[Column] Inga Jacobs-Mata: Building African climate resilience will depend on unlocking African ingenuity and collaboration
What do a Zambian fintech start-up, a digital ag-tech platform and a solar energy pump provider have in common?
Together, these enterprises are equipping hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers to cope with the impacts of climate change, which threatens to reduce water availability in Zambia by as much as 13 per cent by 2050 and shrink GDP by four per cent.
Three of Zambia’s most innovative companies have committed to pre-financing 150 off-grid irrigation pumps, selling and distributing 250 pumps to farmers on pay-as-you-go payment plans, and connecting hundreds of thousands more farmers to five-day forecasts so they can stay one step ahead of unpredictable rains and water supplies.
Such partnerships, in which innovators across different sectors join forces to bundle equipment, financing and services for farmers, offer the greatest hope for building resilience to climate change in Africa. And this is what donors, businesses and governments should be championing in the run-up to, and during, this year’s UN climate talks.
COP27 has been informally dubbed the “African COP” as climate negotiators gathering in Egypt come face to face with the needs of the continent least responsible for – yet most affected by – climate change.
African governments will be calling attention to the fact that their countries contribute less than four per cent of global CO2 emissions but pay some of the highest prices for rising temperatures. They will also make the case for renewed climate finance commitments, given Africa will have to spend up to three per cent of GDP per annum to adapt to these impacts, according to the IMF, with limited financial means and support.
And even as new investments are secured, they must somehow translate to tangible action and impact on the ground, and this is where innovative partnership models come in.
Through initiatives such as the World Bank-funded AICCRA Zambia, we have seen the early signs of what is possible when governments, development partners, SMEs and research partners are united and supported to deliver the tools that farmers need. For instance, as of July 2022, the AICCRA project has supported more than one million beneficiaries in accessing climate-smart agriculture and digital agro-advisories.
To have a lasting impact, climate negotiators and decisionmakers at COP27 should work to strengthen the enabling environment needed to leverage such initiatives by firstly engaging with a wide range of private sector players. This includes sharing key lessons on what makes a successful partnership that builds resilience at scale, as well as strengthening the training capacity for new graduates in agribusiness to meet industry needs.
Financial services companies or mobile phone providers alone may have limited abilities to support those most affected by climate change. But when brought together, they can, for example, develop novel ways to increase access to products such as credit or insurance against climate disasters for remote and vulnerable communities.
Microfinance company Emata, for example, works with partners including IBM and Rabobank to provide farmers in Uganda with affordable digital loans over WhatsApp, which can empower smallholders to invest in new climate-smart tools and technologies.
Next, to convene these partnerships and get them off the ground, they need investment through innovation incubators and accelerator grants, which should coordinate closely around the specific needs of agribusinesses when seeking to develop their capacity.
One successful example is the Water and Energy for Food (WE4F) grand challenge, a joint initiative of the development agencies of Germany, the EU, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US, which supports innovations through partnerships to bolster food security. Since launching in 2018, the project has supported 135 innovations across 38 countries in the Global South that have benefitted 520,000 end users.
Another model is the Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation, which brings together public and private partners to address gaps in evidence and develop solutions to water-related challenges. For example, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is working with PEG Africa, a solar irrigation equipment supplier, to assess the opportunities for irrigation to improve cocoa yields in Ghana amid increasingly unpredictable rains.
Finally, the global community must also find ways to scale up these partnerships so they can have a meaningful impact by reaching as many of the most vulnerable people as possible. In particular, greater transparency and coordination is needed by development partners and accelerator programmes on who they are supporting, what they are funding, and how they are scaling innovations. This is vital in breaking the dependence of some agribusinesses on grant funding while also giving opportunities to new agribusinesses, and ensuring coordination of activities and technical assistance while avoiding duplication of effort.
While this COP will shine a spotlight on Africa, the light cannot simply switch off on November 18 when COP ends. Indeed, it should set in motion numerous year-round solutions that are best delivered through a combination of Africa’s thriving entrepreneurialism, world-class research and supportive public policies such as Zambia’s Inclusive Green Growth Strategy, national Climate Smart-Agriculture Investment Plans, and National Frameworks for Weather, Water and Climate Services.
With more governments joining hands with the private sector to support research for development, together Africa can actually scale climate-smart agriculture and empower vulnerable groups to make decisions with climate information that can improve their lives.