As a continent, we are two years into the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to achieve food security, combat poverty, create jobs, enhance equality and peace, enhance resource efficiency, combat climate change and protect the environment – among other critical priorities in Africa. Just as colonial oppression drove our founding fathers to launch the independence struggle, today the urgent need to be innovative and accelerate the continent’s socioeconomic transformation urges us all as members of the current generation to swing into action. The time to do the right thing and to act is now. This would allow the next generation of African icons to emerge.

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” For Africa, these words, uttered by Nelson Mandela, have never rung as true as they do at present.

Why is clean energy and agriculture so important to Africa’s future?

There are three distinctions that position clean energy and agriculture that is driven by ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) as catalytic sectors in Africa. The first is economic inclusion. Agriculture is the most accessible economic sector and employs the majority of Africa’s work force – an average of 64% across the continent. Maximising the productivity of this sector means enhancing income and economic opportunities for the majority on the continent.

Agriculture is the most accessible economic sector and employs the majority of Africa’s work force.

Secondly, Africa holds a comparative advantage in terms of resources. The continent has 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, with a 300 million-strong middle class. This middle class is demanding more value-added and differentiated agro-products and it represents a market for food that is projected to grow in value to USD150 billion in the next 13 years. This represents a significant domestic consumer market for the growth of local value-addition agro-industries.

Africa has 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, with a 300 million-strong middle class

In addition, abundant renewable energy potential is visible everywhere. This includes hydro power estimated at 1852TWh annually, which is three times the continent’s current demand, as well as a solar resource that is the best on the entire planet. If African countries leveraged these resources in a complementary way, the region could establish global competitiveness and create much-needed jobs.

Abundant renewable energy potential is visible everywhere in Africa.

Thirdly, a focus on policy and non-policy investment to maximise the productivity of these sectors would meet the leading socioeconomic development priorities of actualising food security, enhancing income and creating job opportunities. To maximise this productivity, development in these sectors needs to be considered as complementary and not in silos, as has been the classical approach.

Read: Pathways to the transformation of Africa’s agriculture

Such an amalgamation would potentially maximise the productivity of agriculture by cutting PHLs (largely driven by the lack of value addition). It would incentivise the use of EBA and clean energy to offset carbon and enhance ecosystems. In this way we would further cut losses that are due to climate change and ecosystems degradation.

Amalgamation will also maximise the productivity of clean-energy development by diversifying application beyond domestic use to include productive use in agro-processing and value addition.

Feed the Future Kenya AVCD Regional County Launch and County field tours Photo Credit Flickr

For example, in Kenya, estimates show that using solar-powered, efficient micro-irrigation instead of diesel pumps for irrigation at the farm level is cumulatively saving farmers over USD10 000 annually in operating costs. This is relative to using conventional fossil-fuel powered, non-efficient farrow systems. As a result, farmers are generating up to USD30 000 per acre annually. What is needed for impactful progress across the continent is policy and non-policy incentives and investment to upscale this paradigm. It is in this up-scaling that the long-awaited solutions that would sustainably accelerate socioeconomic transformation will emerge and, in the process, create the next generation of African icons.

EBAFOSA and innovative volunteerism

EBAFOSA is already up-scaling this paradigm through its modus operandi of ‘innovative volunteerism’. Innovative volunteerism is the voluntary application of physical and non-psychical resources at one’s disposal. This especially refers to professional skills, organisational and professional networks and other ongoing initiatives to build mutual partnerships with complementary actors at policy and operational level. These partnerships would enhance their respective business and/or organisational objectives, for example, expanding market share, transferring skills and technology, as well as operationalizing policies, but would be aligned to the shared EBAFOSA strategic objective. This strategic objective is to bridge policy and operational gaps to maximize the productivity of both clean energy and nature-based, EBA-driven agriculture to sustainably accelerate socioeconomic transformation. From this, the achievement of the SDGs would follow.

Through innovative volunteerism, EBAFOSA is maximising the productivity of both clean energy and nature-based, EBA-driven agriculture. These innovative volunteerism efforts are being applied at the EBAFOSA pillars – namely amalgamation, policy harmonisation, standardisation, innovative financing and ICT – as the driver of partnerships. To date, a number of achievements can be recorded across Africa.

Read: Unlocking opportunities to scale up clean energy in Africa

Amalgamation – where clean energy expansion is tagged directly to powering value addition of environmentally sustainably produced agro-products (rather than undertaking them in silos) – is the EBAFOSA foundational pillar. For example, in the north-western part of Cameroon’s Jakiri municipality, EBAFOSA is catalysing partnerships at policy and ground level towards linking off-grid small-hydro directly to power cassava and Irish potato processing into varied product lines. It is also linking these to markets and supply chains using ICT mobile apps. This is not only offsetting carbon in energy generation and building ecosystem resilience by incentivising the use of EBA approaches, but is also creating income opportunities along the entire agro-value chain and ancillary chains of clean energy and ICT. A total of 10 youth groups engaging in ICT, clean energy and marketing have been set up. This has created green jobs for approximately 100 young people. Over 500 women now have access to value-addition services and as a result have cut their PHLs to enhance their income stability and the community’s food security.

A farmer in Kenya Photo Credit Wikipedia

We need to harmonise our policies

For example, the EBAFOSA Sierra Leone task force has started building on some ongoing policy initiatives across four complementary ministries for harmonisation towards maximising the productivity of the catalytic areas. A key focus for the Sierra Leone task force is tax concession policies for agro-based industries in rural areas. These are set to incentivise investment in clean energy power plants dedicated to powering agro value addition near farming areas. This is just a sample of what innovative volunteerism is doing at policy level.

Innovative financing plays a crucial role

Regarding innovative financing, EBAFOSA is reducing the key risk factors of climate risk (driven by climate change-induced crop failure) and financial risk (driven by repayment defaults) to catalyse affordable private-sector lending along the EBAFOSA value chain.

For example, in Kenya, EBAFOSA Kenya stakeholders are working with the Kenyan county governments to leverage on county climate change funds for additional private sector resources. In one such pioneering county, the Makueni county, the fund is setting aside 50% of the portfolio so that it can securitise up to 10 times this amount in private banks. These securitised funds will be loaned through low interest micro-finance institutions as a priority, to entrepreneurs who are engaged in actions that optimise the agro-value chain using EBA and clean energy. This will indirectly help to finance the upscaling of EBA-driven agriculture and clean energy agro value addition to create multiple low carbon, higher-order income and job opportunities.
On ICT as a driver, the EBAFOSA-driven ICT app called EdenSys is enabling farmers to use their mobile phones to access advisory services, to access inputs, including clean energy, and to access markets where they can price and sell their products among other key actions.

Read: Africa is feeling the heat: Turning the challenges of climate change into opportunities

Look out for the financing service M-eBAFOSA

Going forward, to enhance the financing services, a dedicated financing service to finance products and services along the entire EBAFOSA chain, called M-eBAFOSA, is being developed. This will be a one-stop-shop financing module; a doorway that links end-users/clients who are interested in financing along the EBAFOSA chain to the relevant product and service providers along the entire EBAFOSA chain. Services on offer would include advisory services on EBA/clean energy, clean energy technology, EBAFOSA compliance standards, etc., as well as an array of financial service providers to effect various levels of payment.

These are samples of how EBAFOSA is upscaling the paradigm that will potentially create the next generation of icons across the continent. Innovative volunteerism provides an opportunity to engage more people, to cash in on this paradigm, and to be on track to clinching the prize, which is the emergence of the next generation of icons on the continent.

The urgent need for sustainable socioeconomic development

“When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him.” This Ashanti proverb provides a lesson for Africa’s upcoming icons. The first generation of continental icons arose out of solving Africa’s struggle for self-determined rule. Their dedication and determination to liberate the continent from the shackles of colonialism is what elevated them to the status of icons.

At present, Africa faces the urgent need to accelerate socioeconomic development sustainably and to catch up with the rest of the globe in actualising the SDGs and implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Innovative volunteerism aimed at maximising the productivity of the continent’s catalytic sectors of EBA-driven agriculture and clean energy, stands out as an opportunity to accelerate this development. As the current generation, this is our time. Innovative volunteerism, through the framework of EBAFOSA, provides us with the opportunity to take charge.