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The time has come to scale up African solutions to the continent’s food and climate crisis

WorldAfricaThe time has come to scale up African solutions to the continent's food and climate crisis
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by William Ruto, Akinwumi Adesina and Patrick Verkuijn

President of Kenya; President of the African Development Bank; CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation

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When it comes to climate change, there is no greater challenge than ensuring that Africa can feed itself.

At the moment, the Horn of Africa is suffering from its worst drought in four decades, with UNICEF warning that 20 million children are at risk of severe hunger, thirst and disease.

What makes this crisis particularly significant is that it is not a whim; This is Africa’s new normal. Rising global temperatures are messing with the rainfall patterns on which millions of smallholder farmers depend. Large parts of Africa are warming at twice the global average, putting half a billion people at risk.

This new normal – living with climate change – demands new thinking and new approaches. We need to free countries from the endless cycle of disaster and recovery. Instead of disaster relief, we need investment. Instead of food aid, we need climate-smart solutions to food production.

big idea

There are answers to problems. Some of the best ideas are already being pitched by young African entrepreneurs. These include start-ups such as Iri-Hub, founded by Eric Onchonga, which is helping smallholder farmers in the current drought with rainwater harvesting technology and solar-powered irrigation systems. Another is Agritech Analytics, founded by Maryann Gichanga, which uses satellite imaging, data analytics and the Internet of Things to detect pests and crop diseases, and advise farmers on soil conditions. Farmers using these services have experienced dramatic increases in crop yields; And better yields have led to better access to credit for fertilizers and seeds.

Climate-smart solutions such as these are already reaching thousands of farmers. But for climate-proof agriculture across the continent, we need to reach millions more people. Africa has served as a testing ground for a promising range of climate-adaptation tools and strategies. Now we need investment to get them to farmers across the continent.

Optics on how climate adaptation must be transformed from a means of mitigating risk, to attracting increased financial support, to the best economic opportunity we have to secure a livable future.

investing for success

The economic case for investing in climate adaptation is strong. The Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) estimates that just $15 billion a year—less than the cost of running the New York subway—would be enough to pay for better water management, infrastructure, land restoration and climate information services across Africa.

According to GCA, these operations typically generate a profit of $5 for every $1 invested. This is because climate adaptation, done well and on a large scale, generates a cascade of positive economic, social and environmental benefits. Think stronger crops, better yields, higher and more sustainable farm incomes, access to credit, healthier communities and nationally, greater food security, lower food-import bills, more balanced trade and more resilient economies overall.

In contrast, inaction costs hundreds of billions of dollars each year, including disaster relief and reconstruction. Kenya alone is estimated to be losing 3 percent to 4.4 percent of GDP per year due to the many effects of global warming. The continent today already imports 100 million metric tons of grain alone at an annual cost of $75 billion.

Disaster relief is a sunk cost. Climate adaptation is an investment in a more resilient future.

develop a new perspective

Which is why Africa is trying a new approach. In 2021, 55 member states of the African Union agreed to support a plan to accelerate climate adaptation across the continent. The Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) is an example of how Africa is thinking collectively about its future. The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has pledged $12.5 billion for this. Private sector donors and financiers are expected to match this amount. Projects are already underway.

In agriculture, the African Development Bank aims to increase access to climate-smart digital technologies and data-driven agricultural and financial services for at least 30 million farmers. In the Horn of Africa, the bank is investing $350 million to tailor digital agriculture services, including market information, insurance products and financial services, to the needs of smallholder farmers. The goal is to increase the resilience of farming communities and create new, 21st century jobs in agritech.

By increasing investment in climate adaptation, Africa aims to become self-sufficient in food production, saving $50 billion spent annually on imports. The African Development Bank calls this spending “unsustainable, irresponsible, and unsustainable” and “wholly unnecessary”, and the heads of state of 34 African nations agreed at a meeting in Dakar at the beginning of the year.

At the Feed Africa summit in January, he pledged to raise $50 billion to achieve food sovereignty across the continent. “It is time for Africa to fully unlock its agricultural potential to feed itself and help feed the world,” the leaders said.

Africa’s transition towards a more resilient future has already begun. To keep up the momentum, Kenya will host an Africa Climate Summit in September with global leaders and the private sector. It will showcase some of the best climate-adaptation projects on the ground and seek to close the funding gap for the AAAP. The continent that has contributed the least to global climate change is making the greatest efforts to adapt to its effects. And it definitely deserves everyone’s support.

William Ruto is the President of Kenya.

Akinwumi Adesina is the President of the African Development Bank.

The CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation is Patrick Verkuijn.

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