promoting sustainability, I just sometimes look back and say “ but we used to do that!”
My suspicion is that with time these environmentally friendly habits came to be seen as a sign of poverty, and the need to show off now means that eating only a quarter of the food served to a guest has become common practice, and lavish parties at events and funerals have become the norm.
Obviously, with the advent of new technology and enlightenment, there is so much to be imported in terms of ideas but the concept is not new.
Are there any sustainable or environmentally friendly habits that you know that are peculiar to Africa? Please share your thoughts.
For my understanding of sustainability please see this