The 2nd Pan-African Symposium on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources in Africa was held in Ouagadougou from July 24 to July 27, 2000. Over 125 delegates from 23 countries spanning all regions of the continent (including North Africa and Madagascar) contributed to the symposium. Participants were from universities, NGOs, community organisations and government agencies. Donors included the Ford Foundation, USAID, Africa Resources Trust, the Biodiversity Support Program and Agence Gouvernementale de la Francophone (France).

The Honourable Minister of the Environment and Water of Burkina Faso, Dr. Bongnessan Arsene Ye, opened the symposium. Dr. Ambouta Karimou, Chair West Africa SUSG welcomed delegates on behalf of the IUCN SUI and SUSG. Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, IUCN's West Africa Regional representative, welcomed delegates on behalf of IUCN's secretariat. A total of 23 papers were presented in four sub-themes (Devolution, Mode of Use, Scale Issues, and External Issue to help achieve a common Africa vision on the sustainable use of renewable natural resources, which was the overall objective of the Symposium.

Drawing on the information provided in the four thematic areas delegates adopted the following conclusions/recommendations: The principles enunciated at the 1st Pan African Symposium on the sustainable use of natural resources held in Harare 24 - 27 June 1996, are reaffirmed, namely:

  • Rural African communities depend heavily on natural resources for their livelihood. Therefore, conservation and development must be pursued jointly.
  • The issue in Africa is not use or non-use of natural resource but the creation of conditions for sustainable use.
  • Sustainability should be understood not only in ecological but also in social, economic and institutional terms.

Modes of Use

The case studies presented at the Symposium showed a variety of modes of use, many of them clearly unsustainable and some of which have a record suggesting actual or potential sustainability. Factors determining sustainability included: human demography, poverty, habitat conversion, technology, cultural expectations, collective capacities and motivation for control, and commercialisation. Specific context is critical.

Delegates recommend that: 

  • Over-generalisation on sustainability/unsustainability should be avoided. Policies on use should be context-specific, variable and dynamic.
  • Technological innovations proposed in the name of development should be carefully examined in terms of their potential impact on the long-term sustainability of the natural resource base.
  • Development can rarely be achieved through the use of natural resources alone. Development initiatives should then regard such use as only one element in a suite of stratagems to improve livelihoods.
  • Where commercialised use is involved, the use of trade protocols and certifications may in specific cases be useful. Initiation and implementation of such mechanisms should fully involve primary producers.
  • The analysis of sustainability requires long-term case history data, which we recommend as a methodology for African scholarship on the topic. It also requires comparative case history data, and we recommend the setting up of a communication and information network via Internet under the aegis of the SUI/SUSG, with increased capacity in the network's focal points. Co-operation and communication with other regional and continent-wide networks (e.g., SARONET, West African net, Congonet, Sahalnet), the global network of UNESCO/MAB biosphere reserves, and with other IUCN African commission members, is recommended.


The 1st Pan-African Symposium in Harare strongly supported the policy of devolution in natural resource management to localised units of authority, responsibility and benefit. This Symposium noted that since 196 this policy has gained general governmental acceptance and that a number of new Community-Based Natural resource Management (CBNRM) initiatives had developed. Case study presentations showed significant advances in some instances, while others showed little or no progress. The following factors were prominent among the reasons for failure: poorly defined specifications of local units of responsibility and authority, lack of legally determined entitlements, inadequate project time-frames and insufficient institutional facilitation.

Delegates recommended:

  • That national policies and implementation relating to CBNRM move beyond "community participation" to the legal empowerment of clearly defined local units of use and management whenever possible and appropriate.
  • That CBNRM project and programmes be based on expanded time-frames.
  • That the number of longitudinal case studies be expanded and be subject to comparative PAN-African analysis.
  • That facilitation is based on the insights of this analysis and "best practice" examples.

Scale Issues

Sessions examined the impact of spatial, ecological and institutional scale of natural resource use and management. Africa is ecologically highly diverse and suffers from colonially-derived political boundaries and administrative categories that often inhibit rational ecological management and economic development. Case studies also showed, however, a large arena of common ground across the continent in terms of socio-economic and cultural concerns and perspectives. The challenge to African governments, policy makers and scholarship is to understand and respect diversity while maintaining the unity which scale issues and continent wide interest demands.

Delegates recommended: 

  • That African governments in regional and international fora respect the need for diverse policies on natural resource management responsive to region-specific ecological and economic contents.
  • That those government structures which vertically separate out natural resource management from other sectors (e.g., agriculture, mining, energy) be modified to allow for more integrated and holistic approaches.
  • That cross-boundary initiatives toward the management of discrete ecosystems be encouraged, provided that the primary stakeholders (e.g., those living in such areas) are made the principal participants and beneficiaries.
  • That the spectrum of regional and continental coordinative bodies with environmental affairs (e.g., SADC, IGAD, CEMAC, UMOA, CEFDMAC, OB, CEA, EAC, AMCEN) be rationlised and strengthened, and that the inputs of African scholarship to these bodies be augmented.

External Issues

Under the rubric of External Issues the Symposium considered factors which, while not ostensibly environmental, critically determine the state of Africa's environment. Among these are poverty, large national economic deficits, the environmental disruptions caused by military conflict, negative trade balances, poor governance and inadequate infrastructure. Under these conditions, Africa is ill equipped to compete in an age of globalisation and to promote policies that maintain and sustainably use its natural resource capital.

Delegates recommended:

  • That the international community takes full cognisance of the environment consequences of these conditions and pursue negotiations with African governments to effect debt relief and improved terms of trade.
  • That African governments take full cognisance of the disastrous environmental impacts of social inequities and military activities, and reallocate their budgets to more properly reflect their international commitments to sustainable environmental use and management.
  • That private sector investment be more effectively harnessed to sustainable natural resource use.
  • That the linkages between poverty, terms of trade, structural adjustment and private sector investment be more fully analysed by African scholarship through grounded case studies, which should be a priority for African SUSG and other scholarship.

Concluding Remarks

African scholarship on sustainable use has developed significantly since 1996 with a new generation of multidisciplinary scholars emerging, as amply demonstrated at this 2nd Pan-African Symposium. This scholarship is rich in case study data and analysis and has reached a stage where comparative, cross-continental analysis should be a priority. The two Pan-African Symposiums have provided an important initiation to this direction. Collaboration with other relevant scholarship and the delivery of research results to policy makers and S. African governments are also important directions to use.

Delegates recommended:

  • That research at national levels be enhanced by closer collaboration between the RSUSGs and scholarship in other specialist groups, IUCN commissions and other relevant groupings.
  • That RSUSGs and their memberships give particular attention to the input of research results into formal national and regional planning processes.
  • That the African RSUSGs plan for a third Pan-African Symposium on Sustainable Use, notionally in 2003.