Research is the cutting edge of knowledge in any sector, but without the wisdom to match it to areas of comparative and competitive strengths, of solving prevailing threats and tapping into opportunities in an economy, its useful impact remains subdued.

Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the latest state of science report on climate change. The findings are not amusing, though not surprising. The globe is headed for a 1.5 warming sooner than was earlier projected, by a massive 20 years from the 2050s down to the 2030s. A 1.5 warming scenario is the threshold set by the Paris Agreement, the global pact to fight climate change, to avoid the worst climate impacts – including a devastating 75% shrinkage of economic productivity in developing countries, most of which are in Africa. While this is the latest knowledge, how it is applied to inform policy and maximise socioeconomic benefit for the continent is what makes the difference. But this has not happened optimally.

Research operates in silos, isolated from mainstream development policy and actions. It is no wonder that Africa’s unenviable position as the most vulnerable region persists. This disconnect is not only in matters of climate change. The AU Agenda 2063 represents the high-level continental development blueprint to create an inclusive climate resilient Africa. But there silence on the role of research in optimally implementing this blueprint. The same goes for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the silence on the role of research in its optimal implementation is once again deafening. This urgently needs to change.

Africa’s priority challenges provide a golden opportunity for research to cement its position, at the centre of informing development policy and implementation actions.

Entry points for the role of research and partnerships

Research efforts across the continent need to be exercised from the strategic perspective of maximising productivity of Africa’s catalytic sectors. These are sectors in which all African countries hold a comparative advantage, which enable them to build a global competitive edge. They are economically inclusive sectors that can engage a majority of the population. In addition to these socioeconomic benefits, these sectors are also capable of combating climate change to ensure Africa’s contribution to a 1.5 warming scenario accelerates the realisation of leading socioeconomic priorities.

These sectors are clean energy and nature-based agriculture – which stand out and have been endorsed by the AU Agenda 2063. This is a strategic thrust area to build globally competitive industry projected to pump up to US$1 trillion into the regional economy and create no less than 17 million jobs along the entire clean energy-powered agro-industrial value and supply chain and in ancillary sectors like logistics, ICT, marketing and financial services, among others.

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In Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy by GDP, the agriculture sector makes up nearly 40% of GDP and generates livelihoods for about 70% of Nigerians. The sector losses up to US$9 billion each year in post-harvest losses, primarily due to the lack of adequate processing and value-addition enterprise. If clean energy is decentralised to Nigeria’s producers, these losses will be turned into productivity – specifically into US$9 billion worth of income opportunities for farmers, financiers among many – in addition to enhancing national food security.

The potential of this catalytic area in meeting the region’s development priorities is not in doubt. What needs to happen now is a refinement of policy and operational investments to unlock this potential. This is where the input of research becomes critical and where our efforts as researchers must now be focused.

Read: Between Global Policy and National Development Agendas: From Talk to Action

There is a need to prioritise innovative approaches to bridge both policy and operational gaps towards maximising productivity of this catalytic area. What innovations can researchers come up with to target specific bottlenecks towards maximising productivity of the catalytic sectors. For instance, we can talk of enhancing ease of mobilising capital and doing business to maximise productivity of these catalytic areas. How can research enable such a move? 

Third is leveraging on Africa’s sovereign capital, its people, and especially the over 200 million-strong youthful population, and their skills, talents, energy, passion and entrepreneurial spirit, as the primary resource in driving productivity maximisation in this catalytic area, rather than premising fiscal resources as the most important. How can research enable such a paradigm shift? 

Fourth is divesting from silos, to leverage on inclusive, mutually beneficial, market-driven partnerships among complementary stakeholders, building on their strengths and ongoing initiatives to maximise productivity of catalytic sectors. How can research enable the bridging of sectorial silos to generate economy-wide synergy towards maximising the productivity of the catalytic sectors?

Young people are the mirror image of the adult world around them.
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Kenya is already demonstrating the strength of such complementary actions at policy level by divesting from silos in policy implementation. In most countries across the continent, we have policies implemented in sectorial silos, thus missing out on the potential for intersectoral synergies that are critical to delivering workable solutions that leverage on productivity maximisation of the catalytic sectors. Kenya’s charge towards delivering the Big 4 agenda – which aligns with the SDGs – can benefit immensely from the interconnected implementation of policies. This is already happening through EBAFOSA interagency policy taskforces. These convene the implementation of complementary policies. Here, implementation of Kenya’s Climate Smart Agriculture Strategy, under the Ministry of Agriculture, is being connected to the Green Economy Strategy under the Ministry of Environment; the National Industrialisation Policy under the Ministry of Industry; provisions of the Finance Act – especially exemptions on inputs for manufacture of pesticides – under the National Treasury – for joint actions in local manufacture and use of organic fertilizers and pesticides. This is hastening the realisation of three of the Big 4: food security, health and manufacturing. All these underscore multiple SDGs.

Inclusive partnerships are the way to go to solve the pressing, seemingly astronomical challenges that we face. Researchers must enable such partnerships by informing them and being part of them.

Innovative volunteerism – which is Africa’s sovereign capital, its people, us, and the skills, talents and ongoing initiatives we represent – will only be optimally engaged to drive catalytic sectors if we divest from individualism to embrace collectivism – leveraging on what we are currently doing as the premium for partnership building. This means we can start right away on this paradigm by simply aligning what we are doing to address specific bottlenecks towards maximising productivity of the catalytic area – especially bottlenecks in policy, in finance, in business and enterprise development, in markets and in technology. Let us start now to re-align our areas of research to inform the above.

Dr Richard Munang is a climate change and development policy expert. These are the author’s views, not those of his institution.