opinion – how to grow Africa from the grassroots

As COVID-19 reconsiders, investing in renewable energy, regenerative agriculture and skills can help Africa cope with future crises

Global lessons can be learned from the towns in Africa.

Each is different and yet, large or small, it represents a microcosm of the forces operating across the continent. They show the ability to traditionally mix with new forms of knowledge, to take advantage of innovations that make sense to them.

And people show a solid ability to adapt and prosper in the face of land shortages, urban migration and climate impact. People continue to survive daily despite shortcomings in support, whether national or international.

At a time when COVID-19 has now joined climate change as another ‘problem without a passport’, local capacity and institutions are central to building resistance to disruption.

All over the world, the COVID pandemic has for years cast doubt on assumptions. Despite the problems, this health and economic crisis offers Africa the opportunity to reconsider the direction of travel and change from carbon-intensive growth to low-carbon development.

By investing in renewable energy, regenerative forms of agriculture and skills in the workforce, countries can become less vulnerable and better able to deal with future crises.

While Africa’s rapid urbanization is making headlines, agriculture remains essential for future development. It provides about 40% of export earnings, half of household income and a good base for industrialization. However, progress has been mixed despite the launch in 2003 of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP).

The 2014 Malabo Declaration supported the CAADP with a detailed program for 2015-2025, but review reports in 2018 and 2020 note that many targets have not been met, evidence of relapse and the performance now badly affected by the pandemic.

Rising temperatures and unprecedented climate change in parts of Southern Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel are already forcing a rethink on which crops to grow. Around the continent, rainfall patterns shift erratically, and the volume of the entire season comes in a few sudden flags causing floods that sweep away lands and settlements.

The CAADP policy focuses more on promoting production than ensuring sustainable food security and livelihoods for Africa’s mainly smallholder farmers. They need support to reinvest in land, water, soils, vegetation and tree cover, to preserve local livelihoods and to strengthen the management of the landscape.

However, the most important challenges are often to change plans and forge genuine partnerships. The top-down approach too often continues; issues are particularly seen through the “expert” eyes of government and donor agencies. Local Afrikaans voices are rarely heard, and research continues to focus on discrete technical questions rather than broader systemic issues.

There are also equity issues about how climate finance is mobilized and disbursed, with real problems with access to the Global Climate Fund (GCF), which industrialized countries have promised to provide funding to the most vulnerable populations.

The 2014 Kathmandu Declaration highlighted these issues and insisted on principles such as climate justice, additionality, gender equality and accountability, as well as democratic, participatory and inclusive processes. Subsequent efforts to locate climate finance show that less than 10% of climate finance in the public sector was approved for local climate change projects in the period 2003-2016.

It undermines the widely accepted finding of sustainable results – ‘more afraid of the money’ – when climate finance reaches local communities.

Everyone needs to do better and do more to shift power and accelerate progress. A promising example is the European Union’s new commitment to a mutually respectful and beneficial partnership with Africa, including aid and private investment, to support green energy, agriculture, health, digital and transport connectivity, according to EU Green Deal principles .

African governments must also use international agreements to speed up funding for climate-resistant agriculture. There are several gains to be scaled up, such as solar pumps for irrigating plots, planting new crop varieties and spreading the use of nitrogen-resistant trees.

There are also success stories to follow about technology and innovation, risk mitigation and financing. Governments must also strengthen the ties between producers, agricultural markets and value chains and work intelligently with a private sector that in most countries consists of thousands of informal processors and retailers.

Due to the youth boom, Africa needs new, job-creating growth patterns, supported by improved education (especially girls) to benefit from a technically skilled and enterprising workforce.

Policy clarity will help avoid unbalanced compromises so that agricultural modernization preserves and strengthens livelihoods instead of facilitating land grabs by local and foreign investors. Tangible support can be provided at the local level through extension services, delivery of weather data by mobile phone and the establishment of local platforms for farmers, herders and researchers to test new ways of solving shared problems.

Climate change and volatility are causing excessive damage to poverty and vulnerable people, who live far from international conference halls and capitals. While rural families have been adapting to change for generations, governments can do much more to support them by leveraging their knowledge and practice, providing local funds to build climate resilience, and decentralizing power and authority at local levels.

The benefits from the greening of Africa will then be evident from the well – being and resilience of local communities.

It is part of a series produced for the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA) and the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development on green transformation to COVID-19. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the institutions involved in the project.

Any opinions expressed in this opinion piece are from the author and not from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Camilla Toulmin is a senior contributor and former director of the International Institute for Environment and Development and the author of Land, Investment, and Migration – Thirty-five Years of Village Life in Mali.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *