African Countries Want to Slow the Effects of Climate Change by Beefing Up Their Farm Industries

Some are building resilient agricultural systems to slow the effects of climate change, create jobs and kickstart economies.

Nov 14 2017, 7:30pm

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

While Africa’s contribution to climate change is minuscule – roughly 4 percent of global annual emissions -- the continent is by far the most vulnerable to its effects. Climate change will put enormous stress on African agriculture, the continent’s largest economic sector which currently employs 64 percent of its workforce. Africa is on track to lose two-thirds of its arable land by 2025 even if temperature increases don’t exceed two degrees above pre-industrial levels, putting a strain on food security and fueling economic inequality. Experts project that through its impact on agriculture, unmitigated climate change could reduce average household income in the poorest African communities by a whopping 75 percent. What’s more, natural disasters akin to this summer’s floods in Nigeria will cause unprecedented population displacement and stoke social unrest and political instability.

COP22, the annual meeting of UN nations dealing with the effects of climate change, was held in Africa (Morocco) last year to stress the need to assuage these concerns. The Group of Less-Developed Countries (LDC) – a multinational delegation of developing countries affected by climate change -- met in Ethiopia ahead of COP23 this year to press developed countries to ramp up financial and capacity-building support.

VICE Impact met with Richard Munang the United Nations Environment (UNEP) Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator, to get to the bottom of initiatives meant to build resilient agricultural systems in Africa and reduce inequality and poverty while trying to slow the effects of climate change.

VICE Impact: What are the major threats that climate change poses to economic inequality in Africa?

Richard Munang: Climate change threatens the productivity of African agriculture, the continent’s most inclusive sector, which provides livelihoods in vast swathes of the continent. In countries where agriculture employs up to 80 percent of the poor, and contributes about 30 percent of GDP, a temperature increase above 2°C means losses of up to $20 billion for African farmers. These losses exacerbate inequality considering agriculture is the largest employer.

Climate action should be the number one solution to development challenges in Africa. Climate action also needs to address food insecurity and create job opportunities. With the support of the United Nations, I launched the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA), a policy tool which focuses on bridging the gap between policy and field work to create sustainable ecosystems, resilient agricultural systems, and clean energy.

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For example, one of our climate adaptation program consists of expanding renewable energy beyond traditional domestic use, to power industrial agriculture. This ensures a more significant financial return on investment for clean energy while mitigating carbon. This kind of use of clean energy could eliminate Africa’s post harvest losses (PHLs) by $48 billion annually. These actions, in turn, incentivize the use of Ecosystems Based Adaptation (EBA) to enhance ecosystems resilience and climate adaptation.

One of your areas of expertise is climate-resilient food systems. How can they guarantee not only food security but economic growth and economic equality?

We need to restore degraded ecosystems and build climate resilience to prevent potential food loss. Establishing climate-resilient food systems and actualizing food security cannot be addressed in silos. Instead, they must factor in economic aspects such as job creation.

Establishing climate-resilient food systems means the agricultural sector will need to be complemented by energy and infrastructure development. Africa needs better planning to leverage the job-creating potential of agriculture- both within farming and ancillary industries like logistics, energy, etc. Resilient food systems also require affordable financing, to incentivize private sector investment.

What are specific examples of agricultural projects on the field that you have overseen or supported in this regard?

In Cameroon, EBAFOSA is supporting off-grid small-hydro to power sustainable ecosystems, producing cassava and potato processing into diverse product lines in rural areas. These are then linked to markets and supply chains across the country using mobile apps that are efficient and have a smaller carbon print relative to conventional paper processes.

We have partnered with ten youth groups engaging in information and communications technology, clean energy and marketing, to create green jobs for African youth. We have also given women access to value-added services which have helped them to improve income stability and food security in their communities.

How has the Paris agreement guided climate action for economic justice in Africa?

Africa is among regions that have been the most active in ratifying the agreement. The implementation of these commitments is guided by the urgent need to ensure climate action becomes a solution to accelerate socio-economic transformation for economic justice. We want to make sure that African nations work in hand-in-hand with shared goals toward creating EBA-based, clean energy and agro-industrialization. This is already reaping returns.

Through EBAFOSA, Sierra Leone is harmonizing finance, industry, energy, agriculture policies to establish tax concession incentives for agro-based sectors powered by clean energy in rural areas. These are set to attract investments to these regions to fuel job creation and decongest urban areas for millions of youth who flock towns and cities in search of jobs.

What are you hoping COP 23 will achieve?

I’m expecting momentum on the implementation of the Paris agreement. The first exercise meant to evaluate progress made by countries in meeting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) will just be around the corner in 2018, and will enable countries to ratchet up actions and commitments before 2020. We all know achieving the central aim of the Paris Agreement will require more drastic emissions cuts than previously thought.

Africa’s approach will be to leverage on ratcheting investments in clean energy and EBA to establish clean agro-industries, ensuring climate action simultaneously unlocks the region’s leading socioeconomic priorities of food security, the creation of jobs and macroeconomic expansion.