Munang: “Solution to Africa’s underdevelopment to be driven by its young people”

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Dr. Richard Munang is the UN Environment’s Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator responsible for guiding the actualization of UNEP’s climate resilient development strategy for Africa through coordinating implementation of diverse projects in adaptation and mitigation in key economic sectors especially agriculture, and energy.

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Richard Munang
Richard Munang

You wrote in your book: “Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism” that Africa loses up to $68 billion as far as ecosystem degradation is concerned, annually, due to escalating impact of climate change including environmental degradation. What must African countries do to urgently address this challenge?

“Those who are born on top of the anthill take a short time to grow tall” – this African proverb underscores the importance of having a head start – which is what Africa has in terms of addressing such degradation challenges. The over 80% of smallholder farmers who produce the food we eat, our mothers in the villages, are already using indigenous approach critical to reversing ecosystems degradation and recouping these losses.

As an example, in Kenya, a farmer using indigenous conservation   techniques of minimum-tillage and mulching has enabled a farmer to maximize yields from her one-half acre farm, increasing them by over 300% and with additional benefits of reduced labour and improved soil fertility.

On a broader scale, use of indigenous soil and water conservation techniques like the Zai, has rehabilitated up to 300 000 hectares of crusted and barren lands in Niger-Restoring productivity. Zai, widely used by countries in the Sahel to enhance soil structure, water retention capacity, organic content, and thus reverse degradation can increase yields by up to 500%, with minimal fertilizer use, hence reducing fertilizer related emissions & costs.

So, Africa is not starting from scratch – but has a head start. What now needs to happen is the urgent need for innovations to incentivize uptake of these nature based approaches and make them the norm – not the exception – through incentives like affordable financing, to ensure producers using these approaches can access financing to enable them recapitalize their enterprises and expand production.

Here, cooperatives provide a great structure to build on – where this can be scaled by providing incentives for cooperatives to prioritise lending to actors using these approaches that also reduce crop failure – hence reduce risk index to financiers. Incentives like affordable and accessible clean energy will ensure producers can add value to what is produced using these nature-based approaches, eliminate post-harvest losses that are as high as $48billion each year in Africa and turn these to revenues and profitable enterprises.

The cooperative financing can be targeted at supporting farmers buy such clean energy systems. Incentives like market quality standards will ensure what is produced using these approaches can compete on a quality par with conventional produce and even carve a niche among sustainability conscience customers who are increasing in Africa.

There is also the need to leverage the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement that is set to consolidate an agro-market exceeding $150billion annually to fuel upscaling of these nature-based approaches.

Incentives like enabling coherent, harmonized policy implementation across the different concerned ministries – agriculture, energy, trade, finance, environment among key ones – will ensure implementation aligns to enable these incentives. The UN Environment is already supporting actors across Africa to mobilise partnerships in line with SDG 17 and section 5 of the Paris Agreement – towards bridging gaps to establish these incentives.

 

What role could indigenous African solutions such as the one implemented in Rwanda’s Geshwati area play in addressing the challenge?

 Geshwati is a good example of how ingenious solutions that prove effective need to be scaled to become impactful country-wide solutions. The case of Geshwati saw a successful pilot attracting an investment 250times bigger to ensure the solution could be replicated across the country. Today, there are myriad of pilots, small actions ongoing across the continent that we urgently need to upscale and the innovations above are the way to go.

How big are the opportunities offered by ecosystem-based adaptation agriculture and industrialization in terms of diversifying income opportunities into the areas of climate smart agriculture and clean energy in Africa?

“A man does not wonder far from where his corn is roasting,” says an African proverb; clean energy and sustainable agriculture stand out as Africa’s roasting corn as far as accelerating development and climate resilience is concerned. They stand out as Africa’s catalytic sectors – holding two key qualities – first, they are Africa’s sectors of strength in terms of natural endowment compared to the rest of the globe; second, they provide the shortest route to solve multiple challenges in one go. And these are clean energy and nature-based agriculture.

A solution in recouping the $48billion in postharvest losses we experience in the continent will spark a chain reaction of solutions in multiple areas. First, it will mean better health as better nutrition is the first line of defense against diseases. Eliminating losses means more food available to nourish more people.

Second, decentralising clean energy to add value to agriculture brings in manufacturing – which will create jobs & put more money into people’s pockets. With more money, people can afford better housing in areas of their choice and better healthcare as well. As a result, a myriad of SDGs are actualized at a go. This is a cascade of benefits achieved through the entry point of just two sectors – clean energy and nature-based agriculture. So, the opportunities are catalytic.

 

How well positioned is  the Pan African initiative, the Ecosystem-Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFoSA) to help Africa achieve agro-industrialization and sustainable development?

At the core of EBAFOSA’s logic are three key premises – first, Africa must leverage on maximizing its sectors of strength as strategic to accelerate development – and these are the catalytic sectors I referred above. Second, actioning these sectors does not need to entail starting off new initiatives, but rather, building on the many ongoing initiatives in the continent leveraging on the incentives I mentioned earlier and turning these into full scale enterprises.

Third, no one actor or sector can do this alone. What we need is inclusive partnerships among complementary stakeholders as called for under the section 5 of the Paris Agreement and SDG 17 – to be implemented in complementarity – where challenges for one actor are opportunities for another. For example, a farmer facing post-harvest loss challenges presents an opportunity for a clean energy actor to decentralize and sell clean energy solutions like solar driers ensuring the farmer can increase shelf life for their commodities and speculate for better market prices.

This is more income for all these actors, enhanced food security and better climate resilience with more use of clean energy – what we can call a virtuous cycle of benefits. EBAFOSA provides a structured framework for these interactions. It provides a convening platform where the youth and young at heart with diverse skills, talents. Ongoing initiatives are guided to forge partnerships with complementary actors and target closing specific gaps in the clean energy-powered agro-value chain in a manner that they will make a living.

These engagements are classified into pillars based on the competencies, interests, ongoing work of these actors. The pillars address key bottlenecks including decentralising clean energy to power agro-value chain; establishing market incentives to ensure produce gets a market; innovative financing to ensure affordable, market driven financing of enterprises along the continuum.

Another bottleneck addressed by the pillars are efficient linkages to market leveraging on ICTs – web and mobile apps and a policy pillar to ensure coherent policy implementation across the different complementary sectors to enable operational coherence and alignments to drive all the other pillars. So, EBAFOSA is well positioned.

 

Africa’s youth population is projected to reach 830 million by 2050; what does this exponential population growth represents: a blessing or curse?

Of all the 4 classifications of capital – economic, financial, social, and human – human capital is the most critical as it is the creator of the other three. Being the youngest continent automatically places Africa on a pedestal in terms of comparative advantage. But this is only the first step. The most important then is how to engage these youth to ensure they become a real investment for the continent – out of which we can expect a dividend of accelerated economic development.

And do so with urgency considering that youthfulness is not static but very dynamic – a 20 year old today will be 40 in next 20years – how do we ensure we engage both 20 and 40 as well as the over 40 year olds?

The solution is in igniting a mindset change among the people – who embody Africa’s sovereign capital – to where they are self-motivated and disciplined enough to leverage on their professional skills, talents, interests, ongoing initiatives – as the premium to forge mutually beneficial, market driven partnerships with complementary actors and peers and tap enterprise opportunities in Africa’s agro-value chain.

And in the process, make money while solving a priority challenge of accelerating socioeconomic transformation on the continent. This is achievable through inspiration, structured guidance, and mentorships among the youth that their skills, talents, matter and are all they need to tap the agro-value chain and create money – not upfront financing and materialism that we are bombarded with.

We call this model of development Innovative Volunteerism, which means, for example, a youth who finishes school with a degree in anthropology is guided to leverage on their refined research skills and meticulous attention to details that anthropology requires, to apply these instead to closing specific gaps in the agro-value chain. And in the cause of doing so makes money while solving a continental problem. This is already happening.

As an example, in Kenya, youths with skills in marketing, clean energy and ICT have been guided to apply their complementary skills and come up with an enterprise that is closing clean energy gaps in the agro-value chain. Through this enterprise, these youths work with farmers, establish their clean energy needs, advise them on most relevant clean energy systems that can cut their losses and reduce spoilage, help link them to the most affordable clean energy vendor and get the systems set up on their premises.

With this intervention, farmers get solar pumps to irrigate their farms and harvest more. They get solar driers to preserve their harvest for longer periods, speculate for better market prices, and sell at higher market prices. The youth then get a bigger cut from the increased profits of the farmers.

 

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