Thursday, 23 March 2017


Volume 5, Issue 4, October - December  2016


  • Chair's Foreword
  • African Earth Science and Sustainable Development in Africa
  • Earth Science Book Review
  • Earth Science Events
  • References and Selected Reading

    Chair's Foreword

    In this issue we consider the subject of Earth Science in Africa in relation to sustainability. But what precisely do we understand by this terminology?

    African sustainability needs to be defined in terms of the capability of Africans of the present to provide for the needs of their future generations in perpetuity. With this in mind we focus on the challenges of African development  against this understanding of the need to engender sustainability.

    Manure in planting pits provide plant nutrients and also help retain water harvested by the pits

    Earth Science and Sustainable Development in Africa

    There are many angles from which to approach the subject of "sustainability" in Africa. However, given the remit of the Society of African Earth Scientists to meet the needs of African peoples in terms of clean water, food and energy provision, and the need to monitor the effects of climatic change, we can in particular, assert that African sustainability must of necessity rely on the most "appropriate" technology. This will be technology that is accessible to those using the technology as well as being affordable and amenable to routine maintenance.

    The most appropriate technologies can also be the most effective. An increasingly powerful example of this is the approach of agro-ecology [1] in African agricultural practice. Most of the technology appropriate for Africa already exists in its wealth of traditional agricultural  practices, which have been shown  in studies dating back more than 20 years[2], to promote higher food yields than modern methods, especially those promoting western style monoculture, which has been shown to be destructive to the soil, stripping it of vital nutrients, and contaminating it with excess fertilizer.  Modern farming methods, particularly those involving genetically modified crops, are also found to be inaccessible and expensive to the ordinary farmer; not to talk of the dangers posed of loss of African food sovereignty.

    Solutions to African sustainability which are african in origin, have more chance of being accepted by indigenous people, who are familiar with these indigenous methods. Many of these methods are being revamped in the light of their newly discovered benefits and are seen to be truly ingenious. Furthermore, we have personalities  in agroecology whose genius has adapted traditional methods to suit modern realities [ I refer to the works of  extraordinary personalities like Aba Hawe in Ethiopia, and  Yacouba Sawadogo in Burkina Faso, whose works are so startling as to attract visitors from the world over to see how they are able to salvage degraded land and turn it into a fertile oasis.][3, 4].

    There needs to be a bold acknowledgement that for Africans to make sustainable progress, there will be a need to focus on our own internal resources, including our indigenous technologies, many of which are ingenious and have much to offer to our future and to the world. I refer in particular to methods in Africa like FMNR (farmer managed regeneration) [5], step terracing, planting pits, stone lines,  the use of termite hills to regenerate the nutrients in the soil, seed storage and exchange,  and groundwater retention and recharging using tree planting as well as modern approaches  such as planting vetiver grass and sometimes bamboo to retain moisture,  and arrest soil erosion and land degradation. There are many, many techniques like this of an indigenous origin which have been proven by persons like Aba Hawe and Sawadogo to be highly effective when used in combination. Assiduous application of agro-ecology would feed africa in a sustainable way [6] not requiring massive capital that would further tie the continent to a growing  burden of debt.

    In respect of energy production there is no doubt that renewables offer the most sustainable solution for Africa's future needs [7]. Africa has a great potential diversity of renewables energy sources: geothermal energy in the East African Rift Valley, wind energy all over, but especially in Southern  Africa, hydro power and solar.  It is envisioned that a combinatory approach, taking advantage of a cluster of renewable energy sources, will move Africa towards energy sufficiency. 

    As an aid to moving this sustainable development of Africa into reality, it is pertinent to consider the concept of the sustainable village [8].  We have an opportunity in the sustainable village idea, to showcase all the elements of african sustainable  living  in a way which is self-sufficient.  A sustainable village, would consist of sufficient farmland for food production, solar and wind energy in addition to hydro-power (if that is appropriate for the location) for electricity,  boreholing and water harvesting systems for clean water provision. Cracking the problem of making a truly sustainable african village model would be like a golden key to sustainable development that could be extended on national and continental levels.

    It does not make economic sense for Africa to opt for expensive foreign technological (including agricultural)  interventions which are not appropriate [that may deny us food sovereignty,  destroy the soil, diminish  the quality and level of our groundwater supplies]; whilst   ignoring the large number  of indigenous technologies and natural resources that Africa has to solve its  food, water and energy problems.


    African Water Atlas,
    United Nations Environment Programme [9]

    A richly informative publication giving indications, on a country by country basis, of African water resources. The reader is treated to an acount of water quantity and water quality, and their distribution geographically across the continent. The book is full of many fascinating key facts. For example, Africa's important aquifers  the Nubian Sandstone and the Lake Chad Sedimentary Basin, are losing water at a greater rate than their rate of recharge. 75% of Africa's population relies on groundwater for clean water supplies, yet groundwater forms only 15% of  Africa's renewable water resources.


    13-16 April 2017
    Third Mediterranean Symposium on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants
    Venue: Girne (Kyrinia), Cyprus, Turkey
    VISION: After two well recieved previous symposiums, the organising committe is pleased to invite you to the third symposiun on medicinal and aromatic plants.

    3-5 August 2017
    WATREX 2017
    Venue: International Convention Centre, Cairo, Egypt.
    VISION: The foremost conference event on  water processes, waste water treatment and recycling.

    7-11 October 2017
    International Conference on Water Management in Arid and semi Arid lands
    Venue: Movenpick Resort, Dead Sea, Jordan
    VISION: International conference

    References and Selected Reading
    1. Agroecology Taps a Wellspring of Farming Knowledge, SciDev,
    2.  International Fund for Agricultural Development, Soil and Water Conservation in Subsaharan Africa, Rome, 1992.
    3. Ethiopia Rising: Red Terror to Green Revolution,
    4. The Man Who Stopped the desert,
    5. Weston, Hong, et al, Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration Enhances Rural Livelihoods in Dryland west Africa, Environmental Management (2015) 55,
    6. Ibid.
    7. See SAES Newsletter #18
    8. Millenium Villages,
    9. United Nations Environment Programme, Africa Water Atlas, Nairobi, Kenya, 2010.
    10. Gupta, S.K., Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, 2011.

    *Board of the Society of African Earth Scientists: Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu (Chair - Nigeria), Ndivhuwo Cecilia Mukosi (South Africa), Mathada Humphrey (South Africa), Dr Enas Ahmed (Egypt).




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