Governments in Africa and beyond will not be able to handle the cost-of-living crisis unless they start paying attention to the resource that feeds the poor: nature.
Over the past three years, a cost-of-living crisis has spread across the world, affecting both rich and poor countries. Many are blaming it on the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In Africa, these events have had an impact, but the growing impoverishment was already apparent even before they occurred.
Across the continent, the cost-of-living crisis has hit hard communities that were already struggling to access enough food, fuel, decent work and social support to survive. The already poor have been getting poorer; those living just above the poverty line have been sinking below it. Since the pandemic, 55 million more Africans have fallen into extreme poverty.
Much of this impoverishment is driven by the long-term decline in the natural resources that sustain poor households. The degradation of soils, freshwater, forests and biodiversity is directly affecting the livelihoods of millions of poor people living in rural areas. This is because these resources provide food, fuel, building materials and employment to these communities.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, some 90 percent of people who live in extreme poverty depend on forests for at least part of their livelihoods. And in recent years, deforestation – as well as other types of environmental degradation – has only accelerated. This trend did not change even during the pandemic.
Yet, the primary response from governments in Africa has been a continued emphasis on conventional economic growth. The problem with this approach is that it fixates on gross domestic product (GDP) as the sole barometer of economic progress, which does not take into account the wealth contained in nature and ecosystems.
This myopic focus encourages policies and investments that disproportionately favour the wealthy while leaving behind the poor and allowing the abuse and depletion of natural resources they depend on.