Photo: Dr Richard Munang, Africa Climate Change and Development Policy expert with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom - Photo: 2017

‘Innovative Volunteerism’ Key to Africa’s Development Blueprint

By Ngala Killian Chimtom

NAIROBI (ACP-IDN) – Africa’s present is defined by its vast but unexploited potential but the picture could be changed by leveraging catalytic sectors in which the continent holds comparative advantage, through dedicating available resources.

Dr Richard Munang, Africa Climate Change and Development Policy expert with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) believes that these resources – both physical (technological, institutional, financial and demographical, the dividend to be derived from having most of its population under the age of 25) and non-physical (including intellectual, partnerships, policies and networks) – could be utilised for a comparative advantage with a global competitive edge through what he calls “innovative volunteerism”.

Talking with IDN, Munang explained the concept of “innovative volunteerism” and how its implementation could lead Africa towards achieving its development blueprint contained in Agenda 2063 for socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years.

IDN: You are a strong proponent of what you call “innovative volunteerism”, but what does it mean?

Munang: “Innovative volunteerism” means bringing together stakeholders (both individual and institutional, state and non-state) from complementary sectors to volunteer the physical and non-physical resources available to them – professional skills, networks, partnerships, time, talents, and so on – to build mutual partnerships, addressing their immediate needs but aimed at the bigger strategic objective of bridging policy and operational gaps towards optimising productivity of agriculture driven by Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EBA).

“Innovative volunteerism” aims to transform Africa’s comparative advantage in resources in two specific catalytic sectors – clean energy and sustainable EBA-driven agriculture – into a global competitive edge, by drawing on their complementarity for bringing about clean energy-powered sustainable agro-industrialisation, as opposed to considering these sectors stand-alones as in the classical approach.

Through this complementarity, Africa can simultaneously achieve socio-economic growth and meet its objectives under the Paris Agreement to combat climate change.

The objective of unlocking sustainable agro-industrialisation responds to the pressing socio-economic development priorities of food security, wealth creation and expansion of macro-economic growth … and all this achieved through country-led, country-owned processes.

This is a promising area for which Africa holds a natural comparative advantage in terms of resources (65 percent of the world’s arable land and 10 percent of its inland fresh water resources, and significant renewable energy potential, including the best solar resource on the planet).

Through the strategic focus of establishing sustainable agro-industrialisation, this comparative advantage will result in an agro-industrial sector projected to be worth 1trillion dollars by 2030 and creating as many as 17 million jobs along the entire value and supply chain.

IDN: Does this focus on innovation imply that past programmes have failed?

Munang: It is documented that in excess of 15 billion dollars have been invested in Africa’s agriculture over the past two decades. Yet, we still grapple with the same challenges we did twenty years ago. Africa still cannot feed itself and, as a result, 240 million people still go to bed hungry, 200 million are malnourished and we lose over 50 percent of our children before their fifth birthday.

Going forward, the challenges continue to compound. So the problem is not necessarily money, because if that had been the case, we would have eradicated these fundamental challenges.

The key issue is that interventions addressing challenges have been implemented in isolation or in ‘silos’. We have considered detached elements of a systemic problem rather than addressing the problem holistically.

We decry poor earnings in agriculture and how climate change is constricting yields while failing to realise that linking EBA agriculture with clean energy for value addition in a continuum or holistically will not only multiply earnings and stimulate multiple job opportunities along the entire value and supply chain, but offset carbon emissions, restore ecosystems and build climate resilience.

The Ecosystem-Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) has been established precisely to foster partnerships and bridge gaps for implementation by prioritising policy and operational solutions to link clean energy to sustainable agriculture value addition.

We have also failed to prioritise country-driven, country-owned processes for building sustainable solutions. We have not prioritised a structured mechanism that allows locals to own their problems and devise contextual solutions for them. Hence we end up with supply-driven interventions that do not fit local contexts and end up being unsustainable in the long run.

EBAFOSA is bridging this gap by providing a mechanism for decentralising to the country level, where complementary country stakeholders take the lead in developing contextual solutions which are blended with demand-driven technical guidance from external partners. The end product is locally-owned, technically-sound solutions.

IDN: Does innovative also translate into new and, if yes, does the fact that an idea is new also mean that it works?

Munang: Innovative does not only translate into new, but also into original, workable, practical and targeted at addressing a critical challenge. A new, practical way of solving a pertinent problem that matches the context in which it is applied qualifies as an innovative solution.

Financing clean energy in Africa has brought together ICT and financial services – what is popularly known as FinTech – to expand clean energy access to rural poor households that are victims of indoor air pollution from unclean lighting and cooking sources responsible for up to 600,000 deaths annually. This is an innovative solution.      

A practical example from Kenya provides a test case of FinTech innovations that we need to upscale across Africa. M-KOPA, a pay-as-you-go decentralised solar solutions company is leveraging the M-Pesa mobile money solution to provide flexible payment solutions that are enhancing access to clean solar power for some of Africa’s poorest homes.

The upfront ownership cost of about 250 dollars which is beyond the rural poor is broken down into a flexible instalment payment plan comprising a deposit of 35 dollars and daily payments of 0.43 cents over 365 days through the M-Pesa mobile money system. Through this model, M-KOPA has electrified up to 400,000 rural homes across East Africa.

IDN: The concept of “volunteer” basically has to do with serving others without expecting payment. How do you implement this in a continent where people still have many bread and butter issues?

Munang:  “Innovative volunteerism” entails leveraging resources already at one’s disposal, or leveraging one’s relative strengths, building on what one already has and partnering with other stakeholders towards bridging gaps that will take one to the next level in business but aligning this collaboration to bring about the shared longer term objective of establishing sustainable agro-industrialisation.

For example, for the youth constituency, which constitutes 60 percent of our population and most of which is unemployed, “innovative volunteerism” provides young people with an opportunity to network, meet and interact with industry leaders. They get to showcase their skills, mentored to refine them and earn practical hands-on experience that positions them competitively in the labour market. They get business connections and opportunities for entrepreneurial mentorship. All by volunteering what they have – their skills, energy, time, etc.

IDN: You have indicated that “innovative volunteerism” can work best in the agricultural and clean energy sectors, in both of which Africa has a competitive edge, yet investment in these sectors requires rather significant amounts of money.

Munang: As I mentioned earlier, the issue is not necessarily about money because, if had it been only about money, the 15 billion dollars pumped into Africa in the past two decades would have eradicated the hunger and malnutrition that we continue to grapple with.

What we need more urgently than money is consolidating progress in various complementary sectors and building on this toward the singular shared objective of establishing clean energy-powered agro-industrialisation.

For example, in Kenya’s Turkana County, an epicentre of frequent droughts, EBAFOSA Kenya partners drawn from the private sector are working with government and local farmers to establish an EBA farm complete with market and supply chain links. This is ensuring not only food, income and livelihood security, but also climate adaptation through incentivising up-scaled use of EBA.

These EBAFOSA Kenya partners have collaborated to drill a bore hole and worked with the county government to acquire 100 hectares of farm land. They are now in the process of procuring a solar-powered pump and efficient drip irrigation kit to water amaranth and sorghum, two indigenous, high-value climate resilient crops in the area grown using EBA approaches. And through an end-to-end agri-business management and mobile app, are linking crops to markets, and extension and advisory services, among other crucial supply chains for maximising income for the farmers.

And to ensure this feeds into policy for replication across the country, EBAFOSA Kenya is also convening partnerships at policy level to establish inter-ministerial task forces to harmonise environment, water and agriculture policies at both the national and county levels to ensure uptake of this paradigm into the mainstream policies of the respective line ministries.

So, as you can see, without pumping in money, but rather consolidating sectoral level progress and linking it up for complementarity, solutions are being rolled out.

IDN: You make the case for the integration of clean energy and agriculture. How can this be done and what are the benefits?

Munang: The integration of clean energy and sustainable EBA agriculture to create EBA-based agro-industrialisation powered by clean energy will entail the bridging of gaps at policy and operational level. Policy is the biggest driver of change and the right policies will catalyse operational-level investments.

To this end, the policies of complementary ministries of agriculture, energy, environment, lands, industry, planning and transport/infrastructure will need to be harmonised so that EBA-based agro-industrial zones powered by clean energy can be established.

For example, the agriculture ministry will need to work with the environment and forestry ministries to ensure that EBA techniques like agro-forestry are integrated into mainstream agriculture policies. To catalyse investment in clean energy powered agro-industrialization, agriculture policies will need to be reconciled with industry policies, energy policies, land policies and private investors to ensure relevant-cross cutting policies that incentivise investment by both state and non-state actors in plants and clean processing industries near agro-production areas. Infrastructure policies need to be synchronised to ensure prioritised investments in rural roads for efficient connection of production areas or these agro-industrial zones to market areas, among others.  

The benefits of an agro-sector optimised using EBA and clean energy transcend socio-economic factors to include climate resilience which ensures that countries meet their climate objectives under the Paris Agreement. And through this, multiple sustainable development goals (SDGs) are achieved. Among others, clean energy will offset carbon emissions to catalyse achievement of Article 4 of the Paris Agreement and SDGs 7 (on affordable and clean energy) and 13 (on climate action). EBA will build climate adaptation to catalyse achievement of Article 7 of the Paris Agreement and SDGs 13 & 15 on healthy terrestrial ecosystems. An optimised, climate-proofed agro-value chain will not only ensure food security (SDG 2) but also livelihoods (SDG 1).

Through EBAFOSA, the right policies and operational investments are being fostered to ensure that pockets of success are converted into an African success story. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 March 2017]

Photo: Dr Richard Munang, Africa Climate Change and Development Policy expert with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom

Note: This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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