On the 25-27 September 2015 world leaders unanimously adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) during the 70th UN General Assembly. This signaled a common global intent to transition to economic, social and environmental progress in the next 15 years, a united mutually collective front against hunger, malnutrition, poverty, unemployment, disease, climate change, low agricultural productivity, degraded ecosystems and social inequity, among the notable challenges particularly facing Africa.
Achieving the SDGs effectively, in a fast, efficient, impactful and lasting way will require innovative action from all.
The World Bank reports that in Africa, a 10% increase in crop yields translates to approximately a 7% reduction in poverty. Growth in agriculture is at least two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than in other sectors. This is crucial considering agriculture employs 60% of the labor force on the continent hence its importance in advancing inclusive growth.
However, despite these opportunities, climate change threatens the sector’s productivity with projected 11-40% yield reductions of major staples and additional alarming threats through rainfall variability. Yet the sector is 98% rain fed. Climate change induced moisture stress as clearly shown in the UNEP Africa Adaptation Gap Report could potentially increase incidences of undernourishment by 25 – 90% and put 50% of Africa’s population under risk of undernourishment. Through EBA-driven (ecosystem based adaptation) agriculture, solutions abound.
Optimizing food production through embracing ecosystems based approaches can result in yield increases of 116 - 128% and accompanying farmer income increases, optimize on-farm production by eliminating losses in potential harvests due to degraded ecosystems that top 6.6 million tonnes of grain annually, improve nutrition, enhance capacity of ecosystems, and enhance community climate resilience. Linking these ecological approaches to supply and demand side value chains and value added services e.g. storage, efficient market linkage, transportation, processing etc. can potentially spur additional income and business opportunities along the entire agro-value chain, optimize the post-farm gate value chain by cutting postharvest losses costing Africa up to $4 billion annually and in the process, create more income and as many as 17million sustainable jobs annually for our youth.
This vital truth is implied in the SDGs in addition to pivotal continental blueprints including the Maputo and Malabo declarations, AMCEN Cairo Declaration, the AU Agenda 2063 etc. An overriding theme in these blueprints is the need for modernization and optimization of Africa’s agriculture while at the same time ensuring the productivity of the very ecosystems that underpin agricultural productivity are safeguarded for future generations.
However, regardless of how promising these blue-prints are, past precedence shows that achieving them is not a given. For instance, only 13 countries, a lowly 24% had met or surpassed the Maputo declaration target of spending 10% of GDP in agriculture even after a decade. The situation is similar with the MDGs, where sub-Saharan Africa was reported as lagging in all the goals, and facing challenges in implementation. This seems to show that aside from attractive development blue-prints, their achievement is not predestined. It requires partnerships to blend the strengths of governments, the private sector, non-profits among others as implied in goal 17 of the SDGs. To date, gaps in fostering these partnerships have led to the perpetuation of the policy - action gap that has long stymied development in Africa. These are gaps in financing, in commercialization, in technology transfer, in techniques among others. It is in addressing these glaring gaps and optimizing the entire agro-value chain holistically that the Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) has been established.
Fostering partnerships, bridging glaring gaps for implementation
EBAFOSA was formed following the 2nd Africa EBA for food security conference convened by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC), African Centre for Technology Studies and other partners on 30-31 July 2015 where 1200 delegates from all across Africa unanimously adopted the “Nairobi Action Agenda” and the Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) as the continental policy platform to foster and nurture partnerships through branch formation in each country.
EBAFOSA is the first inclusive pan-African policy framework and implementation platform, a solutions space that brings together key stakeholders and actors along the entire EBA driven agriculture value chain, from government & the public sector, the private sector, academia & research, NGOs, CSOs, international organizations and individual publics at country and continental level to forge partnerships aimed at upscaling EBA driven agriculture and its value chains into policy & implementation through a country driven process to ensure food security, climate adaptation, enhanced productivity of ecosystems and link to supply and demand side value chains to create numerous income and job opportunities, especially for the youth who form 60% of the unemployed in Africa. Through providing a platform for Business to Business, Business to Government, Business to Research, Person to Person, Government to Research etc. interactions, EBAFOSA catalyzes a building of synergy for implementation actions.
The EBAFOSA Approach
Some gaps will simply be bridged through peer-to-peer learning across the continental EBAFOSA membership, where successful applications in one area can be transplanted to other locations. A good example in peer learning to bridge the technology gaps can be the zai (Ancient West African Farming Technique), an innovative EBA technology by farmers that is simple, low-cost, and accessible and has been refined over time. Discovered and widely used in the dry Sahel region to improve soil fertility and moisture retention, and reclaim severely degraded farm-lands, zai has been used to effectively raise farm yields from virtually nothing to 300 to 400 kg/ha in a year of low rainfall, and up to 1,500 kg/ha or more in a good year. The zai is addressing degradation and productivity challenges that farmer in other arid areas of Africa e.g. Northern Kenya face.
Through simple peer-to-peer interactions facilitated through the EBAFOSA platform, Sahelan farmers can transfer these techniques to their Kenyan peers. However, these pockets of knowledge and solutions within countries must be mobilized first for on-ward continental exchange and dissemination hence the importance of setting country branches.
Country Branches as cells of Innovation and Partnerships
EBAFOSA uses a hub strategy where country branches register local, continental and global actors within the country and facilitate their interactions and partnership building through a range of country level networking and exchange activities. These partnerships are further enriched by inter-country interactions and partnerships that are facilitated by a continental coordinating secretariat through a series of continental level exchange and networking activities. Through these two levels of interaction platforms – country and continental, EBAFOSA seeks to build local, continental and global partnerships for implementation that will ensure achievement of the SDGs 2 & 17 at the minimum.
As a crucial first step, EBAFOSA through its governing protocols creates a framework – a structure for organized interaction and action toward these partnerships. Secondly, EBAFOSA mobilizes membership from key stakeholders, solutions providers from country, continental and global levels, whose partnerships will be needed to ensure the holistic EBA and the value chains approach is up-scaled into policy and implementation across the continent. Thirdly, EBFOSA provides the platform, a solutions space where partnerships between these critical stakeholders can be forged to ensure policy uptake and implementation of solutions.
This practically means for instance, linking registered farmers to registered value added service providers be they in technology such as innovative EBA techniques e.g. zai, innovative storage technologies, preservation technologies etc., linking registered farmers to registered processing markets e.g. fruit processing industries, animal feeds industries, flour processing industry etc., leveraging on anticipated profits to link private sector actors to government policy makers so shared infrastructure e.g. roads, electricity etc. can be developed to enhance agro-productivity, linking registered farmers to registered extension / training service providers, linking registered farmers to registered fresh produce markets etc. all under the EBAFOSA platform.
The basis of these partnerships and synergetic activity is mutual benefits expected to accrue to these stakeholders including investment opportunities, access to larger, consolidated markets, enriched policy formulation & deployment, job creation, skills & technology transfer, enhanced supply chain efficiencies, product branding & promotion among others.
This approach of building partnerships between solutions providers and in the process enhancing food security while catalyzing additional income and livelihood opportunities along the agro-value chain is already being applied successfully at lower scales across Africa.
For instance, in Zambia, Ms. Sylvia Banda is blazing the trail of women entrepreneurship by leveraging value addition through primary and secondary processing, marketing and offering training to local farmers. By focusing on tapping opportunities along the entire agro-value chain, Sylvia has managed to grow her business to include a food processing plant, an eatery, a training school, a NGO through which she offers business training to farmers and helps them secure additional markets for their produce, including in her own factory. The result is a synergetic mutually benefiting partnership between Sylvia and the farmers. For instance when she builds the farmers’ capacity so they produce more and earns more, they in turn become clients and suppliers to her training school and processing factory respectively, thereby creating incomes not only for herself but the community as well.
In Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania, the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI) is implementing a similarly themed model that builds mutual partnerships and blends strengths of the nonprofit, government, research and private sectors toward realization of SDG 2. Within the CDI, strategic partnerships between governments and private sector actors along the value chain are bridging the infrastructure gap. These will be replicated to a wider scale under EBAFOSA. For instance, less than 50% of Africa’s producers have access to adequate roads yet reliable transportation in rural areas is critical in connecting farmers to supply (inputs) and demand (produce) markets and social service networks, hence ensuring inclusive growth through agriculture. Consequently, transport costs represent between 30 – 50% of total value of produce and profitability is greatly hampered. However through EBAFOSA, agreements where shared infrastructure can be developed in close proximity to enterprises who then use a share of their profits to maintain them can be reached.
Progress to date
Just 60 days into rolling out EBAFOSA, significant progress has been made. Country level branches have been established across the continent. Country level mobilization of stakeholder membership is on-going, with registrations facilitated through both online media at www.ebafosa.org led by country branch officials.
Delivering on SDGs
SDG 2 aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture, with targets to this effect to be achieved by 2030. SDG 13 calls for action to combat climate change. SDG 15 calls for sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems. Goal 2 can be directly fulfilled in EBAFOSA as it seeks to upscale EBA driven agriculture which has proven to ensure food & nutritional security with 116 – 128% increases in yields and accompanying farmer income increases, and also link to value chain services and activities e.g. processing, storage, transportation, etc. to cut postharvest losses that cost the continent up to $4 billion annually, food enough to make an additional 48 million people food secure without increasing production as well as create additional income and job opportunities.
Simultaneously EBA approaches restore and enhance the capacity of ecosystems, hence upscaling EBA driven agriculture as EBAFOSA seeks to do enhances achievement of goal 15. Goal 13 on climate change is also covered. Through benefits such as increased farmer incomes and enhanced capacity of ecosystems to adapt to climate variability that EBA driven agriculture ensures, EBAFOSA by upscaling EBA driven agriculture techniques therefore builds community climate resilience through leveraging healthy ecosystems and enhanced community earnings.
SDG 8 calls for inclusive sustainable growth, job creation and decent employment. EBAFOSA by seeking to enhance the productivity and earning capacity of the agriculture sector which employs a majority – 60% of continental labor sector and using approaches that work with nature, promotes inclusive sustainable economic growth. And by linking to supply and demand side value chains to create additional income and higher wage job opportunities along the value chain, promotes decent work. The EBAFOSA platform is indeed a timely intervention in ensuring the SDGs, especially 2 and 17 are achieved in Africa.
SDG 17 is on strengthening means of implementation and building partnerships for sustainable development. By fostering partnerships between solutions providers in public, private sector, academia, CSOs, NGOs etc. so as to bridge gaps in enabling policy, financing, commercialization, technology transfer, skills, techniques etc., and achieve implementation, EBAFOSA contributes to SDG 17.
The EBAFOSA platform is indeed a timely intervention to ensure delivery of the SDGs in Africa. By focusing on building relevant partnerships across solutions providers be they local or international, and on leveraging healthy ecosystems as central to achieving food security, and sustainable inclusive growth, EBAFOSA is positioned as a platform that could potentially see Africa meaningfully achieve SDGs 2, 8, 13, 15 and 17. It is hence a crucial vehicle in Africa’s post-2015 and post COP21 journey.
The last 30 years have been phenomenal in human history and there is no doubt that Africa is set to emerge. But it should also be known that this is not pre-ordained. It will depend upon, not the declarations of good intent but the willingness to innovate, to drive change, develop and scale up appropriate technologies, transform institutions and make Africa the continent of everyone’s dreams: full of prosperity and inclusive growth for hundreds of millions of people. In EBAFOSA lies the opportunities and if tapped can determine whether the 21st century truly belongs to Africa.