“Africa will write its own history and both north and south of the Sahara it will be a history full of glory and dignity.” These profound words of the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in the 1960s have haunted the continent for over five decades. The responsibility for working towards its fulfilment surely rests on the shoulders of each succeeding generation.
It is no longer tenable to keep talking about Africa’s great potential; rather, it is time to fulfil that potential for the benefit of present and future generations. We know full well that Africa’s past has long been defined by natural resources, but its future should be defined by bringing together the collective strength of its people’s skills and talent.
There is a formula for how this can be done: Leveraging catalytic sectors for which the continent holds comparative advantage, through dedicating the resources that are available to the continent. These physical resources (technological, institutional and financial, plus the demographic dividend – the majority of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is below the age of 25) and non-physical resources (including intellectual, partnerships, policies, networks) could all be converted for a comparative advantage that has a global competitive edge.
It is no longer tenable to keep talking about Africa’s great potential; rather, it is time to fulfil that potential for the benefit of present and future generations.
Harnessing catalytic sectors: Agriculture and clean energy
In agriculture, not only does the continent hold the majority of global arable land but it is also home to 10% of its inland freshwater resources. The World Bank reports that in Africa, a 10% increase in crop yields translates to approximately a 7% reduction in poverty. Growth in agriculture is at least two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than other sectors.
Furthermore, agriculture remains the most inclusive sector, employing about 64% of the population and 70% of the rural poor, while women produce up to 80% of the food. This means that Africa stands out as the most potent continent for entrenching inclusive, poverty-combating growth and pulling the base of pyramid populations out of desperate poverty.
Regarding clean energy, Africa holds the best solar-power potential on the entire planet. A mere 0,3% of the sunlight that shines on the Sahara (with the Middle Eastern deserts) could supply nearly all of Europe’s energy needs. Other abundant renewable sources include hydro power, with the potential of three times more than the continent’s current demand, as well as wind and geothermal energy.
To maximise the potential of these two sectors, they need to be considered as complementary. Integrating clean energy and sustainable agriculture constitutes applying a carefully planned formula, and this is what Africa should prioritise.
This means linking sustainable ecosystem-based adaptation-driven agriculture, EBA, (which stands out as the most accessible and compatible to small holder farmers, who represent 80% of the continent’s food producers) to clean energy-based value addition. The linkage of these two key sectors will help eliminate such inefficiencies as post-harvest losses, which currently account for an average loss of USD4 billion annually. This integration can also potentially create as many as 17 million jobs, earn an additional USD20 billion annually from agro-trade and catalyse an agro-sector projected to be worth USD1 trillion in less than 15 years.
In addition, given the carbon offsetting and climate resilience potential of clean energy and EBA-driven agriculture, this integration will have the added advantage of simultaneously meeting the continent’s climate objectives under the Paris Agreement.
Therefore, sustainable EBA-driven agriculture, allied with clean energy-powered industry, manufacturing and processing equals economically inclusive, climate-resilient development and wealth creation, as well as the unlocking of multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This integrated approach, which converts the continent’s comparative advantage into a competitive edge, is Africa’s winning formula.
Pockets of success
Across Africa, pockets of success demonstrate the potential of this formula: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a group of graduate youthful “agripreneurs” have channelled their skills, networks and capital to optimise the cassava value chain.
These young people process cassava into flour, package it, standardise it and sell it to bakers. For this integration, they generate up to USD4 000 as weekly income, translating into a monthly income of USD16 000 and an annual income of USD196 000.
Pockets of success are not enough for impactful progress across the continent. What is needed is an urgent imperative to leverage the relative strengths of diverse stakeholders and channeling those towards the shared objective of bridging policy and fixing the operational gaps in the integration of clean energy and agriculture to realise sustainable agro-industrialisation.
For sustainability, this should be achieved through voluntary, state-driven processes that take unique national contexts into account.
There are a number of examples that demonstrate that the strength of this paradigm can be channelled through voluntary, state-driven partnerships. One such example is in Nigeria, where the spirit of innovative volunteerism mobilised youth groups through the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA). This is a policy action framework to volunteer their skills and partner with farmer cooperatives with the aim of developing EbA farming and expanding the reach of EbA actions in Nigeria. This farm is being linked to markets and other commercial value chains to increase earnings. Over 1 000 young people are currently engaged.
In Malawi, innovative volunteerism partnerships engaged the Malawi Bureau of Standards to develop quality standards for the sesame crop, a high-value, drought-resistant crop. This partnership enhances the marketability of the sesame crop and incentivises its wide-scale growth. This and other market actions are increasing farmer revenues, combating poverty and food insecurity, and building bio-physical resilience, given that the crop is drought resistant.
In Kenya, innovative volunteerism partnerships have been fostered with the private sector to encourage solar-powered irrigation. Thanks to the spirit of volunteerism, a solar-powered irrigation enterprise has partnered with farmer groups in the country to enhance its use.
These attempts in Kenya are helping to actualise the country’s priorities of climate-smart, resource-efficient agriculture, while also offsetting carbon and catalysing progress towards clean energy-powered agro-industry.
Africa stands out as the most potent continent for entrenching inclusive, poverty-combating growth and pulling the base of pyramid populations out of desperate poverty.
Do not be left behind
The formula for engendering an inclusive Africa and ensuring collective progress and prosperity is on the move. Volunteerism has been tested and results are emerging that pave the way for a future in which Africa’s glorious history will be written.
Now, more than ever before, is the time for each and every citizen and stakeholder on the continent, governments, the private sector, academia, non-governmental organisations and individual citizens to pull together and take advantage of voluntary, inclusive, mutual partnerships as a powerful strategy for bridging implementation gaps and realising the dream of a prosperous Africa.
Let’s seize the moment and start creating the 21st century we so desperately want. Together, we can.
Dr Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change & Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang
Mr Robert Mgendi is the Adaptation Policy Expert