Resource Use and Resource Efficiency in Africa

This study provides the first comparative assessment of material consumption and material productivity in Africa. Commissioned by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD ), this study reviews current trends and distributions of resource consumption and developments of resource productivity over the past 28 years across Africa.

A group of 16 countries was selected, which together represent around 67% of Africa’s population, 75% of its GDP and 75% of its natural wealth. The selected countries cover resource rich countries, such as South Africa or Algeria, as well as resource poor countries, such as Togo and Senegal. Together, they represent nearly all African ecosystems and land use systems, including intensive agricultural production and extensive livestock breeding.

The results show that Africa as a continent as well as the majority of its countries are well below global averages in terms of per capita material extraction, physical trade and material consumption. Between 1980 and 2008, extraction and trade in Africa doubled in absolute terms, but decreased in relative terms (compared to other world regions). Today, Africa consumes twice as much material, including renewable and non-renewable resources, than 30 years ago, which has led to a variety of growing environmental problems. Mainly due to population growth, however, average material consumption per capita declined. With 5.3 tonnes per capita, it was just about half the global average of 10.4 tonnes per capita in 2008. The 13.4% of the world’s population that lived in Africa in 2008 only used around 5.5% of globally used resources.

Resource efficiency in Africa is clearly below the global average. This is mainly due to the economic structure in the majority of African countries, which is predominantly based on agriculture. On average, material productivity in Africa increased by 51% between 1980 and 2008, compared with a global material productivity increase of 38%. An important part to the increase of resource efficiency in Africa was due to rising commodity prices.

The 16 countries as a group as well as Africa as a continent were net-exporters of materials of around 266 million tonnes (Africa: 409 million tonnes) in 2008 (1980: 169 and 284 million tonnes, respectively). These exports are mainly made up of fossils, metals and non-metallic minerals. Biomass constituted the main type of net-imports.

Figure: Imports and exports of materials and products of 16 African countries (“Africa 16”) and the rest of Africa, 1980 -2008

The report “Resource use and resource efficiency in Africa” will be released in spring 2012.

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