The African people have always shared a deep respect for their environment. Our culture embodied our love affair with our environment and for centuries we co-existed in chaotic harmony with the great gorillas of the Virunga and majestic elephants of the Okavango Delta. Our totems are representative of our reverence of our wild companions. In some societies it is the duty of the community member to protect and preserve the animal or plant of their totem. As our lives modernise, our environment has been our sacrifice as we fight to be accepted by a world that does not possess rich biodiversity as we do. Poaching, excessive mining, monoculture, building on wetlands and deforestation has eroded our environment of its jewels and impoverished future generations while enriching a few people.
Development in Africa should protect the environment as it is an invaluable heritage we are to leave for posterity. Sustainable development is a code that our ancestors lived by. Our generation is at the crossroads; either we stand and watch our natural resources pillaged or we ignore the pressures and sustainably develop while protecting the environment. The truth is Africa is not just a continent, it is the people, the abundant wildlife, the fertile soils, the rich history and dashing rivers. Africa is an ecosystem, we as the custodians have the responsibility to protect the rights that our wildlife, rivers and land ought to have. Our people have always revered and protected the environment. It was not out of stupidity or ignorance that they never exhausted the resources for their own gain. Civilizations like the Great Zimbabwe learnt the hard way the repercussions of overusing the land without giving it time to recuperate. An entire empire came crushing down.
I am flabbergasted by our current governments that enjoy skating on the lifelines of biodiversity instead of protecting it. It is difficult to fathom the amount of compromise that has been made at the full expense of the environment. We ought to remember that emphasis on financial gain at the perils of the environment is detrimental to us all. What mineral is so valuable that it should cost us our ecological heritage? Our greatest resource is our environment, the land and everything on it.
I am a believer of being an agent of change. Environmental conservation is not just a social or corporate responsibility it is an individual responsibility. Our individual efforts when aggregated make a real impact on the scales of conservation. Below are just a few things that I have tried to incorporate in my life.
- Buying local produce
Imported fresh produce is divine but local produce is more sustainable. By purchasing local produce, we are actively decreasing the carbon footprint that the produce makes from the farm to our plates. When I could, I kept a garden to grow my own organic vegetables at home. It was great for the pocket, for my health and I reduced the amount of store-bought produce. When I was a student abroad, I had no access to gardening space but I always kept potted herb plants on my window sill.
- High quality clothing are better than cheap fast fashion
As a student, I loved buying from fast fashion outlets but the clothes never lasted more than a few months. As a fully-figured woman, my jeans never seemed to last and needed replacement after a few months. It’s only when I discovered that the jeans never lasted because I had been buying low quality clothing and when I started saving money to buy high quality clothing, my clothes seemed to last longer. The denims were stronger, the whites remained brilliant for longer and my pantyhoses seemed not to run as fast. I find it strange that a dress can cost the same as a fast food burger meal. The amount of natural resources that go into making one dress are not commensurate with the price that we are paying for our clothing. If we are not paying the price for cheap clothing, something or someone else is. The other thing, many of our clothes are polyester which is just a plastic fibre that does not degrade as quickly as cotton. The amount of polyester clothing dumped at our garbage sites is doing a disservice to the environment. If the option exists, I try to buy natural over synthetic fibres. I have actually noticed that African textiles tend to be made from natural fibres and the prints last longer than high street fashion prints. By the way, we don’t need all those clothes. The one lesson I learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic is how unnecessary half my clothing items are. When I now buy clothing items, I ask myself do I really need it? A lot of our clothing end up in garbage sites even if we donate them to a charity. Smaller wardrobes should be a fashionable thing.
- Travel locally and regionally before going abroad
African destinations are gram-worthy! There is no point in seeing the Eifel tower if you are yet to visit the Serengeti. The African experience is an authentic experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Sustainable conservation is dependent on tourism. Our visits to game parks and reserves fund conservation programs.
A few years ago, I went white-water rafting in the Zambezi river. The instructor was shocked that we were locals, as he put it “locals don’t do rafting!”. Let us enjoy the best of what the land has to offer. Go hiking on Mount Bisoke in Rwanda, visit the Wli Waterfalls in Ghana or better yet; visit your local museum.
- When possible use renewable energy sources
The sun is our greatest and most affordable resource that we can use. Solar technology is becoming more affordable as the technology improves. The use of solar energy does not have to be an expensive exercise. I started with one 300W panel and 200 AH solar battery and inverter. I hooked up my lighting, TV and other small appliances to the system – best decision I made! As the funds permit, I plan to upgrade and go completely off-grid. The use of biomass is underutilized in Africa. If you have the space, build a digester and convert your food waste into biogas for cooking and lighting. I have seen some biogas configurations that actually generate electricity and some that convert it to biodiesel but you need access to tonnes of biomass aka manure.
- Conserve the use of water
Gone are the days of bath tubs filled with bubble baths. Shower, Shower, Shower. I cannot say it enough. Water is life, without water nothing can exist. Our natural water bodies are drying up. We need to conserve water at all costs. If you have a garden at home, research on ways to minimise the use of water. Better yet, plant indigenous plants they take up less water and are more resilient to pests and diseases. I have tried water-recycling in the house too, I use bath and laundry water for flashing toilets. I collect rainwater in our disused swimming pool and use it to water the garden when the rainy season has stopped.
- Reduce red meat intake
I love steaks. When I was a student abroad, each time I returned home I would hit the local steak shop and get a rack of ribs, a pound of t-bone or rib-eye steak. Cattle were once a currency on the continent and are still viewed as a symbol of wealth. When I began cattle ranching, I realised how much natural vegetation needed to be cleared to accommodate grazing fields. If we collectively reduced our meat intake, the beef market would shrink and less deforestation would occur. By the way, cattle emit loads of methane and other polluting greenhouse gases.
- Just Reuse or Recycle