An emerging school of thought about implications of climate change sheds light on a dimension of the phenomenon that is rarely given due attention – opportunities brought about by climate change. Proponents of this perspective, such as Dr Richard Munang, who heads the UN Environment’s Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security (EBAFOSA), are convinced that opportunities resulting from climate change can hold the answers to the continent’s perennial problems including youth unemployment and food insecurity.
They feel that implementing actions to counter the negative impacts of climate change without linking them directly to outcomes that confer tangible day to day benefits to communities makes such actions unsustainable. On the other hand, combining climate actions with economically empowering innovations that counter the negative impacts of climate change guarantees the sustainability of those actions and the improvement of the livelihoods of communities. They, therefore, result in both environmental and economic benefits to communities.
An example of this approach often put forward is that of combining the use of clean energy with nature-based agriculture. Using solar energy to power cold rooms where perishable agricultural products can be stored before being transported to market confers an economic benefit to the community while contributing towards climate change mitigation. Cold storage eliminates post-harvest losses (PHL) while use of clean energy eliminates the emission of greenhouse gases. Systems powered by clean energy can also power irrigation systems or solar driers that can make it possible to preserve perishable produce through drying, enabling them to get to markets and therefore improving the livelihoods of poor communities.
The other thrust of this approach is a deliberate focus on nature-based agriculture. Nature-based agriculture encompasses concepts such as minimum tillage and conservation agriculture, practices that are the hallmark of climate-smart agriculture. These practices have been shown to result in better agricultural production, environmental conservation and reduced costs of inputs, hence better income from agriculture.
For communities to reap all the benefits that come with this approach, there needs to be a “meeting of the minds” with policymakers in order to ensure different government ministries and agencies can work in tandem. For example, agriculture ministries can deploy extension services that promote climate-smart agriculture. Ministries in charge of energy can adopt decentralisation of energy supply, enabling small scale farmers to acquire clean stand-alone energy-based systems as individuals or as organised groups, while ministries in charge of trade can help to find markets for agricultural produce. Ministries in charge of infrastructure on their part can ensure access roads are in place to facilitate transport to markets or aggregation points.
Taking full advantage of technologies aimed at addressing climate change by harnessing them for agribusiness would therefore require the rethinking of how African countries respond to climate change by ensuring climate actions are combined with productive endeavours that rely on natural resources with which the continent is so richly endowed. This will help to address challenges that are difficult to overcome when they are viewed in isolation.