Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Sustainable Consumption: African Perspectives and Challenges

Guest post by Anayo D. Nkamnebe, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Nigeria)

From Green to Synthetic Consumption
Historically, African culture is closely knitted with nature and this is sufficiently evident from the production, consumption and disposal processes of the people. Examples include beast of burden for transportation, green foods fresh from the farm, fish and meat direct from their natural habitat, choice wine tapped from palm and raffia trees, cloths made from cotton, packages from green leaves and the list is endless. All these are environmentally friendly as their use and disposal enriches rather than deplete the environment. But within a flash, despite the highest concentration of world extreme poor in Africa, consumption pattern has suddenly changed from Africa’s green products to synthetic factory products of the West! This ranges from high CO2 emission used automobiles and ICTs to beverages and assorted synthetic brands. Indeed the list is endless, and Africa has helplessly become world’s dumping site for products that fail to meet the environmental requirements in the West. Unfortunately, the region lacks the technology and legislation to contain the fall-out of the new consumption culture.

The Sustainability Quagmire
Ordinarily, the domestication of Western consumption in Africa ought not to pose much problem if the system is completely adjusted to contain it. However, while the West has developed the technology and processes to manage wastes emanating from their consumption pattern through recycling, shift to green-technology, and legislation, most African countries are busy fighting poverty and exclusion. Africa therefore is caught in the web of choosing between surviving now at the expense of her future and sustainability at the expense of the present. Worst still, major players in the global market system are not showing serious commitment in helping to redress the environmental abuse on Africa caused by the new pattern of need satisfaction. The ridiculous complicated process in ratifying the Basel Convention and the increasing export of toxic and e-wastes from the developed countries to Africa are evidence of such apathy.

Sustainability Marketing Implications and Strategic Choices
Above reflections have far reaching implications for sustainability marketing, which calls for some strategic choices. The following are typical:
• As is evident, the developed countries are the major influencers in the globalised market through their marketing decisions. For sustainability to be truly global, such decisions must factor in the conditions in Africa and indeed other developing markets. One area that urgently requires this consideration is in the materials used for manufacturing products that are used in Africa. Using degradable packaging and casing material will go a long way in fostering sustainability in Africa since non-degradable materials pose untold economic and ecological challenges.
• Further, mainstream texts that address the issue of sustainability largely come from the West, yet, in writing such texts the sustainability conditions in Africa are hardly given any serious consideration and provision. Ironically these texts are used for learning in African schools; a case of square pegs in round holes. Scholars in the West and their Africa based counterparts should collaborate in this regard to produce context-relevant materials for teaching and learning sustainability in African institutions.
• Due to the impacts of combined conditions (economic, technology, social, political etc) in Africa, sustainability marketing is yet to receive serious attention in Africa. African governments, scholars, organisations/practitioners and consumers must take resolute decision to revert to and foster sustainability orientation, which before now is dominant feature of the African consumption culture.
• Perhaps, most importantly is for Africa to enthrone structures and processes that can guarantee sustainability and work in partnership rather than dependence to attain the desired goals.

Africa’s Sustainability Response
At present, Africa's efforts in the region to tackle sustainability issues are still trivial. Small scale recycling of wastes from consumption and disposal is on the increase for metal and plastics, though at slow pace. With metal and plastic scrap hunters incresing, the hitherto environmental danger posed by the disposed materials are gradually receding and at the same time providing the poor with means of livelihood.

Photo by African Development Foundation. Reproduced unter creative commons.