Africa has the highest number of people living in extreme poverty, and 60 percent of its youth is unemployed. The magnitude of the task of creating jobs and socioeconomic opportunities is clear, which is why it is such a tragedy that Africa produces what it does not consume, and consumes what is produced elsewhere.

For example, Kenya’s appetite for Chinese fish imports has hit Sh1 billion a year – and this comes at the expense of the local fishing industry. In total, while Kenya spent Sh320 billion on imports from China, it earned less than Sh5 billion exporting to Beijing. This is Sh315 billion worth of local industry, income and job opportunities lost in just one year.

This trade imbalance does not just exist with China alone. Shelves are stocked with products imported from outside the continent. “Made in Kenya” products are competing with products made in Japan, England, Mexico, India and in the EC.       

Threatening to compound this dire socioeconomic scenario is climate change, which is costing Kenya up to US$0,5 billion each year. This hamstrings long-term growth and is projected to escalate to an annual loss of 2,6% of GDP by 2030. This will further constrict and marketing opportunities – the entire economy, in fact.

The Kenyan scenario is replicated across the continent. While the number of people living in extreme poverty has increased since the 1990s and the continent needs to create at least 1 million jobs each year, the manufacturing of goods have stagnated. In addition, climate change threatens to lower economic productivity by up to 70 percent.

Marketers across the continent share the calamity of a shrinking local manufacturing base, global competition, climate-induced economic constriction and the resultant shrinkage of local enterprise opportunities. 

Marketing efforts must now be imagined in the context of building local manufacturing in the face of stiff global competition while simultaneously combating climate change to safeguard future economic growth and marketing opportunities.

Read: Africa becomes largest bloc in OPEC at a time when green energy is priority

Three cornerstones needed to unleash wealth creation

The first is that we need to focus our efforts on maximising the productivity of catalytic sectors. Africa holds a comparative advantage in certain sectors, which gives us a head start in building a globally competitive edge and creating globally competitive industries that will create opportunities locally. They are economically inclusive sectors that can engage a majority of the population. In addition to all these socioeconomic benefits, these sectors are also capable of combating climate change.

Accordingly, two sectors – clean energy and nature-based agriculture – stand out and have been endorsed at the highest level of continental climate and development policy at the African Union.

To maximise both the climate and socioeconomic benefits of these two sectors, policy makers concluded the need to amalgamate their development so that there will be complementarity as we work towards establishing sustainable, agriculture-led, clean energy-powered industrialisation. This as a strategic thrust as we work towards building a globally competitive industry; one that is 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.

Agriculture in Kenya by CIAT International Center for tropical Agriculture Photo Credit Flickr

As an example of how this strategic thrust can accelerate Kenya’s industrial development and create opportunities, the agriculture sector, which is the most inclusive sector and provides the livelihood of nearly 80% of Kenyans, loses up to US$500 million each year in post-harvest losses. This is due to the lack of adequate processing and value-addition enterprises. If clean energy was to be decentralised to such producers, these losses would be turned into Sh50 billion worth of jobs and income opportunities for marketers, for logisticians, for financiers, among many.

There are opportunities to create enterprises around this strategic paradigm of sustainable agriculture-led, clean energy-powered industrialisation. This is what would ensure, for instance, that the Sh1 billion spent on importing fish from China, is instead spent on buying “Made in Kenya” fish and fish products.           

The second cornerstone for wealth creation is leveraging on marketing automation. This refers to the application of technology and data analytics and big data to drive marketing efforts. Data, and the intelligent analysis thereof, enables marketers to put out hyper-personalised, highly contextualised customer experiences that lead to a conversion. Globally, according to a study published in Forbes magazine, 73 percent of marketing executives see artificial intelligence (AI) as critical to the future of marketing, while 63,5 percent believe that big data will be transformative for marketers in 2018 and beyond.

What this means is that the efforts of marketers to market such local produce and drive local sustainable agro-industrialisation must be centered on leveraging data technologies.

Mutually beneficial partnerships should work towards jointly tapping into the strategic opportunity that is the US$1 trillion African sustainable agro-industrialisation economy. 

The third cornerstone is implementation, and it is fundamentally important. To actualise the above, marketers need clean energy actors who can offer relevant power solutions. They need farmer entrepreneurs who maximise earnings from the farms by processing their produce rather than disposing it in raw form. They need ICT intervenors and statisticians, to enable them to crunch data on consumer behaviour and design targeted marketing campaigns that win over clients to consume local products. Mutually beneficial partnerships, where the limitations of one actor represents business prospects for another, should work towards jointly tapping into the strategic opportunity that is the US$1 trillion African sustainable agro-industrialisation economy. 

Read: Unlocking opportunities to scale up clean energy in Africa

In realising such partnerships, the UN Environment unit is facilitating an inclusive policy implementation action framework called the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA). EBAFOSA is providing an inclusive convening framework. A multiplicity of actors – individual and institutional, state and non-state – are forging mutually beneficial, market-driven partnerships aimed at creating the US$1 trillion sustainable agro-industrialisation economy on the continent. While the UN Environment unit sees this as the strategic thrust to accelerate socioeconomic transformation and simultaneously combat climate change, the actors engaged are doing so to expand their business objectives and aims.

Lamu island seashore (Kenya). Photo: Wiki commons

In Kenya, for example, through EBAFOSA, a young electrical engineer with great interest in clean energy, is forging partnerships with a group of young ICT enthusiasts. The aim of this collaboration is to jointly develop an application that will conveniently link farmers who are interested in clean energy service providers to power the processing of their produce so that it fetches more on the market. In the process, they each get a cut from what the farmer pays.

A similar arrangement could be made in the fishing industry. It starts with a clearly defined mission to re-take and reclaim the lucrative fish market. In executing this mission, the first step is to improve the quality of local fish through processing. For this, the solution is to incentivise fishers to acquire clean-energy processing systems – especially solar driers and refrigerators – which are critical to enhancing the quality of their fish on the market.

Marketers must work with clean energy entrepreneurs and fish farmer representative organisations to create demand among local fishers for these clean energy equipment. For each piece of equipment sold, the marketer will make their money.

Photo: Creative Commons CC0.

Given that these clean energy systems are capital assets, affordable financing becomes another need area that is another opportunity for marketers. Here, marketers must work with financiers – especially cooperatives and micro-finance institutions – to develop and market favourable financing schemes that will enable the fisher folk to afford such clean energy systems.

Processed fish will need to be attractively packaged, which provides an opportunity to partner with packaging enterprises to design attractive packaging. The final product, the fish, will need to be marketed as superior in quality and health aspects. Having been organically raised in our natural rivers, lakes and oceans, marketers will once again need to work with standardising authorities and fishers, to formulate messages that will make local produce the preferred choice over Chinese imports.

Tapping into this new area as marketers will not be easy, but the success is sure to be worth the effort.