Population growth in the Green Heart of Africa

The growth curve that will not abate

Some nations of the Congo River Basin rank among the lowest in the world on most human welfare indicators, and among the highest in population growth and fertility.

Demographically, high growth rates and a predominantly young population characterize the countries in the basin. For both people and the forests, future prospects hang in balance.

With more than 90% of households in Central Africa involved in agriculture, and human population growing at an average of 2-3% per year, demand for agricultural land is increasing, and so is the scale of forest conversion.1 In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), population is predicted to double from nearly 60 million in 2005 to approximately 120 million by 2020.

Urbanization and agriculture progressing apace

Demand for more land is happening despite rapid urbanization - rates of over 3% for all countries in the region, and reaching 5% or more in Equatorial Guinea. Today, the largest cities in Central Africa are Kinshasa (5 million) in the DRC, and Douala (1.6 million) and Yaoundé (1.4 million) in Cameroon.

The growth of these cities contributes to economic development in Central Africa, but it is also causing massive problems of poverty and environmental degradation - not only within cities, but also in surrounding areas.

What are the impacts of population growth?

  • Intensifying pressures on natural habitats and resources to satisfy the growing demand for space, housing and water for drinking and sanitation.
  • Conflict between customary and modern tenure laws
  • Spreading of urban spaces into fragile ecosystems, including slopes prone to erosion, natural drainage waterways or valleys, as well as areas that are subject to flooding.
  • Migration pressures are likely to increase, as pressure grows for people to move from high-density to lower-density areas. This in turn may fuel social strife, as indigenous and migrant populations clash over land tenure and power structures. Such situations have engendered violence, like in Kivu in the DRC.2

The outlook

Over the next 50 years, Sub-Saharan Africa will become the primary source of global population proliferation. Countries such as Nigeria and the DRC will likely contribute significantly to that increase. With waves of immigrants from western Africa also expected, the scenario that emerges is one of intensified demand for natural resources.

Find out more

1CARPE. 2001. Deforestation in Central Africa: Significance and Scale of the Deforestation. Congo River Basin Information Series. Issue Brief #6
2 Initiative for Central Africa. Undated. Central Africa: Population Distribution, Structure and Dynamics. Factsheet.

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