How to Advance Africa’s Agriculture Sector with Climate-Smart Policies and Investments

November 30, 2023 0
. Recent research reports highlight the disparity between Africa’s agriculture and that of leading food-producing nations like the US, EU, Australia, and Asia.
. The way forward involves significant investments in research, infrastructure, improved data, and technology transfer to foster sustainable productivity to ensure Africa’s competitiveness in the global market.

The agricultural community in Africa is currently struggling with many challenges, including the need to increase production, reduce emissions, and adapt to adverse weather conditions. Compounding these challenges is a decline in government funding for the sector. Recent research reports highlight the disparity between Africa’s agriculture and that of leading food-producing nations like the US, EU, Australia, and Asia, especially in terms of climate funding.

A closer look at the situation in Kenya reveals that while the 2023 government budget suggests a commitment to the agricultural sector, the allocated 49.9 billion Kenya Shillings (about $ 33 million) in the 2023-2024 budget is meant to strengthen operations in research, product development, and processing capacity, which pales in comparison to its peers in the global sphere. Kenya’s investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) as a percentage of its agricultural GDP is notably lower. In contrast, countries like China and the European Union are making substantial investments in revitalizing farmland and supporting sustainable agriculture practices.

Addressing this funding gap is not just a matter of optimizing statistics; it is crucial for securing Africa’s position as a major player in agriculture. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlights the need for increased investments in clean agriculture and substantial government support for research and development to ensure competitiveness in the global market.

Historically, Africa has been a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly in the Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector. Let’s delve into the details:

To put it in the context of global emissions, GHG emissions reached nearly 50 gigatons of CO2-equivalents per year in 2016. The energy sector accounted for 73% of these emissions, while AFOLU contributed 18% (with agriculture making up 12% of that). Industrial processes and waste management activities constituted the remaining shares. In Africa, AFOLU sectors have historically dominated emissions. These sectors encompass the balance between carbon sequestration (through forests and savannas) and carbon release (due to agricultural practices, deforestation, fires, and forest degradation).

In Sub-Saharan Africa, AFOLU still represents the majority of emissions (56% in 2016, down from 71% in 1990). North Africa, on the other hand, maintains a small negative balance (more sequestration than emissions).

While Africa’s overall contribution to global emissions may be modest, targeted efforts in the AFOLU sector are crucial for sustainable development and climate resilience. There is untapped potential to reduce emissions through initiatives such as carbon offsets and no-till farming. Other mitigation strategies involve the introduction of modern practices such as agroforestry, climate-smart agriculture, and organic farming in agricultural projects. These approaches can lead to reduced CO2 and N2O emissions, contributing to overall GHG mitigation.

Challenges in Agricultural Innovation and the Path Forward

One significant hurdle in advancing agricultural practices in Africa is the lack of advanced soil measurement technology. Concerns include data gaps, modeling accuracy, addressing emerging scientific understandings of indirect emissions, and tackling carbon leakage in emission reduction efforts within agriculture. To address these issues, a comprehensive measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) system throughout the value chain is crucial. Currently, less than 5% of African farmland undergoes testing, primarily relying on traditional, laborious, expensive, and time-consuming methods in soil labs, limiting the speed of data acquisition and analysis.

The cost of cutting-edge technology, such as smart sensors and remote sensing via satellites or drones, poses a barrier to widespread adoption among farmers due to its hefty price tag. Access to accurate data is pivotal for innovation, and collaborative efforts between governments and tech firms are essential to ensuring affordable technology solutions, enhancing efficiency, and curbing environmental impact.

Coherent government policies are essential to streamline investments, encourage collaboration, and provide a clear path for climate-smart agriculture. This involves unified government strategies, inter-governmental collaboration, and evaluating fertilizer emissions through a voluntary and extensively consultative approach. The Fertilizer Emissions Reduction Strategy must focus on emissions intensity per unit of production rather than absolute reduction, recognizing the critical and often costly role of fertilizers for farmers.

Incentivizing innovation in farming, similar to incentives for electric vehicles, requires government intervention through co-investments in new technologies. Agriculture’s strategic focus in Africa’s industrial policy presents a global growth opportunity, given its significance to the economy, environment, and society. Africa, as a major agricultural exporter with US$661.4 billion in exports in 2022 and relationships with nearly all the global countries, holds key markets, including the United States, China, India, and the European Union nations.

Attracting new talent to the agriculture and food sectors in Africa necessitates building a 21st-century talent pipeline with a focus on digital and business skills. Elevating the profile of agriculture as a career choice for youth and individuals transitioning from declining industries requires new educational initiatives and collaboration with academic institutions.

Despite these hurdles, the African agricultural sector has the potential to lead in various areas. By adopting innovative methods like zero tillage, diverse crop rotations, and conservation tillage, countries like Kenya can rejuvenate their agriculture, reduce emissions, and increase yields. Introducing novel crop varieties and organic enhancements, along with investments in these areas, can further strengthen Africa’s position.

To achieve this, there is a need for unified government strategies, inter-governmental collaboration, and a focus on evaluating fertilizer emissions through a voluntary and consultative process. Incentivizing innovation, making agriculture a strategic focus in industrial policy, and attracting new talent through educational initiatives are also crucial steps forward.

The way forward involves significant investments in research, infrastructure, improved data, and technology transfer to foster sustainable productivity, ensure food security, and reduce environmental impacts. As global crises disrupt supply chains and countries face food shortages, prioritizing climate-smart agriculture is crucial. Implementing suitable policies will not only strengthen the economy but also alleviate geopolitical risks and accelerate emissions reductions.

Africa, with its favorable climate and soils, has the potential to emerge as a sustainable global food source, contributing to the challenges of food security, climate change, and sustainable development on a global scale.

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