5 sustainability lessons we should learn from Africa

Conscious travel

Conscious travel

Recently I came across that horrific number of the carbon footprint per person in the world. For me it was no brainier that the US and China have the highest figure in contribution to the greenhouse effect per person when measured as total emissions. However, what was surprising is that Africa with all its countries has the lowest carbon footprint per person and as well as in total emissions. Ironically Europe produces as much carbon dioxide as the US but they are the one championing in international setting the case to reduce emissions (even McDonald’s has to change its branding from yellow and red to GREEN and yellow in all its European branches to become more acceptable to the public who value green initiatives, read more). Plus, the oil-based economies in the Middle East, while attempting to reduce emissions by building public transportation infrastructure, are emitting as much carbon dioxide as both Americas combined excluding the US (Canada, Central America, and South America). That’s SHOCKING!!

Anyhow, I think we need to celebrate the hero of these statistics: AFRICA, and probably the first thing that comes to your mind is that they are not as advanced as other countries and consume less. That could be true and the highest emissions do come from the top manufacturing countries (e.g. China and US) but still the behavior of the end-consumer of goods and services drives these countries to keep the production engine running. There are many practices in Africa that are worth learning from and observing. Here are 5 that I observed:


1. Traveling in a group:

one of the first experiences you want to have when you land in Kenya is to try one of the matatus, the small vans that serve as buses, where all the seats are filled in every trip and sometimes you need to create additional space for people even when it already seems full. The matatu doesn’t move on a timetable but leaves when it’s full. That might sound uncomfortable to you but if that was the case in a place like Dubai where 14 people travel from point A to point B using 14 cars, that’s 14 times more compared to one matatu that can achieve the same. Let’s agree: to save our planet sacrifices need to be made and you missing your meeting by 20 mins will be normal because everyone will be using public transportation.


2.  Eat what you have, not what you want:

When you show up at Darajani market in Zanzibar you will notice 90% of the food there has been sourced from local farms and fishermen. The coffee you drink is sourced locally too. Why import?? Would you die if you couldn’t have a mango in a country that you can’t grow mango in? Or your country is spending billions of dollars to engineer the soil by producing fertilizers to grow for you fruit and vegetables that did not exist where you live just 100 years ago? Sometimes importing works better than re-engineering the farm soils with tons of of chemicals, but there is nothing better than eating local produce.


3. Eat fresh instead of refrigerating:

Every morning farmers and fishermen bring their fruit and vegetables to the market all fresh since storing them in a cooling system will be too expensive. The end-consumer as well will not use a refrigerator to reduce the cost of expensive electricity and will buy exactly the amount they need for a day or two which is ideal in reducing waste. In addition, if you eat fresh you will not need packaging and there will be no need for plastic packaging to keep our food tasty. Bear in mind, the Ozone layer hole is caused by gases used in cooling systems.


4. Optimizing the public transportation system:

In many countries, the same vehicle is used to transfer goods and food by making use of the vehicle’s rooftop. That’s a good way to optimize the journey and transfer goods. In some modern countries, a whole train in an underground will be working and only filled with 10% of its potential capacity.


5. Repair and maintenance:

There is nothing that can’t be fixed in East Africa, there is always that guy who fixes your machine or device. When I was living in the Middle East the default seemed to be that if something has broken twice it is just better to buy a new one. In Zanzibar I fixed my phone multiple times and my scooter a 100 times and I have bought a lot of 2nd hand goods since they still work fine and are cheaper. Choosing to repair your stuff will reduce your need to keep buying new things and leads to lower production of goods since the lifetime of the product will be longer (you don’t need to buy an iPhone every year).