Over the past three years, the cost of living crisis has spread around the world, affecting both rich and poor countries. Many are blaming the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In Africa, these events had an impact, but growing impoverishment was evident even before they occurred.
Across the continent, the cost-of-living crisis has hit communities struggling to access enough food, fuel, decent work and social support to survive. People who are already poor become even poorer; Those living just above the poverty line have sunk below it. Since the pandemic, an additional 55 million Africans have fallen into extreme poverty.
Much of this impoverishment is due to the long-term depletion of the natural resources that sustain poor households. Land, freshwater, forest and biodiversity degradation are directly affecting the livelihoods of millions of poor people living in rural areas. This is because these resources provide food, fuel, building materials, and jobs to these communities.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 90% of people living in extreme poverty depend on forests for at least part of their livelihood. And in recent years, deforestation – as well as other types of environmental degradation – has been on the rise. This trend has not changed even during the pandemic.
However, the main response from governments in Africa has been the continued emphasis on traditional economic growth. The problem with this approach is that it treats gross domestic product (GDP) as the sole measure of economic progress, without taking into account wealth in nature and ecosystems.
This myopic focus encourages policies and investments that disproportionately benefit the rich while neglecting the poor and allowing the abuse and depletion of the natural resources on which they depend. enter.
Instead, what African policymakers should focus on is the natural environment that sustains the poor, and without which they cannot survive the rising cost of living – or any other. future crisis in that regard.
Governments need to act to limit the environmental degradation that is making natural resources increasingly scarce and less resilient. And to do that, they need to change the way they measure progress and growth. They need to embrace the GDP of the poor: nature.
They need to put this at the heart of the policy-making process for large enterprises, including agriculture, industry and finance. The revenue these businesses generate for the public budget cannot offset the negative impact they have on the environment and the economic damage they cause.
Furthermore, it is often less expensive to act to protect the environment than to support large polluting businesses to ensure they are profitable.
Take agriculture as an example. The way subsidies are disbursed currently favors chemical-dependent, industrialized agriculture that benefits mainly large landowners and multinational corporations at the expense of produce farmers. small production and the environment.
A staggering $611 billion is spent annually on agricultural subsidies, 86 percent ($528 billion) of which has the potential to harm climate, biodiversity and human health People. This amount eclipses the estimated $300-350 billion needed each year to transition to sustainable, diverse and climate-resilient food systems.
It is time for governments, multilateral organizations and corporations to make the “leave no one behind” rhetoric a reality by recognizing and protecting the GDP of the poor. The time has come for us to associate sustainable development with human development.
To do that, there are three key steps that need to be taken urgently. First, governments should transform their wealth accounting systems by measuring the GDP of the poor. Rwanda started doing so in 2014, helping to make land use planning more efficient and prevent fragmentation of ecosystems. Governments can also use the Ecosystem Accounting framework as a model, to be adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2021.
Second, governments and development partners must help African farmers move from extractive, carbon-intensive farming to renewable activities that boost GDP for the poor. One example they could follow is Germany’s plan to end subsidies for harmful agricultural practices and promote research and development of alternative methods.
Third, development financial institutions and corporations must redirect their investment strategies to protect and maintain natural assets. They should prioritize projects and initiatives that empower local communities to manage and benefit from their environment.
To be sure, recognizing the GDP of the poor is not merely an accounting act; it is a necessary change in our political economy. By acknowledging these assets, we can begin to loosen the grip of entrenched interests benefiting from the status quo, while improving the welfare of the majority and protecting our natural resources. Earth.
The cost of living crisis is a wake-up call to scrutinize our priorities, systems, and values. A call to realize that in our pursuit of wealth we have overlooked the riches of nature that feed billions of people in poverty.
What is at stake is not just the numbers on the balance sheet. What is at stake is our survival as a human species.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.